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We hear a lot about “brand” – it is the secret sauce of marketing. It’s what differentiates your nonprofit from another. But what exactly is a brand? How does a nonprofit create a brand, and how does it live into the promise of its brand? For answers to these questions and more we reached out to  Christopher Lee, CEO of Think Inspired.

Christopher Lee, CEO of Think Inspired

                   Christopher Lee, CEO of Think Inspired

In answering the question, What exactly is a “brand?” Lee turned to Google, an obviously well-established brand. “According to the Google definition, branding is the promotion of a particular product or company by means of advertising and distinctive design. Therefore, any nonprofit organization needs to be able to effectively tout its core objectives in a way that appeals to their various stakeholders.”

Most of us can recognize brands such as Nike, Coca Cola, and McDonald’s. In terms of nonprofits we recognize St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, the American Red Cross, and Habitat for Humanity to name a few. Each has a visual identity and we associate the organization’s mission with their name. “St. Jude’s” is about curing childhood cancer, the Red Cross is disaster relief, and Habitat for Humanity is about building houses for local residents. These might not be the “official” definition of each nonprofit, but these are the perceptions often associated with each. The perceptions and associations – or brand – are what we think of when we hear the organization’s name.

Across the nonprofit sector there can be a reluctance to invest in brand, especially for those organizations that are small or locally based. Donors and funders often want their money – our money – to go to the cause, not to something as “superficial” as brand. We understand, but we also know that if people don’t know your nonprofit, and don’t have positive associations with it, you may have a difficult time raising the money you need to deliver on your mission. We’re not suggesting an irrational investment in your brand; rather that you know what it is, that you build it, and tend to it.

Here’s Lee’s grounding guidance, “Branding is no different for a nonprofit organization than it is for a for profit entity. Successful branding elements go a long way in differentiating one organization from their competitors. In the case of a nonprofits, many compete against other worthy and viable nonprofit organizations for valuable resources; such as funding, board members and governmental support”

Your brand can also help your constituents “better understand the character and attitude of the organization; while elevating its standing in an ever-growing field of nonprofit organizations globally.” Yes, globally. You may serve local residents, or educate students within a region, but nonprofits from across the country and the globe are competing for philanthropic dollars, resources, and talent. Think of the commercials you see on TV, the direct mail that comes to your home, Facebook campaigns initiated by your friends and family, and internet or email marketing and fundraising campaigns. These are your competitors.

Next week we’ll deepen our conversation with Lee. In the meantime, you can reach him at or 901-201-4419.


Part One —What Is Your Brand?

Part Two — How to Develop Your Nonprofit Brand

Part Three — When Does Your Nonprofit Need to Rebrand?

Don’t forget:

Copyright 2019 – Mel and Pearl Shaw

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