Posts Tagged ‘brand management’

The value of your nonprofit brand: Are you making the most of it? 

To many, “brand” is a corporate sector concept. While you may not think of your nonprofit as having a brand or a “brand identity,” it does. Overlooking this is a huge mistake, not to mention a major missed opportunity. It’s not enough to have a brand; organizations need to understand the value of their brand and how to maximize this value.

Why should nonprofits care about the value of their brand? Simple. It’s a key competitive advantage and a significant asset.

In the nonprofit sector, brand value is derived from and measured in large part by the support of volunteers, donors and community members. In addition, media visibility is an important component of generating support, as well as being a measure of it. Nonprofits can both leverage and strengthen their stakeholders’ support. In the process, they can enhance the value of their brands and the resources these brands attract. A communications strategy is an important tool in achieving these outcomes. And, in today’s increasingly technology-dominated world, social media is becoming an essential component of an effective communications strategy.

The importance of brand in the nonprofit sector

This article draws on the findings of a study conducted by Cone Communications and Intangible Business, published in the report, The Cone Nonprofit Power Brand 100, to illustrate the importance of brand in the nonprofit sector. It discusses the role of communications in building and strengthening brand value, and highlights corporate-NGO partnerships as an example of situations where nonprofits can leverage their brand value to attract resources to advance their missions.

Defining your brand

While no one bats an eye when we speak of a corporation’s brand or the brand of a consumer good, people often look confused when we talk about “nonprofit brands.” However, the concept applies equally well to nonprofit organizations. Every nonprofit has a brand.

On the surface, your brand is your organization’s name, logo, tag line and other descriptors. But, it goes much deeper than this. Your brand is what your stakeholders experience when they see your brand images, hear your name and read your tag line. It’s the emotions they feel, the thoughts they have and the mental images they see. Strong brands create positive experiences and stimulate positive emotions. They have the capacity to attract resources, not only financial ones, but the support of customers, volunteers, community leaders, influential spokespersons and the media. The support they generate is self-reinforcing.

Measuring your brand value

A strong brand is a major asset. As the Cone report reveals, the nonprofit sector in the United States wields significant “brand power.” The top 10 nonprofit brands alone have a combined “brand value” of more than $29 billion. By attempting to measure the value of nonprofit brands, the study highlights the benefits of having a strong brand identity and the importance of communication in building and maintaining this identity.

In the study, Intangible Business applied a process, called “brand valuation,” to calculate the tangible value of a brand. This involves assessing three things:

  1. Brand image
  2. Revenue in the most recent fiscal year
  3. Projected future revenue
  4. Brand image is measured by visibility (media coverage), accessibility, volunteer involvement and support, operational efficiency and diversity of funding (individual contributions versus foundation and government support).

While the calculation of a nonprofit’s brand value is similar to that used for corporate brands, what is different is the assessment of volunteer, donor and community support. Strong nonprofit brands have a broad base of engaged stakeholders. To achieve this, an organization must invest in developing and nurturing relationships with its stakeholders. This requires developing and implementing an effective communications strategy.

Building your brand value

The report lists “10 Essentials for Enhancing Brand Power.” These are interrelated strategies for increasing stakeholder engagement and securing needed financial, in-kind and advocacy-related resources. The majority of the essentials are communications-related.

These are largely common knowledge, but it’s striking how frequently they are overlooked:

  1. Build brand stewards: This refers to assuring that “you have aligned your entire internal staff, volunteers and board around your brand and your brand meaning.”
  2. Establish (and adhere to) brand guidelines: Here, the most important part is between the parentheses. All too often, guidelines are tucked away in a folder on someone’s computer, rather than being integrated into all messaging – both internal and external.
  3. Create a dialogue with brand ambassadors: This builds on the previous tip. The key here is the importance placed on two-way conversation and listening; the latter is an oft-overlooked and under-valued skill.
  4. Deliver crisp communications: Enough said.

Two of the tips specifically urge nonprofits to be strategic, to look outward and forward, and to be nimble. These involve strategic communications, as well:

  1. Develop quick reflexes: Nonprofits need to place themselves in the context of the external environment (or market) and ensure that they are relevant.
  2. Issue a rallying cry: Through the positive social change that they create, nonprofits are inspirational. Successful nonprofits know how to connect emotionally with their constituents and deliver on their brand promise. They know how to seize critical moments in time and engage constituents on behalf of their causes.

Incorporating social media

While nothing will ever replace face-to-face communications in terms of its ability to cultivate lasting relationships, in today’s world organizations must leverage the power of social media. With its relatively low costs and growing accessibility, social media reduces traditional barriers to reaching and expanding stakeholder communities. It provides opportunities for building deep and broad support, and to remaining top-of-mind.

Easy as it sounds, engaging in social media is no simple undertaking. It requires a sound strategy, a sincere commitment to continual involvement and to two-way conversations, as well as a high level of transparency. These are all long-standing components of best practices in communications. They are essential in the highly visible and fast-paced world of social media.

Being true to your brand

A strong brand is built over time. However, it can be compromised and even destroyed in the blink of an eye. While marketing, communications and media relations can contribute to building awareness of and support for an organization, they can only go so far. If an organization doesn’t deliver on its promises, the best marketing efforts will fall flat or, worse, backfire. The result is a cascading effect with others’ communications in the driver’s seat.

While the loss of financial resources may be the most visible outcome, far worse is the loss of positive brand experience and brand image. A damaged reputation may be irreparable. This is increasingly the case in today’s closely connected global community where information is readily accessible in even the most remote areas, and where stories are spread with the click of a mouse and then retained in virtual perpetuity.

Leveraging brand value in partnerships

The final “essential” is:

Build corporate partnerships: This advice is particularly noteworthy. It’s an example of how nonprofits can and should leverage their brand power. It acknowledges the power that nonprofit brands have – not only in attracting revenue to support their work, in the same way that corporate brands attract investors, but also in attracting essential non-financial resources. The latter include customers, volunteers, community leaders and media attention. Nonprofits with strong brands typically have significant community support. This is a resource that many corporations do not have, and it is a resource that they want and need.
In essence, for the nonprofit that wants to secure corporate support, its brand value provides a rationale for why a business should consider partnering with it. Brand value provides a measure of the assets the nonprofit brings to the table and puts it on an equal footing in the relationship. As the report states, “Valuing brands gives organizations a license to demonstrate to companies and other partners that there is an established and justified cost to aligning with nonprofits.”

This is not something that only the “big guys” (e.g., the nonprofit “power brand 100”) have access to. In fact, community-based nonprofits typically have significant brand value, as demonstrated by the strong support they derive from their local communities. In the context of cross-sector partnerships, this can be leveraged effectively with local businesses and corporations.

A note regarding cross-sector partnerships: Before entering into a partnership, a nonprofit should carefully assess the potential corporate partner’s brand value and determine if there is a good match between their brands.

In sum, every nonprofit has a brand. It is an essential asset that should be developed, protected and leveraged. It reflects the nonprofit’s mission, vision and values, and the impact it has in making our world a better place. Through their work to create positive social change, nonprofits are able to cultivate deep and lasting communities of supporters. This is a significant component of nonprofits’ “brand power” and an important factor in securing the resources nonprofits need to advance their missions.

See also:

Breakthrough Nonprofit Branding: Seven Principles to Power Extraordinary Results

Marketing Series–Volume One: Building a Persuasive Case, Seven Transformative Branding Principles, Multi-faceted Strategies and Bonding with Brands for Life

Measuring the Networked Nonprofit

Brainfluence: 100 Ways to Persuade and Convince Consumers with Neuromarketing

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Give yourself a new lease on language for branding

“We believe that although what a brand is may be the same across sectors, what a brand can do for an organization and how best to manage brands differ between for-profit and nonprofit organizations,” explain Laidler-Kylander and Shepard Stenzel, coauthors of The Brand IDEA.

This quotation captures the reason why the authors were compelled to write The Brand IDEA: Managing Nonprofit Brands with Integrity, Democracy and Affinity. “While there is a fair amount of literature related to brand and brand management, almost all of this has focused on for-profit brands. The lack of frameworks or guidelines specifically for nonprofit brands was part of the impetus for our original research, say Laidler-Kylander and Shepard Stenzel.

Specifically, “IDEA” in the title stands for Integrity, Democracy and Affinity. “Our framework is based on what a number of cutting-edge nonprofit organizations are currently doing and it has resonated strongly with many people in the sector. During our interviews, we learned how the terms of Integrity, Democracy and Affinity gave people a new language to talk about brands and provided an “on-ramp” to a new way of managing brands,” add the coauthors.

In our CausePlanet interview, we asked the authors about where most nonprofits fail when trying to manage their brands as well as how to navigate board meetings when it comes to branding.

CausePlanet: Where do most nonprofits fail when trying to manage a brand effectively?

Kylander and Stenzel: Many nonprofits fail from the outset because they do not grasp the importance of their brands in driving their missions and they fail to see the value of proactively managing their brands (Integrity). In nonprofits, the brand plays important roles both internally and externally in building cohesion and trust and generating capacity and impact. You have a brand whether you manage it or not. The first step is to view the brand as a strategic asset for implementing your mission. When individuals are stuck in the old paradigm where they see the brand only as a tool for fundraising or are skeptical about the role of the brand in nonprofits, they are not able to be effective in managing the brand to achieve the organization’s desired impact.

CausePlanet: What rationale might you give a board that questions the resources (time, treasure or talent) necessary to manage a brand effectively?

Kylander and Stenzel: Brand management is less about the use of financial resources and more about embracing a brand mindset throughout the organization. If you understand the brand as the embodiment of the mission, a strategic asset that enables you to increase your organization’s impact, then the brand and brand management become part of everyone’s job. Brand Democracy suggests that organizations do have to spend time and effort including all stakeholders in the articulation and communication of the brand, but the result is not only much greater organizational cohesion but also a greater number of brand ambassadors. Many individuals spoke to us about how their brand acted like a “north star” for the organization or “the lines in the road.” When you have an effective brand, it facilitates decision making and can help clarify what programs, partnerships and people best fit the organization. It also allows nonprofits to reduce the amount of control needed to manage the brand. Organizations that have invested time in building brand Integrity, Democracy and Affinity have been able to subsequently build capacity and increase their impact.

In our live interview via webcast with Kylander and Stenzel, we found that every question our attendees had for the coauthors could be answered within the realm of Integrity, Democracy and Affinity (IDEA). The authors’ three concepts or acronym IDEA surrounding a nonprofit brand became a useful and easy-to-remember guideline for brand management. For example, below are sample questions related to each concept within the IDEA framework:

The IDEA framework:

I – Integrity:

Does your brand align with your mission and core values?

Does your brand identity (internal) align with your image (external)?

DE – Democracy

Do you engage all your stakeholders in defining and communicating your brand identity?

A – Affinity

Does your brand allow you to collaborate and extend your sphere of influence to maximize your impact?

If you feel like you’re managing your brand through the lens of corporate standards, consider looking into The Brand IDEA; you’ll find the book speaks a mission-centered language and provides examples of high-impact nonprofits increasing their impact through customized and nonprofit-friendly IDEAs.


See also:


Breakthrough Nonprofit Branding

Blue Ocean Strategy

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How democratic is your brand? Two nonprofits answer.

“Defining and nurturing the brand should fit within the job description of every person working for an organization. And efforts to define and nurture an organization’s brand should involve its supporters and benefactors as they work on the organization’s behalf as advocates and ambassadors,” says Christopher Stone, professor and faculty director at Harvard University.

The Brand IDEA coauthors, Nathalie Laidler-Kylander and Julia Shepard Stenzel, agree. They believe that everyone involved in nonprofit organizations, whatever his or her capacity, has a role to play in managing the brand.

The intent of The Brand IDEA is to inspire nonprofit managers, board members, funders, foundations, consultants, academics and students with a new way of thinking about the critical roles that brands play in furthering mission and social change.

Nonprofit brands are growing in their importance and position in our society. Organizations command tremendous levels of trust with the public and their brand valuations are on par with those of major corporations. Nonprofit leaders who realize the importance of managing this incredible asset will find the IDEA framework an innovative guide and tool for managing brand potential. So what is the IDEA framework? Briefly, I-DE-A is an acronym for the authors’ framework and stands for the following:

Brand Integrity

The authors define brand Integrity (the “I” in IDEA) as the “alignment between the brand identity and image and the mission, values, and strategy of the organization. Brand identity and brand image are two sides of the same coin: brand identity is the internal reflection of the organization’s brand; brand image is the external perception of that same organization’s brand.”

Brand Democracy

The authors define brand Democracy as the “extent to which an organization engages its board, staff, members, participants, volunteers, supporters, and other stakeholders in both defining and communicating the brand identity.” Through brand Democracy, your organization can achieve alignment between brand identity and image, and brand Integrity helps implement Democracy. In other words, Democracy helps define brand Integrity and Integrity helps ensure that the brand remains strong and is not “diluted or hijacked in the process of brand Democracy.”

Brand Affinity

“Brand Affinity refers to the way in which an organization extends its sphere of influence beyond the organization itself, in order to maximize social impact,” according to the authors. They continue by stating that Affinity “represents a mindset and an approach to brand management in which the focus is on shared social impact, rather than on individual internal organizational goals.”

Implementation of the IDEA approach

Since Integrity, Democracy and Affinity are “interrelated and mutually supportive,” the next step involves discussing their implementation as a whole. They recommend three steps but for the purposes of this post, I want to explore the first step: Implement brand Integrity through brand Democracy. Implementing brand Integrity involves three activities that are completed together.

Know who you are

First, conducting research and assessments involves knowing who you are and how you are perceived and understanding key audiences and how you fit in the ecosystem. Gather information internally by brainstorming short descriptors of who you are and use interviews, focus groups, program data, etc., to glean information about external image. These are called brand audits. Then, segment your audiences to understand their needs in order to differentiate yourself among other related nonprofits. This can guide your direction and theory of change and create support as well.

Connect to the mission

Second, driving alignment in two ways is crucial: connecting the brand to clear organizational mission, values and strategy through a participative process (discussing the who, what, why of your organization) and aligning the brand identity and image through an iterative process of exposing and testing internal views. A steering committee with broad representation can work on the brand, integrating external stakeholders (possibly an advisory board) and data, continually gathering outside perspectives in order to monitor the data to address misperceptions, and communicating the brand identity using visuals.

Promote the use of stories

Third, support brand ambassadors through training and promoting the use of stories. To engage internal stakeholders, explain the paradigm shift and regularly train them on the brand’s message so they internalize it. Designating brand champions and brand teams and using tools such as retreats, role-playing, reading clubs, brainstorming sessions on how to talk about the brand, etc., can help engage your staff and volunteers.

The WWF leverages a speech contest

The World Wildlife Fund recently held an elevator speech contest that asked people how they would describe the organization in 30 seconds. It chose several descriptions as winners. Using data collection techniques on perceptions as well as social media can engage external audiences, including beneficiaries, as advocates. Invite your supporters to engage in two-way communication through the networks of their choice by sharing their stories and images. Social media engagement should be simple and focused on a goal. To support these ambassadors, it is necessary to decentralize responsibility for brand communications by guiding, educating, engaging and providing tools rather than policing and controlling, as discussed in the Brand Democracy section above.

Ashoka puts “templatable” tools to use

Bev Schwartz from Ashoka has developed “templatable” tools with similar graphics and language that people can adapt to creatively communicate the brand. Other organizations, such as Amnesty International, have created brand handbooks that “capture the essence of the brand and describe the brand parameters and guidelines.” Finally, storytelling plays a major role in engaging stakeholders and communicating the brand with the heart.

Next week, I’ll talk about which element of IDEA brand management framework is most critical according to Laidler-Kylander and Shepard Stenzel as well as a paradigm shift the authors have observed in brand management. For now, ask yourself if you have begun any of the activities related to building your brand Integrity and Democracy as the authors have described it. Are you leveraging champions in your community to spread the brand? If so, how have they been trained or kept informed?

See also:

Brandraising: How Nonprofits Raise Visibility and Money Through Smart Communications

Content Marketing for Nonprofits: A Communications Map for Engaging Your Community, Becoming a Favorite Cause and Raising More Money

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