Branding For Nonprofits

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Branding is as important for nonprofits as it is for regular businesses. There’s an enormous number of nonprofits that attract revenue as a result of their branding.

Unfortunately,  most people think that a brand is a logo. This is totally wrong. A logo is only one small part of a brand. 


What Is A Brand?

Your brand is what people think about whenever they interact with your nonprofit. The things that they think about include some things that you can control and others that you cannot control. Your objective should be to carefully define your brand yourself and not let the market or your competitors or unsatisfied donors define it for you. 

A simple way to understand this is to think about your friends and ask yourself what differences there are in the brand for each of them as individuals. One may be intellectual and funny. Another one may be intellectual and serious. Another one may be funny and reliable.

Another one may be funny and unreliable. When they walk into a room and start interacting with you the energy and the mood of the room changes. You have the same impact on your friends and the brand of your nonprofit has the same impact on your donors. 

When people think about your brand, do you want them to feel sophisticated, reliable, cost-effective, efficient, accurate, strong, warm, and fuzzy? You can only make this decision by understanding your donor and that requires donor research. 

Keep in mind that branding only works when it’s consistent. And if it’s going to be consistent then you need to think through this very carefully at the beginning because changing your brand down the road can be very difficult.

Where Do You Fit In The Market?

You might have heard of the term “market positioning”. The word positioning is relative. How do you plan to position your brand within the existing marketplace? Is it more reliable than the competitors? Does it look better? Is it more sophisticated? 

Answering these questions requires an understanding of your competitors. Review the websites and social presence of all of your direct competitors and think about what you want to ‘position’ your product or service relative to them.

You should also look at what people are saying about all of your competitors. Check out the major social media platforms they use. Don’t be afraid to sign up to forums and social groups anonymously and ask questions and share your opinions to see how people react. 

If you can afford it, go ahead and buy your competitors and take note of everything in every step of the process. Take note of what they did well and what can be improved. Imagine how the process can be improved for your donors.

If you’re not in a position to buy your competitors’ products, do as much as you can – use a free trial, sign up for their newsletters, and join their social media groups. 

As you do all of this research, pretend to be a donor and think about how each of your competitors makes you feel about donating. Rank them in order of best to worst and do your best to identify the reasons. Then consider how you compare to your competitors.

What Does Your Brand Stand For?

Your brand cannot be everything to everyone. People want to buy from brands that share similar values to themselves. 

People want to buy from people that are similar to them. This is why it’s critical to get the first step in this series of articles/videos about passion right.

It’s very difficult to pretend that you are part of a tribe that you know nothing about. If you really do belong to a tribe then you will have an instinctive understanding of what other people that belong to that tribe really want. 

Unique Selling Proposition (USP)

If possible try to incorporate your USP into your brand.

Your USP usually consists of three components:

  • What do you sell?
  • What is the key benefit?
  • Who do you sell it to?

For example: We offer yoga services [what you sell] for men [who you sell it to] that want to ease back into yoga after giving birth [the key benefit you claim to provide].


As I mentioned earlier, a brand is a lot like a personality. So ask yourself, what kind of personality would your donors be attracted to?

There are some other fun questions to ask that can also be helpful like:

  • If your brand was an animal which animal would it be and why?
  • If your brand was a car, which car would it be and why?
  • What other brands do your donors love and hate? I’m deliberately using the words love and hate because it helps you to define what your brand really represents.

Brand Name

If you already have a brand name, this is a good time to review it and make sure that it still works. You obviously need to select a name that is consistent with your answers to the questions in the previous sections.

If you don’t have a name here are some ideas. Most names fall into one of these categories:

  • Invent a new word like Twitter
  • Use a suggestive word like Buffer
  • Reframe an unrelated word like Apple
  • Describe it literally like The Dress Company
  • Alter word by adding or removing letters like Tumblr
  • Use the initials of the longer name like HBO (Home Box Office)
  • Combine two words like Facebook and Pinterest

Make sure you check the availability of the brand name as a domain and also on the major social networks.

Brand Colors And Fonts

The reason that colors matter is that every color triggers a different emotional response. This is obviously not an exact science but it is something you need to keep in mind when you’re selecting brand colors.

You also need to consider the colors and fonts of your competitors. You might want to look similar to a competitor or you might want to look very different.  That’s a judgment call you have to make. 

Take a look at this color and motion guide from The Logo Company.  

I think it does a pretty good job explaining the significance of each color when it’s used in a brand.

Design A Logo

Even though the logo is the first thing that comes to mind when we start developing a brand, I think you can see and that it wouldn’t have made any sense to start working on a logo without working through the previous exercises. 

When you have completed the sections above you can simply give all of this information to a designer and they will have everything they need to create your logo. Ask for 3 different designs, pick one that is on the right track then work through multiple rounds of revision until you get it right.



This article was created by the team an IIMAGINE. Create a free account to get alerts about new articles and get access to multiple tools and strategies for growing your nonprofit and maximizing your impact.


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