Non-profit Branding and Marketing
When you work in marketing, you’re ultimately trying to sell a product. The same goes for marketing a non-profit, but in those cases, the nonprofit itself is the product. Instead of picking up a pair of shoes or a new kind of cleaning supplies, consumers are buying into an idea or cause when they choose to donate, and it’s your responsibility as the marketer to make it clear what that cause is and why people should invest in it.
We work with a nonprofit called Warriors for Freedom, an organization focused on supporting veterans through action-oriented programs like scuba diving, hunting, and small-group counseling. We’ll be using Warriors for Freedom to explain how branding a nonprofit works and what you need to know.
1. Discover what makes the organization unique
Nonprofits are everywhere and often rely on sympathy to find donors for their cause. It can be easy to fall into this, especially when sympathy works. But, does it work well?
In order to stand out in a sea of somber-looking mailers and animals at the pound, you have to figure out why people should care about your nonprofit in the first place. They already know you’ve got a cause that needs help, but what’s the difference between you and them?
For Warriors for Freedom, we got to know the people behind the organization before we started making things look nice. An interview should always be your first step. For something so emotionally motivated, you need to get to know the people behind it. You need to understand why they care so you can develop the same interest. We learned that Warriors for Freedom didn’t want to be just another veteran suicide prevention charity. They were focused on more than money, they wanted events and communities to develop for their veterans. They want real, personal change.
But they also wanted to change stigmas too. They weren’t about this infantilizing, coddling attitude that can be associated with veteran care. They wanted to help people with action, excitement, and meaningful experiences.
This became our unique spin. You may find that your animal rehabilitation client takes rescued dogs on wilderness hikes or your Alzheimer's nonprofit client is pioneering a new patient enrichment program. Find the things that your client does differently and build your brand upon that.
2. Think critically about how your visuals will be interpreted
A brand is everything to an organization. The first impression it gives makes all the difference in who will and won’t donate to your nonprofit. When you’re creating logos and choosing typefaces, you have to consider how these things will make people feel when they see them. People donate based on their emotions, so you want to make sure you’re conveying the right energy.
Warriors for Freedom could’ve been a serif font, red white and blue brand with an American flag in the logo and a lengthy tagline nobody would read. It could have a plain-looking website that got the job done. But based on their strong personality and action-oriented attitude, it wouldn’t fit who they are.
We made the logo feel patriotic, but we went a step further by mimicking the look of a medal to convey honor and strength. We could’ve gone fancy with a times-new-roman-esque font, but we chose a strong, sans-serif font to speak to the bold and unapologetic nature of the organization. You have to think about who these people are and what they stand for. The brand must be an extension of that. Warriors for freedom doesn’t just donate money to veteran rehabilitation programs, they make their own programs rooted in activity and connection.
Take how the organization feels about its cause and apply it to their brand. Potential donors will recognize the difference.
3. Think about where the donations are coming from
Who outside of the nonprofit also cares about the cause? Most people are sympathetic to the efforts of nonprofit organizations, but people will choose where to donate based on what they already care about. An animal-rights activist may not be as concerned with veteran support as they are with animal testing.
In the case of Warriors for Freedom, we know that people who care about the military and veteran resources will already be interested in supporting. This means we need to be sure our brand is appealing to these people, but there also needs to be some compromise so that other donors don’t feel excluded.
A good nonprofit brand will always invite all kinds of people to learn more. Part of being inclusive to more donors is establishing legitimacy. Any nonprofit can get a logo and a website put together to post on social media and tell their friends about their cause. What’s going to set you apart is creating a brand that makes sense and writing intentional copy.
Consistency is your best friend. Your words along with your visuals should read how the nonprofit would speak if it were a person. Warriors for Freedom is conversational, motivated, and active in its voice. They are, however, professional and sentimental when they need to be. You can read more of their nonprofit brand voice on their website.
Establishing consistency is key to making your nonprofit feel like it's worth a donor's time and money.
4. Indulge in symbolism
Symbols are everywhere. Language, road signs, culture… we rely on symbols to help us interpret the things around us. A brand is like one big symbol, and it’s our job to apply that to what we create.
Symbols can also be tools for unification and making donors feel included in the cause. People like to feel “in the know.” You can draw inspiration for symbolism in your conversation with your client. Do they have any pillars? Key programs? A list of values? Existing symbols that are important to them?
We used symbolism heavily in the Warriors for Freedom logo. This gives members of the organization talking points for potential donors and something they can bond over. The three stripes in the logo represent the three most important pieces of Warriors for Freedom: veterans, volunteers, and donors, while also creating a “W” shape. The overall medal look communicates a sense of honor and strength as we talked about earlier. You can incorporate things like this in so many places when creating visual assets for your nonprofit brand. Remember that symbols are a great way to add more substance to the brand beyond just a pretty look.
5. Be informational, but not overwhelming
You’ll probably find that when you’re getting to know the people behind a nonprofit, a lot of passion and drive goes into what they do. You’re going to learn so much about their cause and probably take down a lot of notes for statistics, operations, and other things. Sometimes, the amount of information can be pretty extensive.
When you’re processing this information and trying to figure out what’s important to tell people, it can be easy to accidentally share too much. You don’t want your content or website to read like a textbook.
It’s important to sift through everything that you’ve learned and find the information that’s most impactful or important to donors. Donors want to know how a nonprofit uses their donations or what kind of programs the nonprofit runs. They don’t want a 2,000 word website page full of facts and statistics or an ad that gives a history lesson (sometimes, there are always exceptions depending on your client).
The Warriors for Freedom website home page was made to summarize what people need to know: Who they are, what they do, and how they spend donations. You can always get further into the details the deeper you go into a website or if you’re making something long-form like an investor pamphlet, but you want to make sure the information you give is in the right place. Think about it this way, wherever you’re putting information, it should be somewhere people will come looking for it. Potential donors will visit your nonprofit website homepage or social media to get a general understanding of the organization, but they’ll come looking for more information on your about page.
Nonprofit branding is a little different than trying to sell a traditional product. You get the opportunity to sell based on feeling and tap into what people care about. When you're building a nonprofit brand, it’s important to:
- Know the cause inside and out
- Understand the people behind it
- Find a unique selling point
- Carefully consider every design decision you make
- Be consistent
- Incorporate symbolism
- Be mindful of how much information you share and where
Above all, be true to who the organization is.
We hope these tips help you with your next nonprofit branding project. You can check out our Warriors for Freedom case study here to see what these tips look like in action.
View Case Study ––>