This is a guest post from Tatiana Morand, SEO Manager at Wild Apricot.
Like many nonprofits, Living Stones Church had different staff members doing different parts of their marketing.
“Nothing was consistent. It didn’t even look like it was all from the same place,” said Marianne Ennis, the director of communication.
Does that sound familiar?
I hear from a lot of nonprofits who are in a similar situation.
One person manages the website, another writes and designs the newsletter, someone else sends monthly email updates. Everyone is doing their best, but the results are uneven. With no consistent nonprofit branding, nonprofit communications can quickly become confusing and scattered.
Or maybe you have a brand, but it doesn’t actually communicate who you are anymore.
This was the problem that Bridges Community Living faced. Under the name Piper Community Foundations, they discovered people had no idea about their mission to provide affordable housing for seniors.
“People thought we were a vet clinic, medical office, plumbers…Our challenge was to get people to know who we were,” said Geoff Olson, executive director.
Both organizations transformed their brands (with help from NonProfit Today), creating nonprofit branding strategies that showed the world who they were and what they cared about. Read on to learn what they did, and how you can begin to create strong nonprofit branding for your organization.
What’s in a Brand?
Before you can inspire someone to engage with and give to your organization, they need to understand who you are and what you do. Your nonprofit’s brand is how you communicate those things.
Nonprofit branding strategy discussions often start and end with the visual elements. Logos, graphics, and fonts are important components of a strong nonprofit brand, but there’s more to branding than tangible marketing tools. The way you present yourself, the kind of language you use, the type of stories you tell, and the way you make people feel are all part of your brand, too.
Visual inconsistency wasn’t the only issue with Living Stones Church’s nonprofit brand. While the church had mission and vision statements in place, they weren’t really telling the organization’s story. “They were more administrative and less about why we do what we do. We are all about people but it wasn’t reflected in our marketing,” said past director of communication, Deanna Morin.
Along with a new logo and tagline, Living Stones Church used their rebranding process to bring their values to life. They created consistent key messaging on marketing collateral, a new easy-to-navigate website, and even on-brand murals inside the church building itself. All of the elements of their nonprofit branding work together to provide a consistent experience to their audience.Their value of “passion for God, compassion for people” is as clear in their social media posts as it is if you walk into the church.
Marianne said the new Living Stones Church brand “really connects with our audience outside of our walls” and “communicate[s] the heart of our church.”
She’s right: branding is about communicating the heart of your organization.
In order to do that, you need to be willing to make big changes. Bridges Community Living’s rebrand included a new logo, marketing collateral, audience personas, and website, but perhaps the most dramatic change was the name of the organization.
The switch from Piper Community Foundations to Bridges Community Living had an immediate impact, not only within the external community, but within the organization itself.
“Our staff totally bought into it and they became our biggest ambassadors. They are willing to talk about who Bridges is and there is a level of excitement that wasn’t there before. We build communities through building homes for seniors. It now leads naturally to a conversation when people hear our name,” said Geoff.
3 Things to Do for Your Nonprofit Branding Today
If you’re in the same situation as the folks at Living Stones Church or Bridges Community Living, approaching a new nonprofit branding strategy might feel overwhelming.
You may be envisioning a year-long process of endless meetings and surveys, thousands of dollars in graphic design and web development, and constant arguing over whether or not “supporting” is a better word than “empowering.”
(It doesn’t have to be like that! Nonprofits can be efficient! But I understand your concern.)
Assuming that, like most nonprofit professionals, managing the organization’s brand is not your only job, it’s tempting to write the whole thing off as “too much to add to my plate.”
But people will draw conclusions about your organization anyway, and branding is a big part of how you make sure they draw the correct ones. The benefits of strong nonprofit branding are too good to pass on. Luckily, you can get started with small things that will make a big difference, before you jump into an entire brand creation/rebranding process.
1. Find the Easy Fixes First
Take a look at where you currently stand. You may find you need to do a complete rebranding, or you may just need some tweaks here and there. Look at your website, social media, logo, and marketing materials to discover the state of your brand, and make a list of the issues you find.
- Is the brand consistent across all channels?
- What does the brand communicate about our organization?
- Does the brand accurately reflect who we are today?
- Does the brand look up-to-date?
- Is there anything confusing about the branding of our organization?
Once you’ve completed your informal audit, you may find that you can address a lot of what you find is immediately fixable. If you notice that there are still old versions of your logo in circulation, send an email to all departments with the correct version of the logo attached, and instructions about where to change it. If every photo on your website is from a single program, swap in some new ones to showcase more of your mission.
Even if you plan to rebrand eventually, it’s worthwhile to fix the easy stuff to make your brand more consistent and expressive in the meantime.
2. Ask Questions
While it may be too early to set up a focus group, you can ask the staff at your nonprofit how they see your brand today. Do their perceptions line up with how you want to present yourself to the public?
- What do you think is our organization’s brand?
- What’s the most important thing for the public to know about us? Do we communicate that?
- What else have you noticed about perceptions of our organization?
- What do you find people do or don’t understand about our organization?
If you find out that staff spends a lot of time correcting misunderstandings about your organization, it’s a good clue that you have a branding problem. Even seemingly minor things like, “Half the people I talk to think that our logo is a tree branch, not an extended hand,” is very useful information.
3. Start Planning
Once you’ve looked at the brand and gotten input from staff, you’ll have a good idea if you’re dealing with a branding/rebranding project, and where some of the trouble spots may be. Briefly plan for your next steps, roughing out what you want to do, who will be involved, and what resources you need to accomplish your goals.
One of the first things to consider is if you’ll do this branding work on your own, or with the help of an expert. It’s usually best to get an outside eye on your branding efforts if possible. This saves you from creating another brand that doesn’t work, using internal jargon that you don’t even notice, and can help prevent issues with in-fighting and siloing. While paying a consultant will add to your expenses, a professional branding strategy can yield savings in time and wasted effort, and gains in fundraising.
Next Steps in Nonprofit Branding Strategy
Today, Living Stones Church and Bridges Community Living are connecting with their audiences authentically. They communicate their heart and mission in a way that inspires, educates, and engages, using their nonprofit branding.
How do you feel about your nonprofit’s branding? Does it help supporters understand who you truly are? Does it show them your heart? Are they inspired to get involved?
Your nonprofit branding influences how your audience engages with you, and helps them decide if they want to be in a conversation with you, whether or not to trust you, and how they’ll take action. You can’t leave it to chance.
Tatiana Morand is the SEO Manager at Wild Apricot, the leading membership management software for small nonprofits. When she’s not creating content that helps membership organizations grow their member base and revenue, you’ll most likely find her drinking iced coffee and reading a fantasy novel with her two cats.