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Nonprofit Branding: Ensuring You Are Seen and Heard

Are you searching for ways for your nonprofit to stand out? Craft a captivating nonprofit brand that connects, resonates, and inspires.

Written by RamotionJul 8, 202410 min read

Last updated: Jul 8, 2024


People often think that branding is only for companies and personal brands. But, it’s also applicable to nonprofits!

Sure, it’s not a transactional organization. But NGOs, like businesses, have needs and goals that can be realized with the help of branding. For starters, having good nonprofit branding like that of the Red Cross paves the way to awareness, recognition, and increased brand value.

If this sounds like goals you struggle with, you’re in the right place. But before we go further, let’s get started with the basics: understanding branding.

Among the many benefits that businesses gain from strategic branding are increased business value, strong brand recall in the minds of consumers, and an expansive network of loyal customers and brand advocates.

So, how does branding benefit NGOs exactly?

Why Branding Is Important to Nonprofit Organizations

Nonprofit branding helps mold a positive identity among potential donors and other participants. It is an effective way of communicating the vision and mission of the organization and building an emotional bond and trust with people.

Whether for a charitable organization or a private foundation, nonprofit branding appeals to the minds and hearts of donors, employees, and stakeholders. Below are more reasons to consider investing in branding for your nonprofit organization.

1. Improving Donor and Volunteer Recruitment

Like businesses trying to maintain a healthy retention rate among customers and employees, NGOs aim for the same, too!

There are over 10 million NGOs in the world. With such a massive amount of groups needing support, resources provided by donors can be scarce. There aren’t enough volunteers, either.

With the help of branding, you can create a brand perception that will entice donors and volunteers to donate their time and money.

2. Increasing Visibility

The more people know about your NGO, the better your chances of soliciting help. And branding can make that possible.

You can strengthen brand recall through consistent presence and communication on different platforms, like websites, social media, in-store, etc. Leverage brand guidelines to keep your organization in check.

For instance, WWF or World Wildlife Fund’s iconic logo featuring a panda is highly recognizable worldwide. The panda is the perfect mascot as it is an endangered animal. Not to mention, almost everyone knows what a panda is. It’s also cuddly, cute, and evokes a happy feeling.

Chi-Chi, the giant panda brand mascot of WWF. Via WWF

Using the logo on every nonprofit marketing and branding collateral, like posters and videos, planted WWF in people's minds.

3. Strengthening Brand Reputation

An NGO that is trusted and loved is more likely to gain support and loyalty from its target audience. A study by Edelman echoes the same sentiment where over 80 percent of consumers buy products from brands they trust.

Moreover, consistent and cohesive branding helps to ensure transparency in the organization. It guides the organization, keeping it in check and encouraging ethical practices in every facet.

Five Steps in Creating a Nonprofit Brand

How you build a nonprofit brand depends on several factors, like your short-term and long-term goals and available resources. But here’s a rundown of the basic steps to create a strong foundation for your nonprofit branding strategy.

Step 1: Identify and Master Your Target Market

A nonprofit organization typically has three target audiences. These are the potential donors or sponsors, the volunteers, and the beneficiaries.

When creating a nonprofit branding strategy, it is crucial to segment your audiences accordingly and learn their needs and desires. You can utilize surveys, feedback forms, interviews, and focus groups. Social media and websites are also rich resources of demographic data and insights.

Of course, you can always seek the help of professionals, especially if you have a broader reach. Research firms and branding agencies are some of the companies you can reach out to.

When you have a solid understanding of your audiences, you can personalize fundraising campaigns according to the needs of beneficiaries. You can adjust your messaging to something your donors and volunteers can relate to.

Step 2: Know Your Competition

‘Competition’ may be an odd concept in a nonprofit landscape. Everyone’s pushing for a good cause. While this is true, remember that resources are also limited. And with thousands of similar organizations in the same geographical environment, it can be scarcer than you think.

A good nonprofit organization is strategic. It knows how to entice people to support its causes to operate successfully. And one way to be such is by analyzing your competitors.

Competitive analysis is identifying the strengths and weaknesses of your competitors. It entails checking websites, campaigns, and social media platforms.

Review annual reports and pick up on trends. And find out what their community thinks of them.

By familiarizing yourself with your competitors, you can identify growth opportunities. It also allows you to define what makes your foundation unique, which is integral to the success of a brand that can stand the test of time.

Step 3: Define Your Mission Statement

The mission statement should be clear and concise. Image via Make-A-Wish Foundation

A mission statement encapsulates what your organization stands for and why it exists. While it can be inspirational, it should be a clear and direct statement---no fluffs or poetic jargon. Some examples of nonprofit mission statements are:

  • Make-A-Wish America: Together, we create life-changing wishes for children with critical illnesses.
  • Books For Africa: To end the book famine in Africa.
  • Oceana: Protecting and restoring the world’s oceans.

The above examples can state their goals clearly, leaving no room for misinterpretation. So, remember to be concise and keep it simple!

Step 4: Create Your Visual Identity

While aesthetic value is key to creating an appealing visual identity, it’s the meaning behind it and how it represents the nonprofit brand that matters.

Colors, fonts, images, and illustrations shape your visual identity. Your logo can speak volumes about your brand. A well-designed visual identity is also what makes you stand out from competitors.

Suffice it to say, that visual elements have a psychological impact on people exposed to your brand. Hence, it is crucial to pick them wisely.

Take a non-profit organization that focuses on alleviating poverty. It is easy to appeal to donors by using images showing children starving. But, this could be a slippery slope to exploitation. Instead, you can shine a light on the positive things your organization can deliver.

Why not share authentic and happy images of beneficiaries after they complete one of your enriching programs? You can also pick a vibrant color palette for a friendlier look. When you bring awareness to the services you provide and the impact you make on the lives of people you help through these visual elements, you can leave a more optimistic impression.

A nonprofit brand identity should have the following elements:

  • Brand name
  • Logo
  • Color palette
  • Typography
  • Tone and voice
  • Slogan
  • Imagery
  • Graphic illustrations

Nonprofit branding guidelines, the ultimate rulebook, that outlines the do’s and don'ts, best practices, and design logic are a must-have to ensure everything aligns with your brand identity.

Step 5: Integrate Your Branding Into All Aspects of Your Organization

You know who to talk to. You know your competitors. You have a clear brand message and a well-defined nonprofit brand identity. Your next step is to ensure branding is integrated across all aspects of your organization.

Branding isn’t just for marketing purposes. It reaches beyond creating a positive image to capture more donors. It can influence your recruitment process, product management, and operations.

For instance, a reputable nonprofit brand can entice potential candidates with the same values. With a perceived value in the market, it is also easier for suppliers and other partner companies to trust you.

Best Nonprofit Branding Examples to Learn From

We’ve tackled the theories. Now, take a look at how nonprofit branding strategies translate to success in the real world.

North York Women’s Shelter: A Symbol of Hope

North York Women’s Shelter is an NGO that advocates for ending violence against women. As part of its brand identity, the NGO wants to be seen as a haven, bringing hope to every victim.

This concept is seen in North York Women’s photography. The images used in their branding efforts showcase women who are happy, confident, and surrounded by a strong community of survivors.

The brand’s color palette features pastel tones of yellow, orange, and light blue. Illustrations also show diversity and a tight connection among the community members.

North York Women’s Shelter's website evokes a friendly and approachable vibe. Via North York Women’s Shelter

Business card design for North York Women’s Shelter. Via Loop

Among North York Women’s campaigns to raise awareness is Powers & Voice, a digital issue that highlights the services it provides to the victims. Instead of showing the brutal side of violence against women, North York Women’s Shelter chose to communicate optimism.

Digital magazine featuring NYWS beneficiaries and services. Image via North York Women’s Shelter

The nonprofit branding strategy serves as a reminder for the survivors to not give up and to look forward to a fresh start, and a bright future.

Catherine Donnelly Foundation

The Catherine Donnelly Foundation is at the forefront of pushing initiatives that deal with housing, homelessness, and adult education in Canada. The brand champions a “decolonized approach to philanthropy” where they partner and build a meaningful relationship with Indigenous communities, like the Inuits.

The brand decided to optimize its digital presence to communicate its new and innovative approach. It also revamped its logo to something that reflects the organization.

The website reflects the foundation’s mission of changing the system with a decolonized approach. Via Catherine Donnelly Foundation

The new logo, named 'the Luminous C', is the perfect representation of the sense of belongingness the organization brings to its members. It has also become an overarching visual element that helps every branding material remain cohesive.

The Luminous C logo. Via Catherine Donnelly Foundation

The brand expanded its collection of visual assets, playing with deep hues and powerful photography to convey urgency and encourage people to join their causes.

Finally, the website has become a crucial tool that bridges potential donors, volunteers, and stakeholders to the brand. It includes stories from beneficiaries and partners, highlighting the impressive changes the organization made in their lives.

Amnesty International: Making Human Rights Popular

Amnesty International is one of the biggest advocates for human rights. Its presence spans over 100 countries. Yet despite the reach, there was a disconnect with its audience.

The organization decided to rebrand.

“In this era of fake news and divisive political rhetoric, the truth needs more help to keep pace with the lies. To shift public opinion towards humanity and empathy, we need to make human rights popular… We need solutions, values, and vision. Above all, we need hope. And that’s what this new brand platform will create,” says the former Head of Brand for Amnesty International.

The brand revised its language, removing heavy terms that non-activists and the younger generation may not relate to. Instead, it used trendy yet impactful statements, like “Respect is non-negotiable” and “We Love People” on branded merchandise.

Amnesty International wants to create a more personal relationship with the young generation. Image via Blue State

Amnesty International is also known for its powerful campaigns. A good example is the ‘I Ran from Iran” campaign.

It features how the lives of everyday Iranians are at risk because of the lack of human rights protection. The ad highlighted stories from a few who managed to flee the country because of suppression, oppression, and political persecution.

Check out the campaign below.

Nonprofit Branding For Everyone

Nonprofit branding is as crucial as its for-profit counterparts. It can make a huge difference not only to its survival but also to the impact it makes in the community. But it is hard work.

When building your nonprofit brand, remain consistent with your brand messaging and identity. Doing so helps cement your brand in the minds of your audience.

It also helps to be different. While countless organizations promote the same initiatives, find what makes you unique and use it to entice and convince your audience to take action.

Finally, be relatable. Forego jargon and speak the language of your audience. Use images and illustrations that feature the people you want to reach out to. And create content by integrating storytelling into narratives that resonate with them.

There is no single method in nonprofit branding. You will go through multiple trials and errors, but these are all part of the journey. It all boils down to having a nonprofit branding strategy that works, a team of experts, and appropriate resources.

Ready to create a nonprofit branding strategy? Partner with a trusted brand strategy studio to launch your organization to greater heights!