Don’t sit on the sidelines with an ineffective brand. Whether you care about your brand or not, it is costing you. You are either losing resources you currently have or unable to capture resources that could more easily be yours.
As our client put it in an interview:
Rebranding is expensive, but it costs much more over time to not invest in putting your best face forward. I always approach the question of when and how much to invest in this process by thinking about what the organization stands to gain in terms of attracting the resources it needs to achieve its mission.Danielle Kristine Toussaint, Chief External Affairs Officer at NewSchools
So, exactly what kind of resources does an organization need to achieve its mission? And how can branding help you strengthen what you have or capture what you need more of?
Money is the lifeblood of your organization. To institutional funders, corporate sponsors, major donors, or individuals, your brand serves as a shorthand response to key questions: Is this organization competent? Does it offer something uniquely valuable and impactful? Moreover, what does my affiliation with this organization convey about me? Essentially, your brand is something they aspire to align with, an association they hope will enhance their own reputation and standing.
A well-defined and compelling brand clarifies your vision and your promise, generating the elusive ‘pull’ that all organizations seek. When donors, both major and minor, are knocking down your door, not just to contribute but to be connected to it, you’re not only raising funds but also accumulating an equally valuable currency—trust. The more your donors perceive your organization as capable, valuable, and appealing, the more freedom you have to make decisions, carve your unique path, and realize your vision in an authentic and impactful manner.
There are no heroes in the social sector. The issues you wrestle with are multi-dimensional, nonlinear, and sometimes even chaotic in their progress (or lack thereof). Organizations need to work in community and in coalition with various stakeholders and partners to build on each others’ strengths and make meaningful progress.
The Ayni Institute’s framework for social movement ecology emphasizes that there is no singular, universally correct approach to addressing social issues. Effecting positive change in our world requires a diverse array of strategies, spanning from grassroots efforts to grasstops initiatives, and even peer-to-peer collaborations. An organization dedicated to direct service carries an equal significance to one committed to policy advocacy. Like the instruments in an orchestra, each organization holds a distinctive and valuable role, and a strong and well-defined brand can help elucidate this role, ensuring that you lend value to the movement without exploiting it or the other players.
An organization needs talent, whether that’s staff, executive leaders, or board members. The nonprofit landscape is growing more and more crowded. And as the business sector becomes increasingly purpose-driven, nonprofits no longer have a monopoly on social impact. This has major implications for attracting talent. Waving your cause flag was once enough to attract smart, talented, and passionate individuals, but today the flag is just table stakes. It’s no longer enough to say, “We’re here to end mass incarceration” or “We’re fighting for health equity.”
In today’s world, statements like these feel like platitudes. Simplistic positions on complex issues leave staff frustrated and increasingly disillusioned, as they attempt to shoehorn their own values into the empty space left by the organization’s brand. Don’t fall into the trap of letting the work “speak for itself.” Instead, leverage your brand to clarify your position on an issue, your point of view on the world, and your values. Recruiting and retaining talent will look totally different—in a good way.
Distrust has become our society’s default emotion and trust in institutions is at an all-time low, but the 2023 Edelman Trust Barometer Report puts it succinctly: “Trust is forward-facing. It’s hard to trust if you don’t know where you’re going.” Trust needs to be anchored in a vibrant vision of the future and a brand is a powerful tool for articulating an ambitious yet credible vision for the future. Your brand is a medium for defining and articulating the world you are trying to bring into existence. And when done right, it becomes a beacon that makes explicit what you stand for, signals where you are going, and attracts more people to join you in the collective project of future-building.
Make Your Brand a Priority
A brand acts as an organization’s compass, not only guiding its internal actions but shaping external perceptions. A powerful brand attracts vital financial resources that fuel operations; fosters partnerships essential for transformative impact; pulls in high-caliber talent to advance your mission; and inspires trust and confidence in your work and vision.
Your brand is your influence. Influence raises your organization’s profile and multiplies your impact. Influence insulates you from competitive pressures. It catalyzes a virtuous cycle of increased trust and increased influence. Ultimately, the cost of neglecting one’s brand far outweighs the investment in strengthening it. Investing in your brand is simply investing in your influence. It’s a no-brainer.
This essay is by Sruthi Sadhujan, Senior Strategy Director at Hyperakt, a purpose-driven design and innovation studio that elevates human dignity and ignites curiosity. Originally posted in their newsletter, Insights by Hyperakt.
Illustration by Merit Myers.