Branding the Non-profit

…it is about creating a culture and emotional connection, educating your audience about who you are and what you stand for…”

Branding: one of these fuzzy terms we all have heard about but can’t explain; also known as the thing that costs a lot of money but only rarely comes with positive returns. Let’s take a closer look at the concept of branding. In this article we will shed some light on branding in the non-profit sector.

Let us start by defining the concept. Whether for-profit or non-profit, branding is the process of creating positive associations in a person’s mind in order to increase satisfaction with the organization’s logo, name, and other unique characteristics. Let us be very clear though: branding is way more than designing a logo and coming up with a creative name. Branding is a continuous process of building a reputation and it gets built with every single interaction you have with your audience: from the letters you send them to the color of your office; from your press releases to the swag you give them.

Good branding differentiates itself by its consistency. At each interaction, your audience should get a confirmation that the image they have of the company, that has been built through earlier interactions, is true. The more consistent interactions you have with your audience, the more credibility you get and the stronger the psychological connection to the brand becomes. For example, although there is ample empirical evidence that consumers rate Pepsi Cola over Coca-Cola in blind tests, the findings reverse when served in a can of the brand. Customers truly believe that Coca-Cola tastes better because of the psychological bond they have to the brand; a bond that has been build up for years and years, made stronger with every single interaction the customers had with the brand. But that is the for-profit sector. Let us now take a closer look at the non-profit sector.

The non-profit sector has some unique characteristics that make branding somewhat more challenging but mostly more exciting. If we look at the priority list of non-profit companies, we barely see branding making it into the top three. Most important to the non-profit sector is fundraising and that becomes significantly easier when branding is considered a priority.

So how does branding work in the non-profit sector? How do companies get funding from people or organizations? Firstly, any organization, such as a bank, government agency and other potential partner, needs to  know the company name and they need to know the organization in a positive way. Secondly, they want to know what the organization stands for, what they do, what their values are, etc. In other words, they want to know the “culture” and if they like it, they will provide the organization with the help they are looking for.

This is exactly what branding is all about: it is about creating a culture and emotional connection, educating your audience about who you are and what you stand for, and building a story — a good one, that will make the audience remember you and believe in your cause the way you believe in it.

Branding also gives you an opportunity to differentiate yourself from other organizations that serve similar causes. It is your instrument to tell your audience what makes you stand out, why they should support your organization instead of any other. Just as in the Coca-Cola example, branding is your tool to create that psychological, emotional connection that will make people prefer your brand over others.

Now that we understand what branding can do for your organization it is important to emphasize that building a brand that will be the face of your organization is a task that should be done with utmost caution. For this reason, once the branding decision has been made, the next step is to look for the right partner that has enough experience to build your brand and take it to the next level. Brand building takes a specialist since a brand is about perception: it is about how people perceive your brand which may differ from the story the organization intends to tell.

Think, for example, of Volkswagen. Their recent public image is that of a cheating brand because of their emissions testing deceit (Google these last three words and all that comes up are articles on Volkswagen). For sure this was not the intended reputation or culture the company wanted but it illustrates how branding is a process that has to be monitored meticulously and addressed on an on-going basis.

At the end of the day branding is not a cost. It is an investment that will help your non-profit organization achieve it’s mandate.


Kanani, Rahim. Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 18 Jan. 2014. Web. 18 Nov. 2015.
Kylander, Nathalie, and Christopher Stone. “The Role of Brand in the Nonprofit Sector (SSIR).” Stanford Social Innovation Review. Stanford University, 1 Feb. 2012. Web. 24 Nov. 2015.
Mintz, James H., and Joanna Chan. “Guide to Branding in the Public and Not-For-Profit Sectors.” Mikekujawski. Centre of Excellence for Public Sector Marketing, 1 Apr. 2009. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.

Image courtesy: PARK advanced design management.

Jonas Wera & Veronica Robayo

Jonas Wera is Marketing Assistant at daVinci Retail. Veronica Robayo is a Office and Marketing Coordinator at the York-Eglinton BIA.

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