The rising significance of branding in the not-for-profit sector
December 29, 2020 8:00 AM
A non-profit brand strategy should focus on the brand as a strategic asset and necessarily drive cohesion and alignment to mission and objectives,
Non-profit branding is not just about the worldview of the brand but also how the ecosystem networks with your organisation.
By Atul Raja
A cursory glance at some of the leading global non-profits and foundations reveals a paradigm shift in the way these organisations look at their brand management. Competitive advantage is not a prime driver here, but it’s the collaborations, networks and partnerships driven by a strong, empowered brand which plays an important role in the creation and engagement of like-minded communities.
The non-profit brand is more inclusive as in this sector it’s the mission, purpose and identity that speak the loudest and go on to create a strong platform for partnerships and networks that yield augmented impact. Therefore, a non-profit brand strategy should focus on the brand as a strategic asset and necessarily drive cohesion and alignment to mission and objectives, leverage internal capacity before undertaking outreach to engage external stakeholders.
Building a brand that helps a cause
Share of Voice (popularly known as SOV) is the buzzword in the FMCG and consumer durable space. However, in the absence of product lines, revenue orientation and big advertising budgets, branding in the not-for-profit space is anything but having the loudest voice in the market. It is more about building relationships and a community that believes in the same cause. Having worked for a no. of years in the non-profit space handling a global brand with high equity, here are my five mantras for building a durable, sustainable and leader brand in this sector.
Credibility is Paramount
Strong brand credentials are as important as the right and genuine intent to do social good. Earlier I spoke about the need to build a like-minded community and partnerships. High brand credibility will open the doors to this, and the best way to establish this is to “Be What You Are”.
Honest, transparent communication without any over claims always works. The work being done and the impact it creates is told better through the experience of the beneficiaries than chest-thumping by the organisation itself. The substantive difference being made in the lives of some or many is the most solid foundation that any brand can aspire for.
Thought Leadership is Critical
Non-profit branding is not just about the worldview of the brand but also how the ecosystem networks with your organisation. Thought Leadership is all about being innovative, forward-thinking, leading with ideas and hence being a trendsetter. In essence, a thought leader brand is a bank of ideas and knowledge that is seen as a resource by its ecosystem.
The brand and communication strategy to achieve thought leadership has to be driven on certain tenets:
always focus on the big idea
have a tone of voice that inspires
be data-focused with an empirical approach
evoke debates and policy actions through concrete suggestions
communicate in relevant forums
be an opinion leader in the media
create a community of the like-minded
Networking is Key
The world’s leading non-profit brands wouldn’t have been there today without having created strong networks. And these networks wouldn’t have been formed without the power of the Brand.
The branding and communication strategy plays a significant role in facilitating high-performance networks and partnerships that have synergies and common grounds. I am a witness to the power of networking and how communication and the brand not just attract the ecosystem but also keep it glued together. The effective portrayal of the brand and its ethos online and on social media platforms is an effective way to reach out to ecosystem, communicate the vision and mission and energise those who co-relate with your ideas, activities and desire to make a difference.
Technology for Scale and Connects
It’s an accepted fact that any significant scale-up is next to impossible without tech support. However, technology development can be an expensive and time-consuming process; therefore, this is not everyone’s cup of tea and becomes a natural brand differentiator. Any non-profit that harbours technology as a pillar for its expanding goals should therefore highlight this (in varied forms) in its communication along with the specific benefits.
Storytelling is a Must
Non-profit branding and communication are all about education and inspiration. For the brand to resonate with the social cause and the target audience simultaneously, meaningful stories that strike a chord are the best way to win hearts and create lasting communities and partnerships. A strong narrative approach enables different stakeholders to remain invested in the brand.
The impact of a strong non-profit brand
It’s not easy to turn a disinterested audience into loyal supporters. As a result, conventional form of brand building is now passe in the non-profit space, and there is a strong acknowledgement of the role that brand development can play in cultivating that much-desired extra-special bonding, and emotive connects which donors, partners, and internal stakeholders have with the mission of non-profits.
A strong non-profit brand means a strong capacity. When the brand identity and internal perceptions of a non-profit brand match with its external image, it means that both internal and external stakeholders are aligned with its values and mission. It also means that the branding and communication have done their task!
The author is an executive vice president – global marketing at Wadhwani Foundation