Nonprofit Brand Promise: 10 Things to Know

What is a brand promise and how does that apply for nonprofits?

As a nonprofit organization, you know how many different hats your organization must wear to be able to successfully support your mission and purpose. Each hat has its own level of importance and need, especially when it comes to your brand promise.

For a nonprofit, the brand promise is the value that you bring to your membership, donors, volunteers etc. It’s the external exposure that will consistently engage new members, help bring in more donations, drive social change and spread your mission further than you can imagine. 

It confirms how your organization plans to show up in the world to create awareness for your specific purpose. It’s the experience that your audience expects when working with your nonprofit at all stages. 

Your organization was created to have a social impact. It is driven by your mission internally and your brand promise externally. This is critically different from the branding and marketing you see from a corporate perspective.  

Have you ever dived in deep to ensure your branding and marketing are working together for the greater good of your mission? Are they accurately representing your brand promise?

First, let’s break it down so you have a clear picture of the distinctions between marketing and branding. 

Marketing vs. Branding: How It Impacts Your Nonprofit Brand Promise

These functions are often confused with one another and branding usually is the overlooked piece of the puzzle. Marketing is the big buzz word, but the brand is what differentiates your nonprofit.

Try this exercise. How would you answer these questions right now?

  • What is the experience our organization creates TODAY for donors, potential donors, volunteers and activists?
  • Where do we show up in their lives?
  • When do we show up in their lives? 

With those answers in mind, let’s think deeply about your brand. The brand and brand promise create a connection on a personal level. Branding is about differentiating and setting yourself apart from the noise. Owning your own voice and showing up with it through different channels … stories, visualization, how you bring value into someone’s life, how you change the life of others etc. That is branding.

It’s not just picking the right font, color palette, or the best photos.

So how is that different from marketing?

Marketing is about amplification. Marketing is the tactics and strategies to get in front of people and have your voice heard.

Marketing is about keeping the conversation going once the brand has gotten the conversation started.

So why does the distinction matter? 

Branding and marketing need to work together. This allows you to share your organization’s story without having the market define it for you. 

You have to figure out how you want to show up in the world and then turn up the dial to amplify it. 

You might be thinking – but the brand doesn’t drive donations. Spending money on branding is alright to do only when you have extra budget. Brand awareness marketing doesn’t convert.

Surprise – those are all false! Instead shift your thinking to this:

  • If your brand is not bold enough to make someone stop and take a look, how will it ever bring in a donation?
  • Your brand story, voice, and identity should be defined before spending any money on sales and marketing tactics.
  • Brand awareness efforts get you seen in the first place.
  • Brand gives you the opportunity to get found, get noticed and begin to build the relationship that keeps loyal donors and the community coming back to you for a lifetime.

Your nonprofit brand promise is the reason donors want to contribute to your mission in the first place. You must clearly establish the difference you’re making in the world and how that is weaved throughout all your communication. This is crucial for driving donations, creating awareness, and recruiting new members

Now that we’ve outlined the difference between branding and marketing, you might be thinking how can I build a great brand promise? 

Foundation for Your Nonprofit Brand Promise

Let’s do a pulse check. Your brand should be inclusive of the following 10 areas:

  1. Experience – How we serve our donors and partners with them to solve their problems.
  2. Product – What we do and how do we bring value. *Think impact*
  3. Differentiation – What makes us unique. How we solve problems and have impact unlike anyone else.
  4. Brand identity – How we represent ourselves through visuals and copy (logos, design, words, medium). Get a head start on building your brand identity with the Barlele brand book template.
  5. People – Who are we as people at the company, how we tell the story and live out the values of our organization.
  6. Channels – Where we show up and interact with people across all landscapes (digital, phone call and in-person events etc).

So, you can see, branding brings the differentiation between you and everyone else. It shows what makes your nonprofit truly special, whether that’s providing much-needed mental health resources, rescuing animals, or supporting refugees. It gives someone a reason to pause, stop and look, read, and genuinely want to know and give more! 

What other steps are important to building a great brand promise for your nonprofit?

  1. Cut through the noise and be different.

If you are doing the same old song and dance that everyone else in your industry is doing then you are adding to the noise. You are NOT cutting through the noise when you continue to show up as normal. You have to stand out and differentiate your organization. That’s the point of branding! You are special and do something that nobody else does so show it off. Don’t continue to be boring and add to the noise. Cut through it by being different. Different is what you want when it comes to branding.

  1. Fear is a killer of great branding. 

When building the brand and growing your mission-focused organization, fear comes in many forms. There is fear of failure, fear of going out on a limb, and fear of trying something new. Let it go and don’t let it get in your way.

  1. Make it easy to interact with your brand and bring value.

This can come in the form of information, resources and ways to improve your audience’s daily lives. This can also come in the form of well-planned user experiences for your members, donors, community and future leaders. Eliminate the friction and make people want to interact because they cannot live without all the value you bring to the world.

Content is a great avenue for your audience to interact with your brand. Check out the Barlele Ultimate Content Marketing Planner to begin building opportunities to deliver on your nonprofit’s brand promise.

  1. Focus more on the experience and trust the process.

Yes, this is scary. But, trust in the process of long-term, sustainable brand building. This happens by focusing more on the person you are serving than your own sales goals. Trust the process, create AMAZING experiences, and the donations will fall into place.

How’s that pulse? If you are thinking you need to look at your brand promise a little closer, start with stopping with the snooze fest of normal. Stop not listening and just talking about yourself. Figure out what risks you can take and stop fearing failure. 

If you want to make your organization memorable, stop and take a second look. 

  • Are you being authentic and owning your own truth as an organization?
  • Are you being relevant to your base and considering what matters most to them?
  • Is your story creating common ground between you and your supporters?

Remember marketing is the engine, at the center are your differentiators and how you’re showing up as not normal. You need to identify the best channels where your audience is most likely to connect with your mission.

Do you have an authentic brand that bridges originality, conviction, and clarity? If not, take a moment and think about another company or organization’s marketing that connects with you directly. 

Take a moment and think why. 

Now how can you apply that same feeling to your organization’s marketing? When that feeling is found, then you’ve successfully identified the key pieces that create your authentic brand promise.

A successful brand promise, requires your organization to show up authentically with conviction and to clearly be able to tell your mission’s story. That is what helps you connect to your community. It shows that there are humans behind your organization that are changing people’s lives –  in a BIG way.

Think about the impact of the World Wildlife Fund, Habitat for Humanity, St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, and The Salvation Army’s brand promise and how they deliver an unforgettable experience to support their brand promise. 

Remember, consistency means showing up regularly. You must play in the channel that you are on and show up in your authentic brand. 

When you start showing up consistently on the correct channel, that is how you become interesting and relevant. You will start to resonate and connect with the donors, activists, volunteers and community that you’ve always dreamed of. This is how you know you’ve successfully differentiated your brand promise. 

This quote from David Brier in Brand Intervention sums it up best, “If you don’t give the market the story to talk about, they’ll define your brand’s story for you.” 

So, how does your organization’s brand promise stack up?