brand for good

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How Non-Profit Brands Are Different

How Non-Profit Brands Are Different


Recently we were invited to speak at a breakfast meeting of some of Ottawa’s leading charitable foundations. Our topic was – branding your not-for-profit organization. In the august audience were senior executives of non-profit organizations many of who were accompanied by members of their board of directors.

We knew some of them including a handful of our own clients. Many we did not know at all. It was a scenario rife with trepidation and intimidation.

Over the years we’ve been lucky enough to work with a bunch of not-for-profit organizations to help them build and improve their brands. In working with a number of non-profit brands such as St. John Ambulance CanadaBruyere Continuing Care and many others we’ve formed some fairly strong opinions on what makes non-profit brands different.

Us having opinions will come as absolutely no surprise to the folks who know us.

Rather than prattle on about entirely about what a brand is and isn’t we decided instead to focus on a handful of key ways that not-for-profit brands are different. Okay we did remind them that a brand is more than a logo but that’s a blog post for another day.

Here then is our abbreviated take on a few of the ways that we believe non-profit brands are different:

1. Non-Profit Brands Are On The Side Of The Angels

For the most part for-profit brands cannot say this. Believe us, they wish they could. Being on the side of the angels is inspiring. It means that you are doing good and changing lives. This is a very helpful place to be when you are trying to build a brand. It usually means that other people want to be there with you.

2. Non-Profit Brands Are More Easily Trusted

People are more likely to trust a non-profit brand because of what the non-profit brand does. There was a study at Harvard University that backed this up. Gaining trust is something that all brands strive for.

3. The Missions Of Non-Profit Brands Are Seen As Important

People believe that the work done by non-profits is important because in many cases it is. The challenge becomes making sure that your mission resonates with audiences. Missions written by committees rarely do.

4. Non-Profit Brands Can Make Personal Connections Faster

When you are a brand that is making a difference in peoples lives it is almost always easier to make the kind of personal connections that help build brands. Making a personal connection is much tougher to do if you are a for-profit brand.

5. People Become Emotionally Invested In Non-Profit Brands

When you are helping people they, along with the family and friends become emotionally invested in your brand. They become your donors and if you are doing things right, your brand champions.

6. Non-Profit Brands Have Compelling Stories

We believe that effective storytelling is one of the great-untapped resources for building non-profit brands. Some have done it beautifully and powerfully. Many have not. People remember stories easier than they remember stats.

7. Non-Profit Have Not Embraced Branding

There are usually a few reasons that non-profits have not embraced branding and its valuable cousin, marketing. Typically it comes down to lack of resources both human and financial. Unfortunately it also often comes down to a widely held belief that investing in branding by non-profits is irresponsible. Like Dan Pallotta said in his inspiring TED talk, we believe that more non-profits brands need to take a different view.

If you’d like to see more of our brief speech on branding for non-profit organizations, you can find the presentation here.


About the Author

Stephen McGill

Unabashed words guy, branding evangelist and voracious reader of anything to do with marketing, branding, creativity and design, Stephen McGill has worked in the agency business for over three decades.

4 Comments to “How Non-Profit Brands Are Different”

  1. Brock Murray says:

    Love this post. We recently started working with a local non-profit organization and I must say it is a different approach. The cause certainly motivates you in going the extra mile to ensure they succeed.

  2. Stephen says:

    Thanks Brock. Glad to hear that you are getting involved in non-profit work. It is a very inspiring sector to work in with great people, wonderful stories and important causes. Life changing stuff for sure.

  3. Jennifer says:

    Love working with angels. They’re so darn nice!
    Great piece – keep up the good work.


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