News and analysis
December 08, 2013

Branding Can Help Clarify Mission and Attract Donors, Say Authors

The Nike Foundation’s Girl Effect movement aims to fight poverty in developing countries by keeping girls in school longer and postponing marriage and childbirth.

Charities should be less wary of branding efforts and use the approach as an effective way to stand out as nonprofits proliferate, say the authors of a new book, The Brand Idea: Managing Nonprofit Brands With Integrity, Democracy and Affinity. Nathalie Laidler-Kylander, a public-policy lecturer at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, who wrote the book with Julia Shepard Stenzel, a consultant to nonprofits, talks with The Chronicle:

Why is having a brand so important?

Branding answers the question of who you are, what you do, and why it’s important. Brand is the asset that enables you to gain support from your beneficiaries, donors, and partners to successfully drive mission impact.

One of the problems we have in the nonprofit sector is that we’re perceived as a sea of sameness—we’re all doing the same thing and we’re all trying to do good. What a brand forces you to do is to identify how you’re different.

That ability to differentiate yourself relative to other players is what reduces competition. If you have clarity on who you are and why you’re different, it will be easier to not chase the same funding, and it enables you to partner with people who are complementary to you.

What does trust mean when it comes to branding?

If you’re divorcing your brand from your core values, you can dilute your brand quickly—making emotional appeals not grounded in fact, portraying people in a way that is not in line with the values of the organization.

Trust is doing and saying what people expect you to do and say in a way that’s consistent with who you are and what you say you are.

Why do nonprofits resist branding?

Very often, nonprofit organizations think marketing is just advertising. In fact, marketing is much more about understanding the needs of your constituents and delivering value.

A lot of people in the nonprofit sector feel that brand is a fundraising tool and that’s all it is. When you view brand in that light, it sits disconnected from the mission and outside of the importance of what the organization is trying to accomplish.

What we see in the organizations that embrace and use their brands is that they view the brand not just as a fundraising tool but as a strategic asset that’s anchored in the mission.

It becomes a lot less about the donor and a lot more about implementing and increasing services for beneficiaries.

Can you name examples of charities with strong brands?

The Girl Effect [an effort by the Nike Foundation to encourage philanthropic and government support of programs that benefit girls] talks about itself as a movement, but it’s really a brand that builds visibility and awareness about teenage girls in developing countries. By developing specific programs that keep them in school and delay the onset of marriage and childbirth, it can have a significant impact on intergenerational poverty.

The “ask” of that particular brand is much more about trying to create as many champions for girls as possible. The use of social media here is to use people’s stories and share information to stimulate conversation about teenage girls.

You’re asking people to use your logo and your brand and pass it on. You’re building a shared sense of commitment and excitement.

In the case of the Lincoln Center, they have an interesting relationship with their patrons—they’re creating brand ambassadors. They’ll take a number of photographs during a performance and they’ll email those photographs to the patrons who attended the performance, then those patrons send the photographs on through their social-media connections.

They’ll invite patrons to share stories as to why it’s meaningful for them to attend certain performances. The personal stories of their patrons become part of the brand.

Send an e-mail to Caroline Bermudez.