I cringe every time a nonprofit cooks up a shiny new branding system. Because I know a drop in fundraising revenue is just around the corner.
I know it shouldn't be that way, but it is.
And that's because branding, at least as it gets done in these situations, is exactly the wrong tool for nonprofit fundraising.
There's a good diagnosis of the problem at the Brands Create Customers blog, at Your brand is what you put into your product, not add-on "branding":
If you create a product and then try to dial up some "branding" to make it appear special and unique ... you've already lost the brand strategy war. You've reduced your brand to a media exercise. Instead of being a direct drive to create value and create customers, your brand as "branding" is busy creating "impressions," "likes" and other media metrics. While that may be good business for publishers and ad agencies, you and your customers deserve more.
If add-on branding is bad in the commercial world, it's a disaster in the nonprofit world.
The difficult thing is this: We don't sell a product. We sell a feeling, an idea, a sense of connection. When someone gives to a nonprofit, all they get in return is the information we choose to give them, plus a tax deduction if they go to the trouble to get it.
If I buy an iPhone, I have an iPhone, and that's my brand experience.
If you want your fundraising to have Apple-like branding that's real and not a marketing add-on, you need to be able to answer yes to these questions:
- Is what you do at your core understandable, interesting, and exciting to at least some niche of non-expert ordinary people?
- Are you packaging what you do in a way that allows donors to authentically connect with it?
- Do you step out of the way and let donors "own" the good work they're helping finance?
- Does what you do make ordinary people say "wow" -- and tell others about it?
When you can say yes to these things, you have a real nonprofit brand -- one that will boost fundraising to new heights.
Otherwise, your branding is a cosmetic and pointless exercise that is much worse than a waste of time and money, because it will actively drive away donors.