How non-profits become experts at Social Branding | Beth's Blog

How non-profits become experts at Social Branding

Guest Post

Note from Beth:      As I’m sprinting to towards the deadline of my next book on Measurement and Networked Nonprofits, co-authoring with the goddess of measurement, KD Paine,  I’m grateful to have some terrific guest posts like this one from Simon Mainwaring

How non-profits become experts at Social Branding, Guest Post by Simon Mainwaring, Founder/Author WE FIRST

There are two elements critical to the success of any branding effort, non-profit or otherwise. The first is compelling brand storytelling, and the second is fluency in social technology. Unfortunately few brands effectively master both, as veteran storytellers struggle to deeply understand social technology, or digital natives rush to emerging technology only to overlook the importance of storytelling. Here’s how a non-profit effectively combines them both.

Brand storytelling, the process by which a company defines and shares its purpose or message, has three parts:

1. You have to make a conscious decision to look inwards and work out what your brand stands for. This is even more difficult for non-profits as often the cause itself can mistakenly serve as a substitute for this important work. A cause is not your brand and this work is important if you hope to define your core values, business strategy and vision for the future.

2. Having done the difficult work of defining your core values and purpose, each non-profit must now frame their story in a community-facing way. Like most marketers today, many non-profits still tell their story in a way that positions themselves as the focus or destination. Instead, every brand must shift from being the celebrity of their community to being its chief celebrant. That means the brand and its story exist to celebrate the success of its donors, field workers or community at large, and in so doing, inspires further fundraising and volunteer efforts on the basis of shared values and a sense of community.

3. Like any product category, every non-profit must also frame its messaging in a way that distinguishes it from competitors within the cause space. This is not being done to beat out “competitors,” but rather to make it very clear to donors as to why they should support your particular non-profit.

The second major element of social branding success is fluency in social technology. The beauty of effective storytelling is that it ensures your brand makes an emotional connection with its audience and that’s when social media works best for you. For what compels a reader to share your cause, event or donation drive with others using social media channels is not the tools themselves but their emotional connection to your brand.

Fluency in social technology is a complex issue but there are three key elements.

1. Fascination: Despite limited resources and time, every non-profit must develop a persistent interest in emerging technology because that is where their customers or donors can be found. This should include a daily diet of blog posts from industry leaders, a study of best practices and case studies, and a curiosity about how for-profit brands are using social media in ways that you can also leverage.

2. Familiarity: Every member of a non-profit should engage in social media themselves to understand the tools and the human dynamics that drive engagement. This takes time and new competencies but the rewards are waiting for those that tap into the scale made possible by these new, relatively inexpensive tools.

3. Failure: Failure implies a willingness to learn new things and to risk mistakes. It demands a decision to be accountable and to apologize. It implies recognition of the fact that online engagement is now a tireless organic, fluid and real time practice.

It’s through the marriage of brand storytelling and social media that non-profits become effective community architects. It also makes them better candidates for for-profit partnerships as the alignment of values, stories and communities becomes far clearer to prospective strategic partners. Ultimately, it is this powerful combination of effective storytelling by non-profits and purposeful branding by for profits that will transform the lives of millions, and ultimately our economy, country and future.

Which of these requirements do you find the most difficult? What support or advice would be most valuable to you?


We First Social Branding seminar to be held in Los Angeles on February 1-2. It will be led by Simon, author the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Amazon bestseller, We First: How brands and consumers use social media to build a better world (named Best marketing Book of 2011 by strategy+business). He will be joined by Carol Cone, Global Vice Chairman Edelman Business + Social Purpose, and Robert Tercek, Chairman, Creative Visions Foundation, and former President of Digital Media at OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network.

The seminar costs $1997 and this includes a free ticket for a non-profit to attend. So if you’re a for-profit, register and invite your favorite non-profit! If you’re a non-profit reach out to a supporter that enables you both to attend! Places are limited and Early Bird pricing is ending this week.

For information and to register, visit: Simon blogs at and tweets @simonmainwaring.

9 Responses

  1. […] How non-profits become experts at Social Branding How non-profits become experts at Social Branding, Guest Post by Simon Mainwaring, Founder/Author WE FIRST […]

  2. Dear Beth,

    Thank you for this awesome blog. Contains a very useful and necessary information about this subject.

    I write also a blog about Non Profits and Social Media in Turkish.

    I’ll be happy to stay in touch.


  3. Thanks, Tansu I’ll take a look at the link. Great to meet a kindred spirit. Hope all is well. Simon

  4. The Heroic Imagination Project, a non-profit organization led by Dr. Phil Zimbardo dedicated to promoting heroism in everyday life, not only represents a great cause but is also a leader in using social media to get the word out. We would love to be a part of the upcoming We First Social Branding Seminar. If you are planning on attending, please consider bringing HIP with you. Contact Mark Riva, Director of Public Engagement for more info at Thanks!

  5. Ash says:

    Thanks for highlighting the importance of this topic! Social branding can help nonprofits pull in a lot of much need financial support through donations.

    ash –

  6. Alvin says:

    I love the part on distinguishing what you believe in from the brand you offer:

    “A cause is not your brand and this work is important if you hope to define your core values, business strategy and vision for the future.”

  7. […] than ever. After all, your brand has to rise above the noise. As Beth Kanter writes in this informative article on social branding: “A cause is not your brand and this work is important if you hope to […]

  8. Thanks so much Alvin and yes, it is critical to distinguish your brand from your cause so your can define your business goals and donors can deeply understand your message. Huge thanks, Simon