Branding is mostly affiliated with for-profit businesses, and is often inseparable from their operations. What would McDonald's be without the golden arches? Or Nike without the phrase "Just Do it"? Of course, branding goes much deeper than a logo or simple catchphrase, but the ability for individuals to quickly understand the core mission of a particular organization through branding is vital to an organization’s success.
With this in mind, Nathalie Laidler-Kylander and Julia Shepard Stenzel have developed a new framework for nonprofit branding in their book The Brand IDEA: Managing Nonprofit Brands with Integrity, Democracy, and Affinity. In it, they present a strategic, sector-based branding approach that is based on mission, values, and key partnerships, and also plays a role in internal organizational cohesion. In this blog I’ll point out a few highlights and list some additional books on branding available at the five Foundation Center offices.
In the introduction, the authors state that their goals are to introduce a new way of thinking about nonprofit brand, called the “nonprofit paradigm shift”; present a clearer understanding of what brand can do for nonprofits, outlined in the Role of Brand Cycle; and provide a framework for brand management through the Brand IDEA (Identity, Democracy, Ethics and Affinity).
In the new brand paradigm, “brand has less to do with competitive advantage, and more to do with clarifying positioning, which can help collaboration and partnerships that enable the organization to implement its mission and maximize impact.” Compare this to the old paradigm, which defines an organization through a logo, or communicates by a one-way projection of a specific image. Branding now has given way to defining an organization as a "strategic asset" and communicating through participative engagement.
Reading this book will give your nonprofit the ammunition it needs to participate in the new paradigm. Chapters five through seven discuss the IDEA framework; I won’t go into detail about the parts, but each aspect is thoroughly explained with numerous examples. One thing I learned is that branding is as much internal as external. In "Brand Democracy" (Chapter Six) Tom Scott, Director of Global Brand & Innovation at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation explains:
You have to get [branding] right internally because you will never get it right externally if you don’t. Your employees are brand ambassadors. The biggest challenge is really embedding the idea of brand internally. We want to help people understand and give employees the right kind of tool kit and information to make better decisions about how to use the foundation's voice and assets that will lead to a more open brand.
The final part of the book is devoted to implementing the Brand IDEA at your nonprofit. This endeavor “is less about creating a cool new logo or costly advertising campaign, and more about developing a shared internal brand identity, [and] building brand integrity through brand democracy.” One interesting suggestion to nonprofits is to “decentralize responsibility for brand communications.” At Save the Redwoods League, a nonprofit in San Francisco concerned with forest conservation, Director of Outreach Jennifer Benito-Kowalski describes how strong branding encourages creativity in communications and marketing. When staff want to try new things, she just tells them that “you know our brand” and to just “Go for it!”
Probably the best takeaway can be found on the next-to-last page, and it sounds like a mantra: "Knowing who you are, what you do, and why this matters can help nonprofits gain the clarity and focus that translates into effective action."
The Brand IDEA has an extensive bibliography as well as a complete list of all the nonprofits that were cited or interviewed. Other related books available at Foundation Center libraries include Uprising: How to Build a Brand--And Change the World--By Sparking Cultural Movements, which focuses more on social movement branding, and Connected Causes: Online Marketing Strategies for Nonprofit Organizations, which describes an online approach to brand building and is described in more detail in a previous blog post. They are both in call number section 680 (marketing) on the shelf.
Foundation Center, New York