Your Non-Profit Brand: Why It’s Important to Have a Compelling Story

By Danielle Rocheleau

Sometimes, the simplest questions are the hardest to answer.

For example, think about how you respond when someone asks you the question, “Can you tell me about your organization?”

When we’re working with small to medium-sized non-profits – who are often delivering integral community services – we often hear answers that sound like this:

“Well, we have been around since 1972 and we are a staff of 37… I expect we do have some summer students too. Our catchment area includes three counties, except for this new program, which brings us into another region. Our funders are A.B.C. and the Federal Ministry X.Y.Z. We serve all ages, well, except in one of our programs where we only serve youth ages 18-34…”

Does this sound familiar?

Although all these details may be true, you can imagine why, at the family BBQ, the eyes of your long-lost cousin glaze over and later she can’t seem to articulate to anyone else what it is that you do.

Get Real: What You Do Matters

When we dig into branding and communications projects, 99.99% of our clients describe themselves as an organization that “change lives.” And you know what? It’s true! So, what is holding you back from sounding like it?

Don’t let others define how you talk about yourself. And remember: every time you tell others about your organization, you have an opportunity to share the positive impact of your work, entice further curiosity, and inspire action.

In this post, I will offer insight into:

  1. What is a brand?
  2. What are the Benefits of a Compelling Non-Profit Brand?
  3. How can you start flipping your organization’s narrative in a way that inspires, engages, and drives action?

What Is a Brand Anyway?

Many in the non-profit sector see branding as simply a logo, or associate it with the private sector and large marketing budgets. Although your logo is an important visual element, it is only one component of your brand.

So, what is a brand anyway?

Ultimately, your brand is your reputation. It’s how your services and programs are perceived and experienced.

When we help organizations develop their brand, we make sure they have everything they need provide their clients with an authentic and consistent experience, whether that’s through digital or print material, or in-person communication and service delivery.

This includes the following key components.

Your Visual Identity

Your visual identity is the outward expression of a brand, including not only your name and logo, but also the colors, fonts and supporting imagery that complement and bring the brand platform and language to life.

Your Brand Language

The language you use throughout the organization supports the way you are perceived and understood, both internally and externally.

Your brand platform includes your:

  • Brand Foundation, which underpins the organization, articulating what the organization does, stands for, and who it serves.
  • Brand Positioning, which outlines your value proposition and identifies your differentiators, or what makes your organization unique.
  • Brand Promise, which is a values-based statement that articulates clear expectations, demonstrates an understanding of stakeholder needs, and is accountable to the values of the organization.
  • Key Words and Phrases, which are building blocks to animate the brand story and overall brand language.
  • Brand Story, which is a cohesive, compelling narrative that encompasses all the facts and feelings created by the brand

Your Brand Strategy

Your strategy is the ‘big picture’ plan that outlines a clear vision for the brand and articulates how it will be put into action.

As you can see, your brand extends beyond your logo and color choices, and even the way you speak about yourself as an organization. Your brand is the overall impression others are left with after each interaction with your organization.

The Experience Clients Have When They Interact With You

This is influenced by everything from your online presence, to each interaction with your organization and staff, to the ease with which people are able to find answers to their questions.


What are the Benefits of a Compelling Non-Profit Brand?

Many non-profits undervalue the importance of developing their brand. Many aren’t trying to ‘market’ themselves to find new clients – in fact, many have waitlists that they are trying to address.

So, what can a persuasive and compelling brand do for a non-profit?

Attract the Right Clients

Clarifying your brand will helping you align the external perceptions of your organization with its internal purpose and mission.

If your brand isn’t aligned in this way, you risk confusing your audience, which can impact you in two ways:

  1. The clients who need your services may not find you, and if they do find you, they may not realize that you are the right match for them.
  2. You waste time fielding inquiries from people who are looking for services that you don’t provide.

A good brand will do the work “pre-qualify” clients for you, ensuring that the right people get in touch.

Build a Cohesive Team

The benefits of a well-aligned brand – and the pitfalls of a mismatch – also affect team cohesion.

If there is friction between your brand and the actual work of your organization, your staff are going to be pulled in different directions. As a result, your team can become alienated or disengaged, service delivery suffers, turnover increases, and time and money is wasted trying to patch up a perpetual problem.

Conversely, alignment between your brand and your work will help your team achieve clarity of purpose, remain motivated, and help the clients they serve.

Gain the Support of Your Community

The impact of your brand extends beyond your staff and your clients. Non-profit organizations need outside support in order to adapt and grow. The impression that you give the larger community will impact your ability to effectively garner this support when you need it.

An effective brand can enhance your organization’s profile and provide the groundwork needed for future strategic work, whether it be pursuing a capital campaign, influencing the direction of the sector or the services being delivered, or expanding your programming.

Make sure that your brand emotionally connects your work to the positive outcomes you are generating. This will help internal and external stakeholders understand why you exist, what you stand for, and how you serve others.

If correctly developed, an effective brand can inspire action in the form of advocacy, philanthropy, staff and volunteer recruitment, and/or strategic partnerships, each of which will help you to achieve your mandate.

Ultimately, although a strong brand can’t directly reduce your waitlists, it can help to mobilize stakeholders and leverage resources in a way that helps you achieve your goals.


How To Get Started?

Refining your brand may seem like a big task, and you may wonder whether this is truly a priority in the midst of a pandemic. In fact, I would suggest that the current moment provides a great opportunity to become clear on why you exist. In our past post, “Leading Through Change,” we touch on the importance of focus and the ability to articulate where you are headed, to keep your teams aligned and motivated to continue driving meaningful outcomes.

Given that there is a lot to consider when developing your brand – from behaviour, to organizational culture, to common language – where can we get started?

Reflect On Your Current Brand Position

Take a moment to reflect on your current brand position. Some questions to consider include:

  • How consistent is your brand being used across the organization? Are there different interpretations of it in various programs?
  • Are you the community’s best kept secret? Why is that? Does this serve your future goals?
  • What are your strategic goals? Given the significant changes over the last eight months, do you need to consider a short-term strategy? Do you have buy-in from your staff or in your community?

Consider Where Your Brand Could Go

Start a new document and save it with title: “Our Brand in 2021.” Next, finish the following sentences in at least three different ways:

  • If asked, our clients would describe the impact of our work on their lives as …
  • If a staff member or volunteer was trying to convince a professional acquaintance to apply for an open position at our organization, they would attempt to persuade them by talking about how much we …
  • When thinking about the impact we make, it’s because our organization is the only one that can …

Engage Support

At Laridae, we have had a lot of experience helping non-profits develop successful brands. We are always happy to offer guidance.

Book a Call With us: If you want to dive a bit deeper and determine your next steps, connect with us for a 30-minute discovery call. We can ask you the hard questions that help you reflect on what your priorities for your brand could be.