Why branding is bad for fundraising (but it doesn’t have to be)

Tom Harrison’s column in FundRaising Success magazine might seem like a dumb question: Can Branding Help Fundraising?

It’s not.

I haven’t talked to Tom about this, but I’m reasonably sure his experience with nonprofit branding is much like mine: far too often, branding efforts slaughter fundraising results.

Which is why he asks the question. And why you should too.

Branding can help fundraising, but it has to be done right:

… great branding for a nonprofit must, by definition, support fundraising. That doesn’t mean messages we wish people would give to. It means understanding our donors and meeting them where they are, by intentionally designing brand campaigns with messages and offers that donors have supported and will support…. the brand strategy needs to be tested via fundraising metrics to ensure that the brand campaign always supports the organization’s goals — of growing revenue to make the world better.

Here’s why branding efforts typically fail to improve fundraising:


  • It’s not tested. They take as truth the opinions of branding experts who have no knowledge of real-world fundraising. If you’re serious about nonprofit branding, you will make no serious decisions based on experts alone. And that includes focus group findings.
  • It’s based on outmoded commercial branding practices. Old-line commercial branding is built on the foundation that the job is to prove our company is the best. That’s bad branding in the commercial world, and it’s even worse in the nonprofit world.
  • It’s aimed at the wrong audience. The brand experts know what side of their bread is buttered. They create brand standards that make employees of the nonprofit happy. Wrong demographic, wrong psychographic. The organization gets a brand they love. But it misses the donors entirely.

Listen to Tom. Test your brand before you roll it out. Otherwise, you can expect a whole world of hurt to your fundraising revenue.

(See also How a brand change will impact revenue: Real-life figures.)


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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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