Does Your Nonprofit’s Brand Accurately Reflect Your Mission and Values?

4 min read

What comes to mind when you think about the most successful brands in the world? Most likely, you think of big corporations like Apple, Google, Tesla and Amazon, but what about nonprofits American Red Cross, the World Wildlife Fund or NPR?

We believe nonprofit brands can and should be among the most revered brands in the world, listed in the same breath as the corporate giants everyone loves to talk about. That’s what helped inspire our second commitment in the Nonprofit Marketing Manifesto:

“We will develop a strong brand image and identity in alignment with our mission and values. We will recognize that our brands are the keys that unlock our mission and values for our stakeholders, and we will treat them accordingly.”

For nonprofits, building an effective brand requires generating more than widespread recognition. Because a nonprofit’s value to society is far greater than say, a fast food or beverage company’s, its brand must be more than flashy or memorable. It must be clearly aligned with the organization’s mission and values, and project an image of the change the organization is trying to create in the world.

We believe nonprofit brands can and should be among the most revered brands in the world, listed in the same breath as the corporate giants everyone loves to talk about. Click To Tweet

What is a nonprofit brand?

Let’s back up for a moment and consider a question many organizations have: What does it really mean for a nonprofit to have a brand? The importance of a brand is a newer concept in the nonprofit world even though corporations have been prioritizing it for over a century.

A literal definition of a brand is “a particular identity or image regarded as an asset,” but we like to define brand the same way it is defined in The Brand IDEA: a brand is “an intangible asset and identifier that imparts information and creates perceptions and emotions and its audiences.

Together, your brand visuals and your key messages evoke certain feelings about your organization.

As a nonprofit that operates for the express purpose of advancing a mission through the lens of a set of values, it’s particularly important for your brand to be clearly aligned with that mission and those values.

How do you know when your brand accurately reflects your mission and values?

Just ask. Discuss your brand and how it is perceived by all of your stakeholders, both internal and external. This includes staff, volunteers, board members, corporate partners, donors, the people you serve and the communities you operate within. We recommend conducting interviews, focus groups and/or surveys across each of these groups, asking questions like:

  • What do you think we stand for as an organization?
  • How do you describe our organization to others?
  • What was your first impression of our organization?
  • Did you have any beliefs about our organization that you later learned were incorrect?
  • How do you feel when you come in contact with any of our organization’s materials?

You may find each group has completely different ideas about who you are, or that all describe your organization in different ways. This is a clear sign that your mission and values aren’t consistent with your brand, or a rebrand may be necessary. You may also find each of your stakeholders is aligned about the core of who you are and what your brand represents, even if they come to your brand for different reasons –– this is ideal!

To help you determine whether your internal stakeholders are aligned with your brand, we’ve created a template survey to share with them. You can download that survey here.

If your organization’s brand is not aligned with your mission and values, what should you do?

Like most things in this world, there isn’t a 100 percent right or wrong way to build a brand that aligns with your mission and values. However, there are some steps that should almost always be followed.

  • Get everyone on your team on the same page about the need for a rebrand or a brand refresh. Explain why the rebrand is necessary, and that it will not change the organization’s core mission, values and goals, but will instead better reflect them externally. Sometimes, this may require a brand exploration study where you see if data makes the case for a brand refresh.
  • Form a committee or task force who will be in charge of leading your rebrand or brand refresh. Every department or level in your organization should be represented in this task force by at least one person, from leadership to volunteers. This task force should have a leader who is either a member of your organization’s leadership team or a marketing leader.
  • Define the goals of your rebrand or brand refresh. What will success look like? Ultimately, you want your new or refreshed brand to reflect your mission and values, and be flexible enough to remain relevant as you add any new services or initiatives over time to help you achieve your mission?

Are you ready to get started assessing your brand’s alignment with your mission and values? Use our survey template to see if your staff is on the same page before deciding whether a rebrand is right for your organization.


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