Making a Name: Why Branding for Nonprofits Matters More than Ever

Guest post by Natasha Lane.

When you hear the word brand, you might think of Coca-Cola, Apple or any other immense company whose name has become a symbol in its own right. In a fiercely competitive market saturated with high-quality products, branding has evolved to become a vital marketing strategy for every business.

Brand identity now defines companies and sets them apart from others. It reflects both their tangible and intangible attributes, such as their values, tone or voice, and creates a single consistent message that drives their marketing strategy.

But what happens when you’re not selling tangible products or offering paid services? The nonprofit sector isn’t free of competition, and gaining recognition and appealing to new supporters in the vast landscape of social good organizations is no easy task. In this post, we’ll talk about why nonprofits need strong brand identity and go over some helpful tips to get started.

Tell a Story

From social media to advertising campaigns, marketing in the 21st century has become largely story-centric. This has changed the game for for-profit companies, with savvy brands such as Airbnb adopting storytelling as an integral part of their brand strategy. Their ultimate goal is to connect with consumers on a personal level and earn their trust . In fact, no matter the business, audiences have come to expect a story. They want meaning and connection; they want to build a relationship with the brand.

And when you’re not selling a tangible product but running a purpose-driven organization, meaning and connection are inherent to your mission. Every philanthropic organization harbors an enticing story at the core of its identity. It’s your job to share this story to captivate your audience and get them emotionally invested in your work.

DonorsChoose is a wonderful example of a nonprofit organization which has developed a recognizable brand through storytelling, and which continues to motivate their donors with their stories. The organization’s system tells an inspiring story in itself — they offer a platform where public school teachers can write about what their classrooms are lacking and what they need to provide a better learning experience for their students.

Founded by a public school history teacher in the Bronx, it’s an innovative and empowering system, where the teachers’ stories take center stage to inspire donor support.  Much more than a platform for linking educators with donors, DonorsChoose has become a heartwarming brand that embodies the passion of those who understand how education can change the world.

Your development team may already be relying on stories of your origin or impact when engaging donors to drive funding. Use these stories to build a brand identity, one that represents your mission and values as an organization.

Don’t just stop at fundraising initiatives — a brand’s story is weaved continuously. Share your story on social media, refer to it in your blog posts, create engaging videos for your website, and use the same framework to appeal to donors and volunteers.  A strong narrative will directly relate to your mission and impact. That way, when people see your logo or hear your organization’s name, they’ll automatically connect it to the values you seek to represent — and that’s successful nonprofit branding.

Just think of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF): are you imagining the panda logo the moment you hear their name? Or vice versa? WWF has gained worldwide recognition with a persistent and coherent brand identity. From their website to their social media presence and beyond, they’re successfully engaging their audiences and maintaining their image.

Find Opportunities for Partnership

Now that digital marketing is a vital part of every organization’s marketing strategy, nonprofits have been able to easily develop meaningful connections online by having a strong web presence. This has brought new opportunities for development and impactful change. One such opportunity is partnering up with a for-profit company or another nonprofit organization whose mission aligns with yours.

But to gain visibility and appeal to potential partners, your organization needs a sound brand strategy. With strategic branding, you’ll be able to join the conversation in your area of expertise, position yourself as a thought leader in the space, and become a recognizable figure. Others will then want to be associated with you, as the value your organization’s brand brings to the table will be clear. Once you get to this place, you can leverage your brand to give momentum to other organizations and catalyse meaningful dialogue, as The Gates Foundation has so often done.

If you’re in the early stages of brand development or looking to rebrand, start by designing an easily identifiable logo, developing an organization-wide brand style guide, and crafting a unified message for use across various channels. All of your branding efforts should be consistent across platforms and represent your mission.

You may want to find expert help to ensure you’re communicating your brand’s vision well. Consider recruiting a skills-based or pro bono volunteer on VolunteerMatch or hire a professional design agency via an online platform like DesignRush.

Build Internal Cohesion

People often enter the nonprofit sector out of deep-rooted values and concern for certain issues; they want to pursue their ideals and help bring about positive change. When the values and vision of your organization are clearly defined and positioned at the core of your organization’s brand, you’ll find that both your staff and supporters feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves, something that speaks to them personally. This is an important motivator for everyone involved.

In the nonprofit world, branding creates a motivating force from within the organization. A strong brand and story will unify your staff and supporters around a specific cause, energizing them to work hard in their roles to support your organization’s important work.

Don’t leave branding to your marketing team alone! Do your best to weave everyone’s narrative together to strengthen your brand internally. This will motivate your team to contribute to the bigger picture and uphold a unified value system.

Nonprofits aren’t all that different from for-profits when it comes to marketing. The foundational principles largely remain the same. But the differentiating factor is that what you offer to those who join your cause is often intangible and usually doesn’t provide immediate satisfaction. Making the world a better place doesn’t happen overnight. That’s why now more than ever, nonprofits need to build strong brand identity to attract supporters, propel their message forward and catalyze change.  


Author Bio: Natasha Lane is a lady of a keyboard whose fields of expertise could be summed up in branding and digital marketing. Lately, she has become more passionate about helping small nonprofits grow in the Digital Age.   

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