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Assessing Your Brand & Communications

Lori Halley  03 December 2010  3 comments

Assessing Your Brand & Communications

This is a guest post by Howard Levy, founder of The Nonprofit Brand Institute  a branding agency that creates effective brands, websites and marketing campaigns for nonprofits to increase their visibility, fundraising and effectiveness.Visit them at http://npbrandit.com/

How Well Do Your Donors Know Your Organization?

In large part that depends upon how well you are communicating your brand - your vision, values and personality. If done well, you can form deep and lasting bonds with your donors. If not, you risk confusing your audience. In a short-attention span world, organizations that are able to quickly communicate their value are the ones that attract the most overall support.

This article focuses on how you can evaluate your brand and marketing communications. A 10-step brand review will help you assess how your brand is holding up or, if you are just starting out, it will help you develop a successful brand.

1. Uniqueness matters

With 1 million nonprofits in the United States competing for donors' attention, your organization needs to stand out. A clear and compelling mission is crucial for attracting people to your cause. Is your mission unique, easy to understand, and inspiring? Or has it become muddled over the years?

2. Message

You know what your organization does, but do other people? Getting others to understand your message requires persistence. A recent survey we did of long-time donors to an organization showed they didn't fully understand the nonprofit's services. Repetition is key, and just as you begin to tire of hearing your story, it is probably just starting to get through to your donors.

3. Brand personality

Personality is a powerful way of distinguishing organizations with similar missions. For example, in finding a cure for a disease, one organization may communicate in an authoritative tone to establish credibility on policy issues, and another may speak more emotionally to inspire people to action. Your organization's personality is conveyed through the language, images, colors, and even the media that you use (think policy report versus Facebook). Review your marketing materials with this in mind (or, better yet, have others do it) to determine how your organization comes across.

4. Emotional impact

People choose to donate to an organization because they are motivated to do so in some way. They may feel an affinity for the organization's values, be moved by a story of someone the organization has helped, or feel inspired by the organization's mission or leader. Language in brochures and websites that is organization- oriented and merely describes services (often with industry jargon) misses out on the opportunity to inspire donors to action.

5. Perception

Your brand can build trust and positive perception when you speak with a genuine voice, are consistent in your actions, and follow through on what you promise. Strong leadership, empowered employees, and fiscal responsibility set the right tone. Decisions inconsistent with your mission - such as partnering with a corporate sponsor that doesn't share your core values - undermines your credibility. Are all of your organization's actions in alignment with its values?

6. Professionalism

If you want people to take your organization seriously, you have to do so as well. This starts with presenting a professional face to the world. You wouldn't take someone seriously if they wore jeans to a job interview, so why solicit donors with an unprofessional logo, brochure, and website? To earn people's trust, you need to ensure that all your marketing meets a high standard of excellence.

7. Consistency

When your donor receives your newsletter in the mail, visits your website and receives an email requesting a donation, do they know that they come from the same organization? Is there consistency in how your logo colors and images are used, the values and messages that are conveyed, and the tone of voice that is used? Consistency breeds familiarity, recognition and trust. And it maximizes your marketing budget by reinforcing your brand at every opportunity.

8. Communication strategy

The method and frequency in which you reach people can be just as important as what you say. Everyone has their own preferences for printed newsletters, email, social media, and events. The extent to which you can tailor your marketing to your individual donor preferences will improve your responses and potentially save you money on printed mailings.

9. Budget

Planning your marketing budget for the year is critical to maintaining a regular brand presence in front of donors. Consider all the ways you reach donors and map out the costs for each in a spreadsheet to see your total fundraising and brand investment for the year. This will also help to plan for subsequent years and provide a good basis of comparison.

10. Ongoing measurement & monitoring

Developing an effective brand is part art and part science. You may not get everything right the first time, but you shouldn't repeat the same mistake twice. Establish systems to track your responses and periodically review them to determine which tactics to eliminate and which to increase. A combination of quantitative research, such as web traffic reports, and qualitative feedback, such as interviews, will help you keep your message, brand and strategy on target.

What Next?

A brand assessment will indicate the ways in which you can improve your message as well as give you a better understanding of your stakeholders. The results may help you refine or redefine your programs and mission. You'll feel empowered, knowing that you are proactively shaping your organization's brand, rather than leaving it to fate. This assessment can help you to:

  • Communicate more clearly with donors
  • Build your organization's visibility and recognition
  • Allocate your marketing budget in ways that are most effective
  • Determine if you need outside help to set up a marketing plan with ongoing assessment and refinement

To be most effective, the brand assessment should be overseen by one knowledgeable decision maker who can communicate well with both staff and board members. This "brand champion" can lead the efforts to a more effective organization. There are many resources to help you get started, including The Nonprofit Brand Institute (npbrandit.com).

Additional Reading:

Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Friday, 03 December 2010 at 11:04 AM


  • Rob Wu said:

    Friday, 03 December 2010 at 2:09 PM

    Sarah Durham's Brandraising is a great resource to complement this 10 step brand review. It's a quick read that provides a solid strategic framework.

  • Amy Pollack said:

    Monday, 06 December 2010 at 3:16 AM

    This is an excellent overview, Howard. You have articulated these concepts succinctly and thoughtfully. Three thoughts to add:

    1. When undertaking a brand assessment, be sure that your Board is on board. Uninformed board members who do not understand this undertaking and what it can produce can be counter-productive and de-rail this initiative.

    2. Organizations often focus solely on their logo as the representation of their brand, which puts a big burden on an icon that will only be viewed for a few seconds at a clip. While a logo and tag line can be key ingredients, the brand is much more than an icon; the brand is the value that the organization brings to that icon and includes every way that people interact with the organization—even how the telephone gets answered.

    3. One exercise that I have found helpful is to ask organizations to pretend that their agency is a person who they are meeting for the first time. After that initial, brief encounter, what words would they use to describe the personality and gut feelings that they had about that visit? Funny, serious, cute, bold, aggressive, creative, etc. are just a few kinds of responses that can help to define the brand. Some of these qualities may be ones that the organization wants to maintain, but just as valuable can be discovering features that they would like to change.

    Thank you again for your insights, Howard.

  • Howard Adam Levy said:

    Wednesday, 26 January 2011 at 5:44 PM

    Thanks for your comments - both informative. I would recommend Brandraising - it's a great introduction to the topic for nonprofits. Also check out the Nonprofit Brand Institute at npbrandit.com.

    Amy, you raise some very good points, your board must be on board. You can read my article on “Stewarding Your Brand: The Board's Role in Managing Your Nonprofit's Brand, originally published in Board Member magazine,  http://www.redroostergroup.com/2010/09/15/stewarding-your-brand/

    You are right that a brand is more than a logo and tagline - it's the promise that an organization makes and how well they go about fulfilling that promise.

    I have found the exercise you mention to be valuable as well. Thanks for sharing.


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