Real nonprofit branding is what donors experience

Here’s a good and corrective look at what brand really should be, from the Brands Create Customers blog: Position the customer, not the brand:

What is called “brand positioning” today is often more messaging strategy than brand strategy…. The typical result is a campaign to sell “the brand” as a desired product perception. The danger is that such campaigns can usurp the brand. They can transform it into a platform of messaging, greatly reducing its ability to innovate and enable.

A lot of attempts at nonprofit branding make this very mistake: Mistaking messaging for brand. Most brand guidelines documents have a few sketchy and abstract paragraphs about the “brand personality,” then pages and pages of color palette, required photo treatments, mandated fonts, and all the ways you must never, never use the logo.

Real brand is how your organization feels to your donors, not what you hope your brand standards will communicate.

You could have the most buttoned-down, attractive message and graphic standards in the world, but if it takes you months to acknowledge a donor’s gift, donors will experience you as sloppy and apathetic.

If your fundraising is a steady stream of bragging about how excellent your processes are and how cool and smart you are, donors will experience you as arrogant and self-centered.

If you never give your donors choice about what they can fund, how they can get involved, or how you’ll communicate with them, their experience with you will be that you see them not as partners, but as bank accounts.

Work on the part of branding that actually matters.


Comments

8 responses to “Real nonprofit branding is what donors experience”

  1. “You could have the most buttoned-down, attractive message and graphic standards in the world, but if it takes you months to acknowledge a donor’s gift, donors will experience you as sloppy and apathetic.”
    Exactly.
    Why is it so easy to miss the point? This reminds me so much of my time in Teach for America when I would watch some teachers completely forget to teach their students (the point) while focusing all their creative energy making their bulletin board and classroom look inviting to students.
    I think it’s because branding is comparatively easy compared to setting up the framwork for consistent acknowledgement, and then actually making it work.

  2. “You could have the most buttoned-down, attractive message and graphic standards in the world, but if it takes you months to acknowledge a donor’s gift, donors will experience you as sloppy and apathetic.”
    Exactly.
    Why is it so easy to miss the point? This reminds me so much of my time in Teach for America when I would watch some teachers completely forget to teach their students (the point) while focusing all their creative energy making their bulletin board and classroom look inviting to students.
    I think it’s because branding is comparatively easy compared to setting up the framwork for consistent acknowledgement, and then actually making it work.

  3. Great post. I agree that focusing on the donor and your clients is key to success. Stay true to your mission and your brand will shine through.

  4. Great post. I agree that focusing on the donor and your clients is key to success. Stay true to your mission and your brand will shine through.

  5. Nice to see us almost agreeing 100% Jeff :-).
    You’re absolutely right in that ‘brand’ is not brand guidelines. But I think to get the most value from our brands we do need to be proactive with them. I agree that the acid test is indeed donor/supporter/customer perception and successful organisations are proactive in terms of informing what those perceptions should be.
    I think this is the essence of proactive brand marketing. It has to be more than ensuring that the experience people enjoy is positive (again you are right in how vital this is). Our actions, delivered and represented consistently though our brand, should actually direct those perceptions the way we want them to go.
    Consequently, effective brand building actually helps to identify the right direction to steer those perceptions and provides a range of tools to help get there…. if it’s done well, of course.

  6. Nice to see us almost agreeing 100% Jeff :-).
    You’re absolutely right in that ‘brand’ is not brand guidelines. But I think to get the most value from our brands we do need to be proactive with them. I agree that the acid test is indeed donor/supporter/customer perception and successful organisations are proactive in terms of informing what those perceptions should be.
    I think this is the essence of proactive brand marketing. It has to be more than ensuring that the experience people enjoy is positive (again you are right in how vital this is). Our actions, delivered and represented consistently though our brand, should actually direct those perceptions the way we want them to go.
    Consequently, effective brand building actually helps to identify the right direction to steer those perceptions and provides a range of tools to help get there…. if it’s done well, of course.

  7. I think it was Jeff Bezos who said: ‘Your brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room.’
    Er…
    That’s it.

  8. I think it was Jeff Bezos who said: ‘Your brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room.’
    Er…
    That’s it.

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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 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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