The Importance of Branding for Nonprofits


You have put your blood, sweat, and tears into your nonprofit. It isn’t a job for you; it is your passion. The truth about exceptional nonprofits is this: They leave a lasting mark.

As a person who has worked with nonprofits for more than 15 years, I’ve witnessed the heartache of organizations that do amazing and generous work in this not-always-philanthropic world not receiving the recognition they deserve.

The reason being that their focus isn’t on their brand-building or marketing efforts. Instead, it’s on their mission story… where it should be!

But that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be someone dedicated to branding and marketing efforts on your nonprofit team.

Before we get further into the discussion, let’s clear something up: Marketing is an action; branding is a strategy.

Click HERE to read more about the difference between marketing and branding.

In order to fulfill your mission statement, you’ll need to grow. Simply put, you need donors and supporters who understand who you are and what you do.

Those donors need to feel as connected to your mission as you are. This helps create loyalty.

Connecting with your donors while at the same time telling who you are and what you do are the building blocks to branding for nonprofits.  

Part of Branding for Nonprofits Is Setting Yourself Apart

The truth is that your brand is being created from the very birth of your nonprofit—whether you know it or not. It’s how people will (or won’t) remember you and understand the problem you solve in their world.

Many nonprofits struggle to separate themselves from the pack. Other organizations that have similar causes may get more brand awareness simply because they are bigger.

But this is where the strategy comes in. In order for branding to work for your nonprofit, it needs to connect with your donors as well as the recipients of your service. Messaging must be cohesive and clear. For a moment, let’s put cute and clever on the back burner.

Start Here. Ask Yourself…

Then you can begin tweaking every part of your messaging so that it’s all unified, which creates a recognizable brand.

Nonprofits benefit the most from their messaging when there is a central voice with consistent language that runs through every thread of their nonprofit quilt.

What does that mean?

It means that even though people in your organization have different responsibilities, there should be several messages about who you are and what you do that everyone puts to memory, can repeat when asked, can add to their email subject lines, and more. 

Think of it this way: Each department should be sharing the same vision and have the same goals in mind, and they should be able to communicate those goals clearly to those both outside (potential donors) and inside (new volunteers or co-workers) of the organization.

When consistent language and voice runs through every department, it not only strengthens the team behind the mission (a great benefit of cohesive messaging) but also helps bring clarity to your purpose and scope of impact—thus branding!

Many times, nonprofits spend hours brainstorming designs and names, and then stop there. The key to branding is to keep it going. Referring back to the quilt, if you only create half of it, then you can’t see the beautiful, full, colorful picture it’s intended to be.

Designs, names, and logos are part of that scene. Messaging helps keep the brand moving.

4 Benefits to Branding for Nonprofits

Team doing high five in office.

1) It makes fundraising fun! When done well, messaging can drastically improve fundraising efforts. No one can deny that, when you reach your fundraising goals, there is a feeling of relief as well as excitement as to the potential reach and impact.

These fundraising efforts are really about partnerships with your donors. Many potential donors look at supporting nonprofits as making investments. If you can describe your nonprofit through branding, the messaging itself helps the prospective donor imagine how your organization will help their own business or brand.

2) It helps you achieve your mission. As obvious as this might be, it is common to be so focused on the daily to-dos in your nonprofit that branding efforts go out the window, as previously mentioned.

But if there is a structured time or team that is dedicated to messaging and branding, the return of that investment is immeasurable. From that dedicated time or team, you can narrow your focus on fundraising efforts by determining who your ideal donors are, what they are looking for, and how you can partner with them to help them grow as well as further your mission.

3) It helps create unity in your team. Nonprofits naturally attract passionate people. In fact, I believe it’s a requirement. Without passion, there is a lack of purpose. But it is important to understand that passion also invites disunity in a team at times. This is natural and expected as a nonprofit grows.

There are internal benefits of brand development. It creates clear messaging that opens doors for a unified approach for your team. Everything runs smoother, from the daily to-dos to large events, when everyone is on the same page regarding beliefs and purpose as they relate to your nonprofit.

4) It helps create credibility. Sadly, there are some not-so-credible nonprofits out there. As a result, those who have been involved with such organizations will be hesitant to get involved with yours. So, you’ll need to understand how to break down the barrier of resistance.

A powerful way to do this is to show that you are credible. Obtain testimonials from other donors and ask them if they would be willing to use your branding language in the testimonial.

For example, if an organization’s tagline is “Building better communities,” ask donors if they would be willing to use those words somewhere in their testimonials as they explain how your nonprofit has done that.

Another powerful way to create credibility is to perform impact reporting. Through video, copy, or both, you can ask those you have served to share how you’ve helped them create a better life, environment, home, or community.

The Takeaway

If there is one thing for you to take away from this article, it is this: Understand that branding for nonprofits is crucial for growth.

When done using a strategic approach, it can…

Times are changing, but the humanness of us all remains. We want to be able to connect with something or someone. We want to see good in our world.

Progressive nonprofits are growing as they connect with donors, create brand enthusiasts, and fulfill their mission. As a result, organizations are being transformed from flying under the radar to lighting up the sky like fireworks.   


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Filed Under: Marketing by Industry

About Selah Hirsch

For more than 15 years, Selah Hirsch has worked with organizations committed to making our world a better place. She has been busy helping them get their message to connect to the hearts of their audience, refreshing their brand, and crafting their exceptional story. The result? An increase in their community engagement, donor development, and a presence that strengthens their reputation.

Selah is the founder of Pipelime, a branding agency that equips leaders to more confidently express their brand message.

She lives in Norman, OK, with her husband Michael and their three adorable, zany kids.