Strong branding isn’t just for big business.
Nonprofit branding strategies are just as crucial as for-profit branding strategies. More importantly, not-for-profit branding is one of the most important ways to boost engagement and improve community awareness.
But don’t worry: this isn’t a dry, technical guide to nonprofit branding. Interspersed in this guide are unique strategies and creative branding examples. From email marketing to social media, learn how to brand your nonprofit to increase community engagement and improve your results.
Why is nonprofit branding important?
Nonprofit branding emphasizes your mission and communicates it often and authentically.
Your brand is the way you distinguish your organization. It helps separate you from other organizations similar to yours. And in our fast-paced digital age, branding is more important now than ever.
People are inundated with advertisements, text messages, and emails that all scream for their attention. To be heard, your organization needs to have something important to say — and they need to know how to say it.
The good thing is that, as a non-profit organization, you have some advantages over other types of organizations. Individuals tend to trust businesses and non-government organizations more than the government or social media sites. And studies increasingly show that individuals are driven to brands based on their social values.
Strong branding capitalizes on these benefits by bringing social values front and center.
As your name becomes synonymous with the good you do in your community, seeing your logo or colors can be enough to trigger reactions from your community. Donors may be reminded to give money when they see your logo, while community members who benefit from your services will remember you when they need help.
How do you create a nonprofit brand?
Nonprofit branding goes beyond the colors and logo you choose to represent your brand. It’s an entire vision of what your brand stands for — a collective idea that your community should recall as soon as they hear your name or see the visuals associated with your organization.
Outline your mission and values
Before you decide anything else about your brand, you need to know what your organization stands for. Your mission and values will help guide the rest of your branding choices.
Outlining your mission and values before deciding anything else about your brand has a few significant benefits:
- It allows you to create your branding decisions based on your organization’s mission and values rather than making them secondary to your brand.
- It provides a clear direction for your organization and makes other branding decisions seem easy.
- It helps your organization stand out by focusing on the good you do for the community above and beyond anything else.
The Golden Circle Theory provides an intelligent way for your organization to outline its mission and values. According to the theory, successful brands should start by identifying why they exist. From there, they move on to determining how they accomplish their goals. Finally, they identify what they provide in terms of services or products.
Nonprofit branding example: Fandom Forward
Once known as the Harry Potter Alliance, Fandom Forward recently rebranded itself. Their about page explains their mission briefly, following the Golden Circle Theory.
When you read the about page, they clearly outline their ‘why‘ first: “to make the world a more loving, equitable place.”
They follow up by talking about how they accomplish those goals: by harnessing popular fandoms to make activism accessible to people worldwide.
And then, their What We Do section explains the actual what of their mission. By giving the “what” its own section, Fandom Forward can be expansive about the types of social goods they do.
By following this simple formula, Fandom Forward communicates its goals to increase its impact on the world.
Determine your visuals
Once you’ve decided on your mission and values, the next step is to determine your brand’s visuals. This includes:
- Your brand’s logo
- The font(s) you use
- The colors
- Your brand’s name
Think of your visuals as the shorthand you use to communicate with your audience so that, upon seeing your media, they instantly think of your brand.
After you identify your mission and values, use them as guidelines when creating your brand’s visuals.
For example, “Fandom Forward” clearly stems from the company’s mission to use fandoms to promote activism. And many of the fonts they use have a storybook element that plays on this idea.
You can look into color theory to choose colors that properly underline your mission. What’s more, NonprofitAlly has information on how to choose a name for your organization. Unsurprisingly, before they talk about any other considerations, they suggest you start by understanding what your organization does and why it exists.
Decide on your brand voice
How should your brand talk to members of the community? Do you want to come across as a caring friend? A loving grandmother? A wise mentor?
Up until now, you’ve been thinking about what to communicate. But once you start figuring out your brand voice, you can delve into how you communicate.
Your voice is what gives your brand a personality. It helps your organization stand out from other organizations like yours. Plus, it should be at the forefront of your mind whenever you communicate with your community, whether in person, on the phone, on social media, or through email.
Understanding your voice will help you determine:
- What types of adjectives to use when describing events
- Whether or not you use emojis or memes
- The preferred reading level of content you produce
- Whether you address readers directly or speak indirectly
- The types of sources you’ll cite in your content
One thing you’ll notice about nonprofits with consistently good branding is that they have a strong brand voice.
Nonprofit branding example: Project Home Again
Project Home Again is a nonprofit organization that aims to “provide those in need with the furniture and household goods necessary to live in comfort and with dignity — free of charge.”
While this nonprofit has a great mission, its strong brand voice helps them stand out. Their TikTok account is filled with short videos showing how they pull items together for families, narrated by a woman whose voice is filled with excitement for the family’s new start and respect for the individuals.
The rest of their social media posts follow the same trend. They emphasize the emotions of those who need their supplies and gratitude for donors. This voice works well for their organization, which has respect and dignity as two of its core tenants.
Create a brand guide
Once you’ve established your mission and values — and have decided how to communicate them via visuals and a strong voice — the final step to creating your brand is to make a brand guide. This brand guide should be a short document that explains your brand, outlining everything from your mission to your voice in clear terms.
Your brand guide should include:
- Your mission statement
- A description of your brand’s voice with examples
- Descriptive words you like associated with your brand
- Acceptable fonts to use
- The quality of sources you expect
- The types of images you like to see, including any filters you regularly use on social media
Your brand guide should also answer common questions that might crop up, like whether you’re okay with marketers drawing on memes or using emojis when they write for your brand.
Having a guide maintains consistency across the board. As your organization grows and you hire more people to help, your brand guide will ensure your brand stays the same.
Freelance writers, marketing experts, and web design teams will rely on your guide to create a cohesive, omnichannel branding experience for your target audience. So, you want it to be descriptive enough that they have the information they need but concise enough that they’ll be able to familiarize themselves with your brand quickly and easily.
Keep in mind that a good brand guide is a living document, meaning as your organization grows and changes, the brand guide changes accordingly.
Keeping a brand guide as a living document, regardless of how your audience interacts with you, ensures that the same voice is speaking to them. Keeping it up-to-date helps your brand communicate with a sustained level of consistency. Having this in place means it doesn’t matter if your marketing team consists of one person or has a hundred people operating it — your audience will always feel the same level of personal connection.
How do nonprofits build their brands?
Building a nonprofit brand requires equal parts diligence and strategy.
Before you engage with your audience, you first need to create a branding strategy, understand your audience, and decide how to tell your story. Once those elements are in place, actively engaging with your audience becomes much more accessible.
While there’s no such thing as overnight success, a strong marketing strategy combined with showing up with your A-game every day can yield significant results for your nonprofit.
Creating a nonprofit branding strategy
The first step to building your brand includes creating a nonprofit branding strategy. This will identify:
- Which social media channels you’ll use
- Other ways you’ll communicate with your audience, including SMS marketing, branded emails, or a combination of SMS and email marketing
- How you’ll curate content
- What types of original content you’ll create, including blog posts or video content
- Who will be in charge of different aspects of marketing
- How often you’ll create content
Keep in mind that creating your branding strategy isn’t a one-and-done process. You’ll want to audit your marketing strategies regularly.
You can adjust where and how you’ll market your organization by tracking your nonprofit’s key performance indicators. Making continual adjustments to your marketing strategy creates forward momentum for your organization, allowing your brand to grow year after year.
Understanding your audience
Any time you write an email, send a newsletter, or post on social media, you must have a clear understanding of your audience. Whether you’re talking to potential donors, volunteers, or people who might benefit from your services.
Understanding your audience can help you know what to say and how and where to say it. When you know your audience, you can answer any marketing questions that may crop up.
For example, consider this question: Should your nonprofit use TikTok?
With over a billion active users every month and a relatively low barrier to entry, TikTok is a smart marketing avenue for many organizations. But whether or not your brand should use TikTok depends on who your audience is. After all, nearly half of all TikTok users are 10-29 years old, and over half of users are female. So if your target audience is men in their 60s, TikTok may not be a smart marketing channel for you.
To learn more about your audience:
- Send out nonprofit surveys to your clients, volunteers, and donors
- Pay attention to which content gets liked, shared, or upvoted on social media
- Talk to the people who come into your office to learn more about them
- Attend community events and get to know people who come up to your booth
Once you have an idea of who your audience is, you can do a write-up of your target audience. This customer profile write-up will help you — and other members of your marketing team — speak to your target audience in an engaging and personal way.
Some organizations may even have various customer profiles. For example, your nonprofit may have one profile for your donors and another for service recipients.
However, any single communication can only be made for one profile. Deciding which audience you’re speaking to will help you communicate clearly and confidently.
Telling your story
All nonprofit organizations have a story to tell. Learning how to tell that story compellingly will help your nonprofit stand out from others.
Testimonials are a compelling way to tell your brand’s story. Testimonials are powerful because they provide a first-person account of your brand’s impact on the community.
But while some nonprofits have an easy time collecting testimonials, for other nonprofits, testimonials might not be the right way to tell your story.
TikTok provides an avenue for nonprofit organizations to tell their own stories. The short video format provides immediate intimacy and authenticity, which can help build trust with your audience.
Infographics are another option for nonprofits and can be especially helpful for organizations that have been around for a while, showcasing the impact of their work on the community.
However you choose to tell your story, the key is to tell it well and tell it often. Your story is the “why” behind your brand. It is the primary way to compel your community to take action and contribute to your cause.
Engaging with your audience
Today, there are more social media platforms than you can shake a stick at. It’s easy to get lost in all the places to build your brand and forget how to build it. But when building a brand, experts recommend focusing on your audience’s total experience.
John Feczko, the senior vice president of innovation at Macy’s, says the key to improving total experience is for companies to “blend entertainment and information.”
There are several ways nonprofit organizations can blend entertainment and information. You might:
- Host an event that educates your community about what you do while providing challenges or entertainment
- Engage on social media in a fun yet informative way
- Provide an FAQ on your website, in written or video format, to help audiences understand your organization and what you do
- Curate content that your target audience will find compelling
- Send email newsletters with strong calls to action
- Use SMS marketing to communicate with your target audience in real-time
Nonprofit branding example: DoSomething
DoSomething is a strong case study for learning how to engage audiences. Their organization is dedicated to helping their target audience — primarily millennials and Gen Zs — find active ways to support the causes they care about.
DoSomething engages its audiences by having clear calls to action on its social media posts. Instead of solely dropping curated content, they invite the audience to follow up in a specific way.
Calls to action have a big impact on audiences. They make it easy to engage with a brand since consumers don’t have to figure out how to engage.
DoSomething also uses hashtags to help their information show up to relevant audiences. Hashtags help to organize information. When people search by hashtags, tagged posts are more likely to appear in the results. Additionally, hashtags help social media channels understand the topics audiences like to engage with, which promotes your content to the right people.
Boost community engagement with strong nonprofit branding
Building a solid brand can help your nonprofit increase community engagement. And the result is more recognition for your nonprofit, more donations, and more people knowing who you are when they most need your services.
Before you start sending email newsletters or wrapping your head around SMS marketing, you first need to know who you represent. Ultimately, that’s what branding is all about. It helps you understand your organization and communicates that knowledge with the right people.
Get started today by working on a mission statement for your organization. Outline your values and goals, paying extra attention to the “why” behind what you do. Once you know exactly what your organization represents, the rest of your branding efforts — like your how, brand voice, logos, fonts, etc. — will begin to fall into place.