The disconnect between giving and brand

Pick any donor at random and ask her why she gives to you.

I can virtually guarantee you the reason she gives has nothing to do with anything that’s in your brand guidelines.

Ask the donor her top five reasons she gives. The top ten. You still won’t get any crossover with your brand guidelines. It’s not until she’s scratching her head, wracking her brains and making stuff up that you’ll hear anything remotely like the stuff your brand guidelines claim to be the essence of who you are.

That’s because your brand guidelines are all about you. Not your donors. All that we’re-so-cool, look-at-us stuff has nothing to do with your donors. It’s boring, irrelevant, sometimes flat-out annoying.

(On top of that, the brand described there is probably more aspirational than descriptive; you can’t find it in the physical world, only in the metaphysical sphere of your leaders’ heads.)

Wouldn’t it be cool if a nonprofit had a brand that was about their donors? I’m just asking, because I haven’t yet seen it. (If you know of one, tell me about it!)

A donor-centered nonprofit brand would raise a lot more money for the cause than almost anybody does now. I’d love to see that happen.


Comments

16 responses to “The disconnect between giving and brand”

  1. My first instinct reading this was, “yes, you’re right.” But I have been running this post over in my head and I have to wonder something. Of course a donor wouldn’t say that your branding caused them to give to you. Just like a buyer wouldn’t probably say that branding made them buy something. But branding is a multimillion dollar industry for a reason. And it works on your subconscious level creating an image a buyer wants to associate themselves with. Your color(s), fonts, tone, message..all appeal (or don’t) to someone’s subconcious desire to belong or be beautiful or feel good. I’ll recognize a billboard for a nonprofit (or for profit)sometimes by a distinctive color before I can see a product or message. That impression before you hear what a charity/company does, that is what branding does. I have to think that, when you are talking about being donor-centered and why they give and you are consciously choosing message and media that works to make that message appeal to a certain donor, there is an impact. It kind of pains me to say it, but I’m not sure you can discount branding with donors, as much as I would love to say that it doesn’t matter to them. While it isn’t everything, it isn’t nothing. Having said that, I find your last statement intriguing – a brand that is about the donors. I bet you are right that it would be a homerun.

  2. My first instinct reading this was, “yes, you’re right.” But I have been running this post over in my head and I have to wonder something. Of course a donor wouldn’t say that your branding caused them to give to you. Just like a buyer wouldn’t probably say that branding made them buy something. But branding is a multimillion dollar industry for a reason. And it works on your subconscious level creating an image a buyer wants to associate themselves with. Your color(s), fonts, tone, message..all appeal (or don’t) to someone’s subconcious desire to belong or be beautiful or feel good. I’ll recognize a billboard for a nonprofit (or for profit)sometimes by a distinctive color before I can see a product or message. That impression before you hear what a charity/company does, that is what branding does. I have to think that, when you are talking about being donor-centered and why they give and you are consciously choosing message and media that works to make that message appeal to a certain donor, there is an impact. It kind of pains me to say it, but I’m not sure you can discount branding with donors, as much as I would love to say that it doesn’t matter to them. While it isn’t everything, it isn’t nothing. Having said that, I find your last statement intriguing – a brand that is about the donors. I bet you are right that it would be a homerun.

  3. Marjorie Fine Avatar
    Marjorie Fine

    Perhaps you could give an example of ewhat you mean even if you have to make it up. I am tired of criticisms without a specific example of the the critic woudl lie to see. We could all learn from this. And tailor it to different type of donors. Thanks. Margie

  4. Marjorie Fine Avatar
    Marjorie Fine

    Perhaps you could give an example of ewhat you mean even if you have to make it up. I am tired of criticisms without a specific example of the the critic woudl lie to see. We could all learn from this. And tailor it to different type of donors. Thanks. Margie

  5. Many organizations do take into account their donors’ comments and the profile of the target audience in developing their brand. But to make it truly “donor centered” as you suggest, how do you get past the typical donor responses that are: too amorphous or too specific. donors usually talk about their motivation for giving, not really why they give to a particular organization, so how will that help your organization create a message that appeals to that target audience but is unique to the organization?

  6. Many organizations do take into account their donors’ comments and the profile of the target audience in developing their brand. But to make it truly “donor centered” as you suggest, how do you get past the typical donor responses that are: too amorphous or too specific. donors usually talk about their motivation for giving, not really why they give to a particular organization, so how will that help your organization create a message that appeals to that target audience but is unique to the organization?

  7. Jewish Community Foundations are fully committed to being donor centered. Donors have the opportunity to use Donor Advised Funds to recommend where grants should go. Donors use JCF’s to establish permanent endowment funds to ensure perpetual support for organizations they hold dear. JCF’s counsel donors regarding gift and estate planning. JCF’s are truly honest brokers behaving like a neutral and impartial Nonprofit trust company. JCF’s exist to support community by serving as the donor’s advocate and ombudsman. That’s a brand that those who leads JCF’s can truly be proud of.
    Stu Turgel, President
    Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Phoenix

  8. Jewish Community Foundations are fully committed to being donor centered. Donors have the opportunity to use Donor Advised Funds to recommend where grants should go. Donors use JCF’s to establish permanent endowment funds to ensure perpetual support for organizations they hold dear. JCF’s counsel donors regarding gift and estate planning. JCF’s are truly honest brokers behaving like a neutral and impartial Nonprofit trust company. JCF’s exist to support community by serving as the donor’s advocate and ombudsman. That’s a brand that those who leads JCF’s can truly be proud of.
    Stu Turgel, President
    Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Phoenix

  9. Let’s use Apple as an example of a brand extraordinaire. Now let’s see if that model fits with our donors. Apple = Tragically hip products. In fact the WSJ wrote an article today in which it finally revealed the unmitigated truth – “This isn’t a technology company. It’s a luxury brand, like Hermes or Tiffany. And it’s wooed customers so they’ll pay almost anything for its products.” Any Federation would positively drool to have donors beating down their doors to give (instead of the other way around). The only way to arrive at Apple’s success (in which an association with the specific organization becomes a badge of pride) would be to elevate said organization’s “because we do good” mantra to a whole new level. Easier said than done, sure but perhaps we need to start asking questions like: How to make giving hip? Fun, even. What would it take to get someone to WANT to have a non-prof logo on their jacket/shirt/suit? These are perhaps the avenues we should be exploring. The tried and true mantra for giving “Because you should” worked for my parent’s generation and to some extent works for mine. But sadly that same ideology isn’t nearly as effective today. As so much of the discourse here has illustrated, we’re in, with the digital age, a new era of Starbucks-ian customization and organizational decentralization…and that sea change is what all large infrastructures are up against. In short, just because we’ve been around for ages doesn’t necessarily mean we should be acting that way. So, brand the donor? Heck yeah. And if that doesn’t work, try something else. Imagine the following conversation: Them: Who do you work for?” You: A start-up company. Them: Really? Which one? You: The Jewish Federation of.. Them: That’s a start-up? You: It is now.

  10. Let’s use Apple as an example of a brand extraordinaire. Now let’s see if that model fits with our donors. Apple = Tragically hip products. In fact the WSJ wrote an article today in which it finally revealed the unmitigated truth – “This isn’t a technology company. It’s a luxury brand, like Hermes or Tiffany. And it’s wooed customers so they’ll pay almost anything for its products.” Any Federation would positively drool to have donors beating down their doors to give (instead of the other way around). The only way to arrive at Apple’s success (in which an association with the specific organization becomes a badge of pride) would be to elevate said organization’s “because we do good” mantra to a whole new level. Easier said than done, sure but perhaps we need to start asking questions like: How to make giving hip? Fun, even. What would it take to get someone to WANT to have a non-prof logo on their jacket/shirt/suit? These are perhaps the avenues we should be exploring. The tried and true mantra for giving “Because you should” worked for my parent’s generation and to some extent works for mine. But sadly that same ideology isn’t nearly as effective today. As so much of the discourse here has illustrated, we’re in, with the digital age, a new era of Starbucks-ian customization and organizational decentralization…and that sea change is what all large infrastructures are up against. In short, just because we’ve been around for ages doesn’t necessarily mean we should be acting that way. So, brand the donor? Heck yeah. And if that doesn’t work, try something else. Imagine the following conversation: Them: Who do you work for?” You: A start-up company. Them: Really? Which one? You: The Jewish Federation of.. Them: That’s a start-up? You: It is now.

  11. You are spot on….donor centred brands are different and there arent many around. I talk about this and their place in the uk market http://stevewg.wordpress.com/2010/12/22/the-12-days-of-christmas-fundraising-wishes/
    Creating a donor led brand requires a perfect and equal marriage between the cause, the mission, aspiration and the means to get there – through the power of committed donors. It requires champions to make it happen…and we need a few more…

  12. You are spot on….donor centred brands are different and there arent many around. I talk about this and their place in the uk market http://stevewg.wordpress.com/2010/12/22/the-12-days-of-christmas-fundraising-wishes/
    Creating a donor led brand requires a perfect and equal marriage between the cause, the mission, aspiration and the means to get there – through the power of committed donors. It requires champions to make it happen…and we need a few more…

  13. Richard Pordes Avatar
    Richard Pordes

    Yes there is one. It is not an American charity. It is not a European charity.
    It is Indian. And it was started by an Indian Airlines flight attendant, who was not an expert on branding, but knew everything about how to deal with people.
    It’s called CRY, which stands for “Child Rights and You.”
    As a result of their branding, they are now one of the top charities in India. Even though they are relatively young.
    Check them out at http://www.cry.org

  14. Richard Pordes Avatar
    Richard Pordes

    Yes there is one. It is not an American charity. It is not a European charity.
    It is Indian. And it was started by an Indian Airlines flight attendant, who was not an expert on branding, but knew everything about how to deal with people.
    It’s called CRY, which stands for “Child Rights and You.”
    As a result of their branding, they are now one of the top charities in India. Even though they are relatively young.
    Check them out at http://www.cry.org

  15. Sherri W. Morr Avatar
    Sherri W. Morr

    Perhaps you are not reading the appropriate material. Many many organizations are donor oriented…they highlight and recognize donors in reports, on line, and in newsletters. Most know quite well, that without donors, organzations with or with out branding, would simply fade away.And of course our history explicitly details many organizations who came into being because of donor needs, donor action, and donor passion. So, having said that, I thank you for reminding us that so much of what we do is because of donors, for donors, and with donors. And yes Virginia, there is a brand!
    Sherri W. Morr, San Francisco

  16. Sherri W. Morr Avatar
    Sherri W. Morr

    Perhaps you are not reading the appropriate material. Many many organizations are donor oriented…they highlight and recognize donors in reports, on line, and in newsletters. Most know quite well, that without donors, organzations with or with out branding, would simply fade away.And of course our history explicitly details many organizations who came into being because of donor needs, donor action, and donor passion. So, having said that, I thank you for reminding us that so much of what we do is because of donors, for donors, and with donors. And yes Virginia, there is a brand!
    Sherri W. Morr, San Francisco

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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