Your brand may suck. Do you know?


Creating, strengthening, and maintaining your nonprofit brand is a common topic across the Internets and blogosphere. You can find thousands of articles elucidating the importance of your brand, how to build your brand, what to include in your brand, and a thousand other ways to think about how your organization is perceived internally and externally.

What is a brand? We often think of it as a logo, or tagline, or some other public relations technique. Normally it’s defined as how you are perceived. But it’s much more than that. Your brand is the collection of perceptions in the minds of your constituents, and it’s also the promise you make—your claim of distinction.

This is what Nathalie Kylander, adjunct lecturer in public policy at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and a research fellow at Harvard’s Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations said in a recent Forbes article:

“Traditionally, brand was essentially viewed as a communication and fundraising tool, but we found that a new paradigm was emerging where brand was increasingly being considered in a strategic way, fundamentally anchored in the mission and values of an organization and critical at every step in the theory of change of an organization.”

I think that it’s rooted in the mission and values of the organization because your brand is a promise to the community that you are what you say you are. If people in your constituent circles (donors, volunteers, partners, etc) perceive that you don’t live up to your brand, you’ve got a problem. An INTEGRITY problem.

We all know of brands, commercial and nonprofit, that don’t quite live up to their image. There was just an article this week questioning the role of the Red Cross in disaster relief, questioning the general perception about their image as the “go-to” organization after natural disasters.

The bigger the gap between how your constituents experience your organization (through personal encounters or through your outreach efforts) and your perceived identity, culture, and image, the bigger the integrity problem you’ll have.

You are better off if the perception of your brand matches your reality than to always be promoting yourself as “the best ever” or “the most effective” or in any way that could be considered puffery. Best to have a rock solid reputation that is backed by solid performance and outcomes.

Do you have a Brand Gap problem? How do you know? Have you asked your donors? How do you solve it? What’s your favorite nonprofit brand?

photo credit: “Caveman Chuck” Coker via photopin cc