Branding has been a part of human culture for millennia, from the creation of cave drawings to religious symbols to modern-day logos. In recent times, branding has become an essential tool for nonprofits looking to make a difference in the world.
Nonprofit branding can be thought of as the process of creating a visual identity for your organization that conveys its mission and values. As with any brand, the goal is to create something that people will remember, feel good about and want to support.
As Debbie Millman explains in her TED talk, “the most popular, influential brands are not brands being pushed down by the corporation. They are brands being pushed up by the people, for the people, for the sole purpose of changing the world and making it a better place.” This is a powerful statement, and it speaks to the potential impact of branding for nonprofits.
One of the key benefits of branding for nonprofits is the ability to unite people around shared ideals. With the pink pussyhat—a handmade hat worn in support of the Women’s March in 2017—branding created a mark for this movement that became universally recognizable and connected an audience like never before. The pussyhat was so effective because it was an accessible symbol. Anyone could wear one, and anyone could understand what the hat represented. The power of this branding tactic is that it made a movement much broader than any one person or group.
But branding isn’t just about creating a symbol, a logo, or a tagline. It’s about creating a story, a message, and a set of values that resonates with people and inspires action. It’s about developing a unique identity that sets a nonprofit apart from others and communicates its mission and impact.
Branding is about creating an emotional connection with people. It’s about finding ways to make an audience feel something—empathy, hope, inspiration or anything else that drives action and support.
But most of all, branding is crucial for fundraising and donor engagement.
In a crowded nonprofit landscape, creating a strong brand can help a nonprofit stand out and attract support from donors who share its values and goals. A well-crafted brand also fosters trust—which is essential for building long-term relationships with supporters by showing that the organization has consistency in thought, mission or products/services offered.
But how can nonprofits develop their brands? And how do you know if yours is working effectively?
The first step is to define your brand. What do you stand for? Who are you trying to reach, and what do they need? How do you want people to feel when they hear your name or see your logo? This can be tricky, but defining your brand will help guide all future decisions—from marketing materials to fundraising strategies. Once you’ve got a solid understanding of how you want people to perceive your nonprofit, it’s time to communicate those ideas effectively with visual elements such as logos and websites.
You’ll want a logo that’s simple, memorable and consistent. It’s the first thing people will see when they come across your nonprofit. A good logo should also be flexible enough to work across various mediums, from business cards and letterhead to website headers and social media icons.
Websites are a great place for nonprofits to share their mission, vision and values with the world—and they can also help raise awareness about your cause.
If you’re not sure where to start, consider hiring a professional designer to help with your visual identity and website. When it comes down to it, your nonprofit’s brand is a reflection of who you are and what you stand for. If you want to be taken seriously, you need to take your brand seriously.
The importance of branding for nonprofits cannot be overstated. It is a powerful tool for uniting people around shared ideals, communicating mission and impact, and attracting support from donors and supporters. Nonprofits that invest in branding and marketing will be better positioned to make a difference in the world and create a culture that reflects and honors the kind of world we want to live in.