Nonprofit Branding Is NOT an Oxymoron

By Robyn Bage

The idea of a nonprofit marketing itself and/or the services it offers seems counter intuitive. In my opinion, this is related to the belief that nonprofits are something other than businesses. Sure, a nonprofit mission will differ from those of their for-profit counterparts, and profit is not a primary motivation. In the final analysis, however, nonprofits must also operate under the same business principles as any other enterprise, such as sound management, financial solvency, and social responsibility. Employing effective marketing strategies is another smart principle that applies to all businesses—including nonprofits!

Marketing for nonprofits serves two important purposes. First, it is important to get the word out that the nonprofit exists, including information about the programs, services and goods that can help clients address their needs. Simply put, to serve the community, the community needs to know you’re out there! Fundraising is the second purpose. Fundraising is the fuel of nonprofit operations. Whether you are seeking charitable donations, legacy gifts, or writing a grant your nonprofit needs potential funding sources to know who you are, what you do, how well you do it, and the myriad ways the world is a better place because of your nonprofit.

Marketing your nonprofit can seem overwhelming. Unless you are fortunate enough to have a marketing department with experts in the field, you may have no idea where to start. One suggestion would be to start with branding. I recently came across a definition of branding that resulted in an “a ha!” moment regarding marketing:

“Brand is the process of attaching an idea to a product in the mind of the public. Brand persuades people to consume the idea by consuming the product.”

Jennifer Fusco, author of Market or Die: Sensible Brand Building Advice for Writers

Yes, the book was written as a guide for writers, but the meaning holds true for nonprofits as well. What is it that you want people to think or feel about your nonprofit? For example, the mission of the Women and Families Center speaks to the empowerment of individuals and families. When you think of us, we want you to know that when you participate in a program here or we provide you with a service, YOU WILL BE EMPOWERED.

Branding requires your organization to be clear about its purpose and mission, and to communicate this understanding through all aspects of your business. Once you develop a brand that creates a powerful and emotional connection between the organization and its audience, the job becomes communicating it consistently and continually to your audience and beyond. A marketing committee, comprised of managers, staff and board members working within your organization can help with this important work.  Of course, I do not mean to imply that branding is easy.

But I am saying it may be easier than you think.

For more information on Market or Die, please visit: www.marketordie.net

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2 thoughts on “Nonprofit Branding Is NOT an Oxymoron

  1. I agree that marketing is important to nonprofit organizations. Our nonprofit recently conducted a series of focus groups as part of our strategic planning process. The focus groups were intended to provide our nonprofit with feedback from the community, as to what the community would like to see from our organization over the next five years. The data concluded that one of the top 5 goals for our organization for the next five years should be to build community awareness through marketing and communications. The community expressed the importance of this to ensure our nonprofit is reaching our target client market, communicating to donors and recruiting volunteers. To me, this underlines the importance of marketing for nonprofit organizations to meet the community’s needs.

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  2. Robyn, it’s so disappointing that we are still in the same position after many years, trying to convince nonprofits why marketing and branding are essential to their sustainability and success. Another good book is Uncharitable by Dan Pallotta.

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