Top questions to ask about your organization's brand

October 30, 2014

Top questions to ask about your organization's brand
by Stephanie Gambill Simkin, CNM branding expert
The effectiveness of your organization accomplishing its mission and in raising money depends heavily on the strength of its brand — what people perceive about your organization.
And much of what people perceive, especially donors, is based on how well you are communicating with them. This communication happens verbally and visually. 
Branding is essentially knowing who you are, and then acting like it on a consistent basis. 
Why focus on branding? 
With so many aspects of your organization to focus on, why should you focus on branding? Simply put, knowing your brand will inform all other activities – from communicating to donors to determining if a new program opportunity is a good fit. Having a communicative and consistent brand creates these three core elements to your organization:
Value: A consistent, strong brand allows you to gain credibility, build trust and develop an emotional connection to your donors, volunteers and those receiving your services. With that, your organization becomes the only organization that can solve their problems. By cultivating a clear brand, the value of your organization will increase in your audience’s minds.
Engagement: A strong brand engages your audiences, team and advocates and allows you to communicate efficiently and effectively. It also gives your advocates a tool kit to easily motive your audiences to spread the word for you. Finally, a strong brand also gives your team and advocates a shared sense of purpose. 
Sustainability: With a strong brand foundation, it’s easier to determine your next steps in community outreach, such as which programs to launch and who to target. This foundation also drives the tone of your future communications and directs your next steps in community engagement and marketing for years to come.
Defining Your Brand
Defining your brand is a journey of discovery and awareness. It can be difficult, time-consuming and uncomfortable. But, it is worth it for the success of your organization.   
Here are a a few questions to ask yourself: 
Is your logo recognizable?  Do a quick test. Cover the name of your organization to see if people can identify your logo based on just the shape and color of the main symbol.
What is your organization’s mission and main brand messaging? This is your “big idea”. Every team member should be aware of this big idea and be able to share it. For example, when working with Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation, we spent time asking and answering key questions to arrive at their big idea: “Building a foundation for reading and learning through books to Tennessee’s children.” It’s memorable, concise, supports the mission and can be used as a focal point for communication and marketing materials. Ask yourself, can everyone in your organization share your big idea and mission in a similar way?
Does your organization have a standard "voice" for your organizations that reflects your brand? For most nonprofits, that voice should be warm, caring and inviting. Some organizations will be bolder than others, while others can be a little more friendly and casual. Take a look at your mission, big idea and key services. How should you present these aspects? Your voice should be applied to all written communication and incorporated in the visual imagery of all materials. Is your brand friendly? Be conversational. Is it bold? Be more assertive. 
Do brand standards exist and are you consistent? Use the same color scheme, logo placement and graphic standards throughout all materials you share with your audiences. You don't need to be overall fancy, just consistent. Here’s another little test. Take a screenshot of your website, Facebook and Twitter pages. Then, hold those up against your main presentation, brochure and stationery. Are the same colors used? Same fonts? Is the mission statement and ‘big idea’ stated in the same way on all materials? If not, your audiences could be confused about your services or even confuse you with other organizations. 
After considering your organization based on the above tests, is it time to evaluate your brand? Here are the most common times organizations review their brand: 
New program opportunity: We are considering a new program and need to determine if it fits with our mission and brand.
Capital campaign: We are launching a capital campaign and need everyone to be sharing the same message. 
Name change: Our name no longer fits who are, we need to change our name because of a trademark conflict or our name is misleading.
Revitalize a brand: We need to communicate more clearly, no one knows who we are or we need to appeal to a new audience.
Revitalize a brand identity: Our website is outdated, I’m embarrassed to hand out my business card, or our symbol is great, but we have no standard logotype.
We need to create an integrated system: We lack visual and verbal consistency, all of our materials look like the come from different organizations, or we have many affiliates or divisions with inconsistent nomenclature – we need to look strong and professional to reach donors.
After applying these tests, decide if it’s time for you to focus on branding or reevaluate what you’re doing. Remember, you know who you are and what you want to be. Let your brand tell everyone else.
As an independent creative director and owner of Stone + Steel Creative, Stephanie provides brand consultation and graphic design, including brand planning, re-branding, logo design and print design for nonprofit organizations and businesses. Learn more about CNM's branding, marketing and graphic design services.
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