Building brand awareness is the top priority among nonprofit communicators, according to the 2016 Nonprofit Communications Trends Report. No big surprise there. Strong brands serve as foundations for meaningful, focused communications.
But nonprofits likewise prioritize acquiring and retaining donors.
Can the two co-exist collaboratively versus competitively?
There is credible evidence that shows communications and organizational goals can, in fact, work in tandem to build awareness, trust, and engagement among your audiences (Kylander & Stone, 2012).
Here are five evidence-based tips for improving your organization’s communications to support your brand strategy, as well as development and operations goals. The tips are adapted from top branding scholars Laidler-Kylander & Simonin (2008).
Grow brand champions by aligning internal communications goals with operations goals. Clear, consistent messaging around an organization’s growth priorities helps foster buy-in and collaboration among internal audiences. When everyone is on the same page about what you’re promising audiences and how you intend to deliver on the promise, staff become champions for your organization’s brand. The intersection of your promise and delivering on it is the essence of a brand.
Increase advocacy and funding for your organization by delivering consistent messaging to external audiences. Developing key messages and training staff on how to use them (remember: a brand is not just a logo) leads to more effective communications and builds trust among your external audiences. A formula to remember here: Internal Consistency + External Consistency = Increased Brand Trust.
Demonstrate your organization’s focus by prioritizing stories that highlight mission-centered work. Creating opportunities for your organization’s beneficiaries and funders to tell stories about the work that matters most to them can produce valuable insights on improving service offerings and quality. In addition, two-way communication allows your organization to learn more about how audiences define your unique value (i.e., brand differentiation). This can help staff prioritize key areas for improvement and expansion (think resource allocation). The best part is that this doesn’t have to be expensive or labor-intensive. Many nonprofits are leveraging social media and text messaging to interact with key audiences.
Build brand trust by promoting your expertise and impact. More and more nonprofits are charged with showing how their work improves lives. Communications can support this effort by promoting stories from their organization’s beneficiaries, which helps build credibility among different audiences. When you pair these stories with measurable outcomes, you present audiences with a clearer picture of what your organization helps change and how people are benefitting. This approach complements the Most Significant Change method for evaluating social impact. Building trust promotes brand loyalty among your audiences.
Support partnership development by communicating the value of collaboration versus competition. Partnerships can help build brands that people know, trust, and associate with meaningful work that drives social change. For example, in 2009, the YMCA & JCC of Greater Toledo partnered to expand their services and utilize resources more efficiently, resulting in expanded programing and community facilities. The organizations were awarded The Collaboration Prize for their efforts (Butzen, 2009).
Butzen, J. (2009, May 19). Interview Collaboration Prize Co-Winners. Stanf Soc Innov Rev. Retrieved from http://ssir.org/articles/entry/interview_collaboration_prize_co_winners
Kylander, N., & Stone, C. (2012). The role of brand in the nonprofit sector. Stanf Soc Innov Rev, 10(2), 35-41.
Laidler-Kylander, N., & Simonin, B. (2008). How international nonprofits build brand equity. International Journal of Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Marketing, 14, 57–69. doi: 10.1002/nvsm.353