The Brand IDEA framework has been presented at multiple events this fall, where the Role of Brand in the Nonprofit Sector research was received enthusiastically by nonprofit organizations who are eager to start putting the IDEA framework to use and in some cases have even started implementing it. The Role of Brand team has been soliciting feedback from the field on the research to date in order to help identify common issues and bring clarity to brand management across the nonprofit sector.
The CIVICUS World Assembly in Montreal offered the opportunity to learn how experiences from organizations like the Rockefeller Foundation, Oxfam Canada, Publish What You Pay Canada, and the Niger Delta Women’s Movement for Peace and Development relate to the Brand IDEA framework. The discussion with the audience focused largely on issues of brand Affinity, with panelists emphasizing that organizations cannot build affinity if they do not know who they are and how they can add value to other organizations. Through these interactions, it became clear that many organizations are still thinking about their brands primarily as communication or fundraising tools. However, a brand can be leveraged more holistically and strategically in pursuit of the nonprofit’s overall mission by embedding it throughout the organization to reflect who you are, what you do, and why it is important. Every audience’s interaction with an organization, its employees, and partners is a defining piece of the organization’s brand, so it is crucial that brand perceptions are aligned across those internal and external audiences.
At the Nonprofit Management Conference at Stanford, discussions focused on using brand Democracy and Affinity to drive mission impact. Feedback from over 120 participants was collected to learn how a variety of nonprofits were addressing the current challenges and opportunities in the nonprofit brand space.
The following is a sample of experiences and perspectives of the conference participants.
On Brand Democracy:
- “Social media has really changed the game. We used to be really protective about our brand. Now, every time we have a performance, photos and videos end up all over YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. Now we embrace this as a strength to build our supporters. This works much better than squelching their enthusiasm since the world is already trending so strongly towards sharing.” – Local performing arts organization
- “I went from being a careful brand policewoman to letting just about anyone in our universe use our logo, mission, tagline, pillars, etc. Everyone wants to do their best to be consistent – they all helped create our image and now they want to maintain it.” – Small U.S.-based human services nonprofit
- “Building our brand with staff and the board has been essential to our success. Staff and board members are encouraged to define what about the brand they most relate to and use that as basis for articulating the organization. It’s a challenge because it requires coming back to the concept frequently with old and new staff, but people are really invested.” – U.S. member-based technology nonprofit
- “To create brand democracy, we talked to all staff and volunteers, did brainstorming around who we are, how we are different and what we want to achieve, and asked our donors why they believe in us and why they want to be involved.” – Mid-sized international development nonprofit
- “Our organization follows IDEA and brand democracy except relative to logos. We are mission driven, with strategic initiatives all aligned with our mission. Our stakeholders clearly understand our mission and effectively communicate it in the greater community. Our greatest marketing force is parents who are ambassadors within and without the school. Our website promotes and draws customers to our school. The website is strongly emotive using videos and testimonials to lift the roof off the school and enable outsiders to see the heart and soul.” – Local private school
On Brand Affinity:
- “We are mutually reinforcing each others’ brand due to collective impact. The need for interdependence requires us to be affinity-oriented. Our brand growth has been because our collective impact has created more passionate champions.” – Regional chapter of large human services organization
- “The challenge is to define roles and take credit for the work, especially when funders are involved. It requires tremendous partnership-building efforts to establish trust.” – Mid-sized U.S. environmental nonprofit
- “The changed world for nonprofits due to the economic crisis has made people think of affinity in a more positive light. It can be more challenging to collaborate or partner than to do it yourself, but expertise can be greater, results better and power stronger.” –Health services nonprofit advisor
- “We want to remain humble but visible. How do you create something together while remaining independently strong? Brand is factor in deciding whether to partner.” – Large U.S.-based foundation
- “Our organization lends authority, infrastructure, history and stability to stand-alone programs. Getting recognition is hard, but we try to create affinity around program specifics. We also strive to have cross-collaborations between multiple programs so it doesn’t feel like we’re competing, but rather that we can all benefit from one another.” – Mid-sized international health and human services organization
We are energized by the initial responses to the Brand IDEA framework and look forward to continuing the dialogue with you. Exciting things are ahead, including an upcoming book to be published by Jossey-Bass that will explore the Brand IDEA framework in greater detail, provide numerous examples and case studies, and offer guidance on brand management for nonprofits. Visit the Role of Brand website for the latest insights.