Better branding made practical

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We've read about branding for a long time. This concept hit the nonprofit sector hard a few years ago. The simplest definition of a brand is a "promise."

Oh, it's fun to talk about logos and positioning. But boiled down, your brand is what your donors and prospects have come to expect from their experience with your charity.

Your brand probably can be found without much hoopla and cost, which is crucial for nonprofits. Don't get too philosophical or overly creative. Ask these two questions:

• What is the core mission of our charity?

• What differentiates us from similar organizations?

Now ask these questions from the perspective of your donors. What would they say is your core mission? How do they see what you do as different from others in your space?

For example, Wheeler Mission Ministries at www.wheelermission.org is an inner-city Christian charity whose mission is to demonstrate Christian faith to the socially, economically, emotionally and spiritually impoverished. The charity provides for their basic physical and emotional needs and encourages personal spiritual growth. It does this through several unique programs for children, at-risk youth, battered women, drug-addicted and alcoholic men and low-income families.

This is a good internal mission statement but not unique, and it's unfocused for marketing. However, central Indiana knows Wheeler Mission as a group that feeds homeless men for little cost. That's its brand: Feeding homeless men with minimal cost. This was confirmed by results of various appeal offers and some market intercepts and mini-focus groups.

So now you know your brand. What next? The most practical way to enhance your brand is to ensure all your marketing mediums and communications are consistent with your brand. Wheeler's brand insists that all marketing be created in an unflashy manner. If it promises to feed homeless men at little cost, how can it afford expensive marketing materials?

Though four-color printing now costs about the same as two-color, the nonprofit stays toned down so as not to work against the brand. This becomes the guide for everything: Web designs, major donor campaigns, annual reports and even the way the phone is answered. All of it must reinforce the brand. No new nifty logo and cute tagline, just brand sensitivity across channels to ensure that every encounter with the organization reinforces that Wheeler carefully uses its donations to feed the hungry.

What does your organization promise? Does every encounter with your donor or prospect reinforce your promise, not just in word but in emotion? A better brand means more mind share, and more mind share equals more response to fundraising campaigns. So the better your brand, the more money you'll raise.

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