Does branding really matter for nonprofit organizations?

Branding may seem like something for the power-players, the Nikes and Apples of the world, but what if I told you that even nonprofits could benefit from branding? I’m not talking about spending billions of dollars on persuasive ad campaigns  showing off the latest gadgets. Instead, what if a few well-invested resources could get people to care about — and pay attention to — your cause? 

The line is starting to blur between social impact and nonprofit sectors. People are supporting businesses that give back to the world, and they are starting to expect that kind of philanthropy from every brand they give to. As flashy for-profit companies start to make social contributions, the modest efforts of local nonprofits are at risk of being labeled boring and amateur. Nonprofit leaders can’t count on a sympathetic pat on the head and a free pass on branding for much longer. If you think people will overlook dull branding or boring content just because you have a great mission, you’re expecting way too much. To put it bluntly, a respectable cause just isn’t enough to rally and keep support anymore.

For most nonprofits, brand experience is the last thing you think about because you’re busy changing the world! With inspiring goals, people may join your organization and hold tight to that vision regardless of how your nonprofit looks or functions. But that pure excitement and passion has an expiration date. Without a strong brand, you’ll spend more time onboarding new volunteers and donors than cultivating existing ones — and this turnover can ultimately hold you back from major achievements.

Here are 4 ways branding can help your nonprofit grow:

  1. Capture Attention – People form an opinion about their first impression in only 1/10th of a second. The same is true for websites. “It takes about 50 milliseconds (that’s 0.05 seconds) for users to form an opinion about your website that determines whether they’ll stay or leave.” (Source: First Impressions Matter) People want to support organizations that make them feel good, but also make them look good. If you’re not communicating well visually, then people aren’t even getting to your message. So when it comes to your stylistic identity, every font, color, and photography choice counts. An ugly logo or a dysfunctional website could be a barrier to people supporting your cause. Instead, give people no reason to pause and question the validity of your organization or its professionalism. Good design is now table stakes for running a successful business. Leaving a great first impression is key to growth!

  2. Save Time Have you ever had an idea for a new campaign, then quickly realized the picture in your head is not as easy to bring into reality? You’re stuck trying to brief a new design team or scramble through Pinterest for ideas, only to come up short with a design that looks good, but you have no idea if it’ll work. Then in 6 months you have to start all over again with your next event. What a frustrating process and waste of time! With a strong, defined brand the creative process becomes much easier to execute and implement. You can give clear direction to creative teams and delegate projects without spinning your wheels, feeling tossed around by trends. A solid brand strategy gives you the foundation to build great campaigns that captivate the attention of your donors again and again.

  3. Align Your Team – The core of brand strategy is defining your differentiator, values, and who your nonprofit serves. Branding is more than just the designer on your team raving about correct logo use and fonts and colors. Instead, it’s about everyone on your team having a deep understanding of your nonprofit, what you stand for, and why it matters, then displaying that unity to the world. When your existing team is stoked about your cause and team members have a deep association with your brand – they intuitively share it with friends and family, serving as free marketers for your organization. So give them something to rave about!

  4. Make More Money for Your Nonprofit – People are looking for organizations to support and now, more than ever, consumers are willing to invest in causes they believe in. However, they can tell the difference between an amateur and an established organization before they ever donate a dollar. If you’re not communicating clearly and visually, you may be losing out on donations. According to Forbes, “75% of consumers worldwide expect brands to contribute to their well-being and quality of life.” The notion of brand purpose is especially important when marketing to millennials, 71% of whom say they prefer brands that drive social and environmental change. There’s a reason why billion-dollar companies invest in branding – because it matters to their bottom line! Strategic branding has the power to turn passive donors into raving fans and likes into dollars. Plus, when donors and volunteers support a brand they LOVE, they tell their friends about it, which is free word-of-mouth advertising for you!

The nonprofits we work with typically get a return on their investment in as little as 3 months. On average, they experience a 21.8% increase in donations, 43.7% increase in unique website visitors, and a 50.2% boost in Facebook followers. What could your nonprofit do with those types of numbers?

Why do well-branded nonprofits see such measurable growth? Because branding brings clarity to everything you do. When you know what you’re working for, it makes it incredibly easier to make decisions, inspire your team, and build a passionate community. I think, regardless of the industry, every business needs to tap into that level of clarity, especially nonprofit organizations!

Branding is no longer an exclusive strategy only for multi-billion-dollar companies. Let’s leverage its power to take our missions further, faster. By investing in these few key places, your brand is going to be set apart, securing a strong foundation that will give you a great return for years to come.