Note from Beth: My colleague, Simon Mainwaring, has launched a new series of online courses “WeFirst Works” that help you find your purpose – whether an individual, company, or nonprofit.
How to Brand Your Nonprofit To Scale Your Positive Impact – Guest Post by Simon Mainwaring
Nonprofits do critical work in their communities and around the world and, in so doing, build the awareness of their brands to scale their impact. Yet today they face new competition for mindshare, engagement and donations from purposeful for-profit companies. In a positive sense these social entrepreneurs, startups and large companies are bringing much needed expertise, resources and reach to critical social challenges. At the same time, they represent a challenge to nonprofits trying to win the consumer and citizen attention they need, forcing them to compete in terms of how they take their brands to market. With this in mind, here are a few steps nonprofits can take to stand out among nonprofits and for-profit brands.
- Define a brand purpose with a differentiated point of view: Critical to the success of any brand, nonprofit or otherwise, is a clearly defined purpose that is communicated through a brand story that drives engagement among stakeholders. In some cases, nonprofits confuse their cause with their purpose in that if they were asked why their organization exists, they would talk about the category in which they operate (homelessness, breast cancer research, or addressing climate change), rather than a specific and differentiating point of view on those issues. Once that unique perspective is defined, an organization must make sure that its marketing across all brand touch points is consistent with that point of view. Only then will your nonprofit stand out from other nonprofit competitors and also compete against for-profit brands focused on the same category.
- Shift to community-focused messaging that drives engagement: A second strategy is to ensure nonprofits frame their messaging in ways that will most effectively drive engagement, donations and support. Too often organizations talk about their good work in a self-directed way and, not surprisingly, they don’t get the engagement they were hoping for because, despite its best intentions, the brand is still talking about itself. Instead, what a nonprofit can do is to position its content and messaging as the celebrant of its stakeholder community, rather than its celebrity. By that I mean, the focus of attention should not be the nonprofit itself and what it’s doing to achieve its impact, but rather celebrating the lives of those who are impacted and how that impact is having a positive effect on their future. In simple terms, this is the shift from being self-directed in your messaging to being community-focused because that will engage the attention of stakeholders far more effectively.
- Scale impact through community collaboration: A third strategy nonprofits can use to compete in an increasingly purposeful marketplace is to collaborate with its community to increase the amount of content and awareness it generates. In many cases, nonprofits have limited resources compared to many of the for-profit companies, so nonprofit leaders must be very strategic in how they engage their community members to help them scale their content, reach and impact. This involves embracing a mindset that sees all stakeholders as an extension of the nonprofit’s marketing department and leveraging strategies of co-ownership, co-authorship and co-creation of the brand’s story. Further, when a nonprofit adopts this collaborative mindset, it invariably creates content that does a better job of celebrating its community and impact (rather than itself), and this type of content is always shared more widely.
If a nonprofit does these three things – have a clearly defined and differentiated brand purpose and story, if it talks about the impact work it does in a celebratory rather than self-directed way, and if it creates content in partnership with its community – it will not only stand out from nonprofits in its category, but it will compete with the growing number of for-profit brands now seeking the attention of the same audience. This work is not only essential because the work that nonprofits do is so critical, but in many cases nonprofits are the best qualified organizations to be driving the change that is needed at a community, national and global level. So while it is heartening to see so many new companies rise to the challenge of having a positive impact, it’s important for nonprofits to build their brands most effectively to deliver the unique value and impact they offer.
If you are a nonprofit leader seeking to define your personal purpose, or a nonprofit that wants to define your purpose, visit WeFirstWorks.com for step-by-step online courses that shows you how to do it. Based on the best practices of leading for-profit and nonprofit brands through our consulting at We First, they will empower your nonprofit to grow your awareness, engagement and impact.
Simon Mainwaring is the Founder and CEO of We First, a creative consultancy that builds purpose-driven brands.