Many nonprofits use their brands primarily as a fundraising tool, but a growing number of nonprofits are developing a broader and more strategic approach, managing their brands to create greater social impact and tighter organizational cohesion (Kylander & Stone, 2012) attempting to act as catalysts of change in the world. Some of the most influential nonprofits are redesigning brand strategies and delving into the land of endowed, private foundations with no fundraising targets at all like the Robert Wood Johnson Foundationwhose mission is to improve the health and health care of all Americans and has recently proclaimed a major goal of eliminating childhood obesity, period.
The Hauser Center for NonProfits at Harvard has published research that attempts to illustrate a paradigm shift in the nonprofit branding model. Two basic elements are changing and shaping the environment in which nonprofit organizations operate: changes around social media and the proliferation of partnerships. Their research suggests that these two forces are leading to achange in the perception and management of brand in nonprofit organizations, away from a purely fundraising and PR tool, to that of a critical and highly strategic asset focused on mission implementation, advocacy, and a policy machine.
The research indicates that instead of thinking of the brand as a logo and tag-line, organizations operating under the new paradigm understands brand as the embodiment of the organization’s mission and values. “Rather than focusing on fundraising as the objective of the brand, the new paradigm places brand in service of the mission and as the driver of social impact for many nonprofits today. Instead of having responsibility for the brand reside within the marketing, communication, or development department, as a key strategic asset, responsibility for the brand resides with the entire executive team and the board” (Carey, 2013).
Image: Kylander & Stone, 2012
In the new brand paradigm, brand has less to do with gaining a competitive advantage and the dollar to dollar conversion or ROI placed on every, single, dollar spent and much more to do with clarifying the organization’s positioning which can help in determining which collaborations and partnerships to pursue in order to maximize impact, broaden the base, and create real change. Brand communications have less to do with the one-way projection of a controlled image and more to do with establishing a dialogue and a process of participative and authentic engagement(sound familiar?) in both the development and the communication of the brand. The brand audience used to be thought of as the donors (both individual and institutional) but in the new paradigm, the brand must address a whole spectrum of both internal and external audiences that are ready and willing to support the organization in different ways and become brand ambassadors (Carey, 2013).
The emerging brand paradigm suggests a new role for directors and trustees of nonprofit organizations in the governance of brand. Rather than asking how brand management is contributing to revenue, boards (like managers) are beginning to ask how the brand is aligned with the mission, values, and strategy of the organization. They [should] ask about the alignment of image and identity, and they should inquire about the contribution of brand to internal cohesion as well as to external trust (Kylander & Stone, 2012). Perhaps most importantly, boards should ask about the role of the brand in enhancing operational capacity and driving social impact. Boards looking for metrics of effectiveness of brand management might measure increases in commitment and pride among staff and directors, and those conducting qualitative evaluations might probe for signs that mission drift has been reduced and that choices about which projects, resources, and partnerships to pursue have been easier to make (Kylander & Stone, 2012). A strong brand should increase both the speed and the breadth of consensus decisions in governing bodies and be able to create or maintain leverage in/about the policy sectors (Richie, Swami, & Weinberg, 1998) .
Are you a leader? Do you maximize your impact for social good? Do you think the funds will come as a result of excellence in communicating through your brand assets? Does your nonprofit brand exist seek to raise monies or to make social change? How can you align your resources to meet and maintain both fundraising and social change goals? So many questions! We’d love to hear from you.
Can’t get enough? Visit: Hauser Center for Nonprofits, Standford Social Innovation, and our very own Johnson Center for Philanthropy at Grand Valley State University.
This blog post first appeared on 834 Design & Marketing’s website.