Fundraising 101

Brand New Thinking

You may have received an invitation to next week’s Speaker Series program, “Building Your Brand”. Why, you might ask, would a firm that specializes in fundraising, leadership development and strategic planning offer an afternoon dedicated to branding to its clients and prospective clients? This would be a reasonable question. And the answer is that Giving Tree has invited a truly exceptional group of panelists (Emile Cambry, Jonny Imerman, Diane Latiker, and Diana Shulla-Cose) to speak on this topic because we have learned, over the course of nearly 10 years in the nonprofit consulting business, that the world’s perception of who you are and what you stand for is as critical to your organization’s future as the quality of your senior leadership, your attention to the donor experience, and the development of a strategic plan– perhaps even more so.

Generally speaking, we in the nonprofit sector have a reputation for weak branding. Yet Amnesty International, Habitat for Humanity, and World Wildlife Fund are some of the most trusted, well-recognized brands in the world. So, we wondered what it takes (for those without mega nonprofit budgets) to build your brand and how you know when you have achieved brand awareness.

Small to midsize nonprofits might argue they have their hands full just keeping the lights on, making payroll and thanking donors every so often. Many don’t have the budget to engage a full or even part time communications professional, let alone someone with branding experience. But if you function with a “mom and pop shop” mentality and don’t stop to consider how the world sees you (and how you want to be seen) it’s likely that your brand is unclear, or worse, lackluster.

While it’s exciting that, in recent years, so much of the work in our sector has been focused on strategy development, outcome measurement, donor cultivation and stewardship, there are many who believe that brand development, management and messaging are the true pathways to nonprofit growth. So while we continue to interest ourselves in measurable outcomes, it could be time to spend whatever resources you have at your disposal on the examination and development of your brand. Ask yourself how the world sees you. Better yet, ask the world how the world sees you.  During an era of free “survey” software, this could not be easier. Create your own focus groups – test current and new brand messaging on your clients and stakeholders.

Don’t mistake a re-brand for a mission adjustment.  It might be that your mission is the same as it was 20 years ago – and that’s ok. We’re not asking you to re-think what you do – but rather how you communicate and represent what you do to the outside world. It’s critically important that our clients, donors and friends understand who we are, values what it is we bring to the community, and above all, trusts us to do it well. Your brand speaks to your reputation for quality, integrity, professionalism and excellence.

The next time your board or staff sit down together, consider asking each member of your team to describe your brand.  I guarantee an interesting discussion. And if you’re in Chicago on September 12, join our esteemed panelists to learn how they built some of the most recognizable nonprofit brands in Chicago. We’re looking forward to exploring the wider, strategic roles that brands can play.

Tune in for our blog next week when we’ll share some of the lessons learned about branding from these experts and tangible advice on how to bring them home to your organization.