5 Ways to Strengthen Your Nonprofit Brand Strategy
Many nonprofits come to an agency for brand strategy services but aren’t sure what the process entails or what makes the work successful. While the steps we take may vary depending on specific project needs—from research and discovery to brand positioning or messaging—we commonly encounter a few stumbling blocks that nonprofit organizations grapple with.
Here are five things to keep in mind to help create a standout nonprofit branding strategy.
#1 Prioritize your audience (as much as possible)
The foundation of a strong brand is clarity and focus, which starts with understanding the distinct needs and motivations of a singular target as much as possible.
While this might be challenging since your nonprofit likely has several audiences, all of whom are critical to your mission, it’s difficult to build a single-minded brand when you’re balancing the needs of five audiences. In doing so, nonprofits often sacrifice some of the magic that can distinguish brands and bring them to life: things like a fun personality, using humor, being quirky, or even edgy—instead opting for a safer, more ubiquitous voice that appeals to broader audience groups but often translates to a less memorable, less ownable brand position.
So, while it’s not easy, prioritizing your audiences—perhaps creating primary, secondary, and tertiary targets—will help sharpen brand focus.
#2 Keep it simple
We are inundated with so many messages and forms of marketing on a daily basis that the organizations who stand out are often the ones that keep it simple—both in messaging and visuals. As nonprofits, while you may want the world to know about all of the important and purpose-led work you do, remember that your brand positioning is distinct from your mission. One is about why you exist, while the other is the unique story to help people remember you. Keeping that to a simple and single-minded idea will increase your chances of being remembered and reinforce the immediate associations people have when they think about you.
#3 Create differentiation
Nonprofits are often so focused on their mission (rightly so) that they forget to think about what makes them unique. It may feel daunting that there are many organizations working to create impact in your space, but differentiation doesn’t have to mean that you are trying to solve a different problem or even solve it in a unique way. Your brand, your voice, and how you tell your story can be the differentiator.
Think about cars, for example. When you hear Subaru, you probably think of the outdoors and adventure. BMW, you think luxury. Volvo, you think safety. They’re all cars that more or less function the same way, but their brand associations are immensely different. That’s positioning—creating the story you want to own—and telling it over and over.
What’s the story you want to tell that’s different from other organizations’ stories?
#4 Be consistent—and think long-term
If you’ve prioritized your audiences and created a simple, differentiated story, the next piece is to be consistent. It’s important to remember your brand strategy is not a campaign—while you may run a fundraising or awareness campaign each year that centers on new and distinct themes, a brand needs to broadcast a consistent idea over time. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a time and place to talk about specific attributes or benefits that might be relevant to a new program (just as an occasional BMW ad might talk about safety features). Just don’t lose sight of your brand positioning when it comes to the bigger picture. Telling a consistent story helps you grow and maintain awareness, establish brand associations, and build trust—all of which lead to more engagement, support, and loyalty.
Your brand is a long-term investment, and consistency is the key to maximizing the benefits.
#5 Get everyone on board
As an agency, when we deliver the components of your brand strategy—whether that’s a positioning statement, brand personality, or messaging framework—it might feel like that’s the end of the work, but it’s actually just the beginning of your brand-building journey. The truth is, you’ll have a strong foundation and a thoughtful presentation deck that you now need to bring to life. To be successful, this important work should fall on not just your marketing or comms team but your whole organization. From your volunteers to your board to your executive team, everyone needs to live and breathe your distinctive voice and story to create a consistent and resonant brand.
Brand positioning can help transform your nonprofit, but the initial work with an agency is just the start. Prioritization, differentiation, consistency, and having all stakeholders involved in building your brand is the key to long-term success.
Media Cause has experience helping many nonprofits bring their brand strategy from idea to execution. As a full-service nonprofit marketing agency, we have the tools to assist with not only the brand development process but also the execution—from web design to creative elements and more. To learn more about how we can help, get in touch.