The Role of Brand in the Nonprofit Sector

Our image of ourself and how we communicate our ideas i.e. sell our ourselves is intimately connected with our “brand” even if we hate the idea – thats what people see – so getting it right for yourself or for your non-profit is essential if you wish to communicate with others, but much as the language used by marketers for people, consumers, is an anathema to urbanists, they use the same types of research into peoles behavior, culture and soiciety, so this article uses the concepts that are so well developed in the commercial world to situate  ‘brand image’ in language that is digestible to the rest of us and develope a toolkit for its use. From the Stanford Social Innovation Review by Nathalie Kylander & Christopher Stone

Nonprofit brands are visible everywhere. Amnesty International, Habitat for Humanity, and World Wildlife Fund are some of the most widely recognized brands in the world, more trusted by the public than the best-known for-profit brands.1 Large nonprofits, such as the American Cancer Society and the American Red Cross, have detailed policies to manage the use of their names and logos, and even small nonprofits frequently experiment with putting their names on coffee cups, pens, and T-shirts.

Branding in the nonprofit sector appears to be at an inflection point in its development. Although many nonprofits continue to take a narrow approach to brand management, using it as a tool for fundraising, a growing number are moving beyond that approach to explore the wider, strategic roles that brands can play: driving broad, long-term social goals, while strengthening internal identity, cohesion, and capacity.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, for example, recently appointed Tom Scott as director of global brand and innovation. Oxfam International embarked on a confederation-wide “global identity project.” And GBCHealth was one of several organizations completing a rebranding process. Brand managers in these pioneering organizations were focusing less on revenue generation and more on social impact and organizational cohesion. Indeed, some of the most interesting brand strategies are being developed in endowed, private foundations with no fundraising targets at all.

“We’re catalysts,” says Scott. “Could we have greater impact if we leveraged our brand in different ways? What difference could it make to attach our logo to things to move conversations forward or elevate certain issues? Can we use our brand to elevate other brands?” The questions Scott asks aren’t about raising money. Instead, they are about how to leverage the Gates Foundation brand in the cause of greater public discourse and social impact.

Although the ambitions of nonprofit brand managers are growing, the strategic frameworks and management tools available to them have not kept up. The models and terminology used in the nonprofit sector to understand brand remain those imported from the for-profit sector to boost name recognition and raise revenue.

Nonprofit leaders need new models that allow their brands to contribute to sustaining their social impact, serving their mission, and staying true to their organization’s values and culture. In this article, we describe a conceptual framework designed to help nonprofit organizations do just that. We call this framework the Nonprofit Brand IDEA (in which “IDEA” stands for brand integrity, brand democracy, brand ethics, and brand affinity).

The framework is the result of an 18-month research project we led with colleagues at Harvard University’s Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations and collaborators at the Rockefeller Foundation. Building on previous work in the field, we conducted structured interviews with 73 nonprofit executives, communication directors, consultants, and donors in 41 organizations. Then we analyzed these interviews to learn how leaders in the field are thinking about nonprofit brands today and how they see the role of brands evolving.

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