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Nonprofit Branding: Before Logos and Colors, Start With This

Whether you’re a start-up nonprofit or been around for decades, there comes a time when you either establish or refresh your brand. Branding is so much more than having a logo and smacking it everywhere you can. It’s a multi-dimensional force that is used to take residence in the hearts and minds of your donors. There are physical and emotional aspects that work together creating a seemingly real-life personality, drawing people closer to the brand, or in some cases away from the brand. And just like a human personality, deep change comes from within an individual, rather than changing what’s on the surface.

That said, my approach to branding is a lot like self-care, begin within and seek a better understanding of your nonprofit so that its existence can take better care of others. This means taking a dive into your nonprofit’s brand identity. Establishing your nonprofit’s vision, mission, and values helps to set the tone not only from an organizational perspective, but also a branding perspective. These three basic pieces of your nonprofit identity help you recognize and understand who your nonprofit is, why it’s here, and who benefits from it. So, let’s dive a little bit into each of these:

Vision:

The vision for your nonprofit is the end state if your nonprofit has achieved everything it set out to do. I call it the “view from the winners’ podium” because the vision states what has been accomplished. To create your vision statement, think of the problem your nonprofit is looking to solve. Next, create a statement based on how the world would look if the problem is solved. For example, Habitat for Humanity’s vision statement is “A world where everyone has a decent place to live.” Notice that this vision is of a world where Habitat’s services may no longer be needed. If everyone has a place to live, then the reason for the nonprofit’s establishment has been completed. The problem they identified is that people around the world do not have a decent place to live. Its vision is the opposite spectrum of that. What is at the opposite spectrum of the problem your nonprofit is trying to overcome?

Mission:

A mission statement is usually a one-sentence action-oriented statement. One definition of the word mission is “a strongly felt aim, ambition, or calling.” In that respect, you can think of a mission statement almost like a “calling statement.” Using our Habitat for Humanity example, its mission statement is “Seeking to put God’s love into action, Habitat for Humanity brings people together to build homes, communities, and hope.” The action words they use are seek, bring, and build. Feeding America’s mission is “to feed America’s hungry through a nationwide network of member food banks and engage our country in the fight to end hunger.” They use the action words feed and engage. Your mission statement succinctly describeshow you will accomplish the vision. Therefore, if you accomplish the mission/calling, then you accomplish the vision of the nonprofit.

Values:

Your nonprofit’s values act as a compass, providing direction on how decisions are made. In a sense, it’s sort of like the conscious of the nonprofit. I’d recommend creating 3–5 values that really drive what your organization believes in. In addition to just listing the values, define what they mean to your organization in a statement for each value. Your nonprofit’s values will serve to align each dimension of your brand as you continue to build it out. For example, as you’re creating a tagline for your nonprofit, you can ask “does this fit within our defined values?” Certainly, the creation of values has a much bigger impact than just helping to develop your brand. They also help to drive the culture of your organization.

When it comes to branding, far too many people start with logos and colors. Those are tactics to activate the brand. You’ve got to take a step back. The strategy work behind your brand is the enduring piece of branding that involves your brand’s identity. Once you’ve got that down, then it’s time to move to some of the aesthetics and physical elements of your brand.

Your turn: If you’ve recently gone through a re-branding or established your brand, what successful approaches did you take?

If you’re interested in learning more about nonprofit fundraising and marketing, then visit my online community Fundraisers Unite! This community features monthly training, weekly coaching, message boards, and downloadable templates for nonprofit fundraising and marketing professionals. Check it out here.

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