The Role of Brand and Marketing in Nonprofits

By R. Trent Thompson, Brand & Marketing Strategist

Gail Perry of Fired-Up Fundraising! sparks a much needed conversation around the role of brand and marketing in fundraising. Tammy Zonker, Major Gifts Expert and founder of Fundraising Transformed, and I have demonstrated via several year-end appeals and signature events the impact and absolute necessity of unifying fundraising, brand AND marketing (in lock-step) to achieve maximum fundraising results.

My counsel to nonprofits is to immediately put their “brand” house in order, before pulling the marketing trigger again. Done properly, the brand serves as the foundation for all marketing, communications, and fundraising initiatives. A strong and well-positioned brand will equip nonprofits with the necessary strategies, tools, and infrastructure to engage its diverse and generational audiences on multiple platforms to inspire participation, influence change, and achieve alignment — internally and externally — with its vision, mission, and core values. When properly conveyed, a brand’s essence is what you want donors, volunteers, program participants and other stakeholders to “feel” when they experience your brand. Put another way, it reflects the heart and soul of your nonprofit. It’s the one thing that clearly differentiates your nonprofit from the rest. What’s more is your brand essence may be the very reason a donor chooses your nonprofit.

For example, Tammy Zonker and I just completed our third multichannel
year-end appeal for The Children’s Center in Detroit. The year prior, we were recognized for our work on the cover of Fundraising Success Magazine. Before our arrival, their year-end appeal efforts fell into the category of poorly executed and wayward marketing. Over the past three years, our year-end campaigns have yielded phenomenal results with healthy revenue increases year over year. In addition to Tammy’s brilliant fundraising strategy and leadership, we attribute a great deal of our success to the total rebrand and retooling of The Children’s Center. Included among the many deliverables that resulted from this effort were: a more powerful and relevant approach to messaging, a set of tools to empower all supporters to consistently and accurately evangelize our brand, and the creation of a “brand manifesto.” Donors want to know: What you do?, Why it matters?, Why should I give to you? and How do you do it better than anyone else? Our brand manifesto answers each of these questions. It informs all of the marketing, communications and positioning of our brand. It illustrates the relevancy of The Children’s Centerour to its mission and needs of the children and family it serves.

The role of brand in a nonprofit can have a significant impact on its future, long-term sustainability. It builds donor trust and confidence, strengthens relationships with key stakeholders, and can can have a direct impact on the quality of talent a nonprofit can attract to its ranks. It can be a game changer.

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