One simple question to shine light on your nonprofit brand


Is your team singing from the same song book? Or has your brand message become fragmented and inconsistent over time?

We believe in the power of clear, compelling brand messaging. It builds authority, trust and credibility. It helps you cut through the clutter in a competitive giving environment. It builds brand equity and awareness. But if your messages are inconsistent or off-target it can actually hurt your organization.

Try out this one simple, no-cost exercise to help you assess where you are with your brand messaging. Knowing where you are is the first step in getting to where you need to go.

Start by asking your various stakeholders this ONE question:

Imagine you are telling me about our organization for the first time. What would you say?

I know, it sounds too simple, right? But this easy exercise, this one question, will provide valuable insight about your current brand. Plan to ask a variety of people – board members, staff, volunteers, donors, funders and partners – and track their responses along with which audience group they fit into.

It’s best to do this in a way that gets an immediate reaction in writing. At your next board, staff, or volunteer meeting, pass out half sheets of paper with the question at the top and give them just three minutes to fill it out. Or send out an email survey asking them to send back the first thing that popped into their mind.

Then gather up and analyze the responses. Take a look at these three things:

  1. Evaluate the level of consistency. Do you see repeated words and phrases? Or are people all over the map? To help evaluate and find common trends, I like to create a word cloud by copying and pasting the responses into a free service like Wordle. This is a great way to turn pages of text into an easy-to-digest visual representation of the results. (Tip: You might want to take the time to change out similar words to make them consistent to see true trends – for example, if you have “donor” and “donors”, do a find and replace to make them all the same.)
  2. Examine the tone. Do these messages feel approachable, easy-to-understand and audience-centric? Or are they riddled with internal jargon and/or lists of boring catch all words that could be used to describe any other nonprofit – words like programs, services, education, information, research, outreach, etc.?
  3. Get a handle on the core of the message. Drill beyond consistency and get to the heart of the messages. Is your team communicating why you matter? Or are they focusing just on WHO you are and WHAT you do and stopping short before they bring it around to the WHY?

If the responses are all over the place, if they are filled with meaningless internal jargon, or if the majority of your team is missing the why, you might consider investing time (and possibly money) in improving your brand messaging. This investment can have a huge, positive impact on your organization and ultimately the people you serve.

One such example is a client of ours, the Association of Fundraising Professionals Colorado Chapter. In late 2014, their membership growth rate was going in the wrong direction – declining slightly instead of growing. The board felt that their messaging was inconsistent and failed to connect with what really matters to potential members (aka “the WHY”). We helped facilitate a core message exercise with the full board, and then worked with a marketing committee to craft a new message platform targeted at promoting the value of membership. This pivot in focus spurred other great changes within the organization – a more engaged marketing committee, additional and more strategic marketing efforts, and more word of mouth promotion as the team members had much more confidence in what they were saying. By March 2016, their membership growth trend had not only turned around, AFP Colorado was recognized as achieving the Highest Membership Growth Award among all Ten Star Chapters for 2015!

If you’d like to explore what it might look like to invest in improving your brand messaging, we’d love to help. Just shoot us a message to start the conversation.

Jami Fassett

Jami Fassett

I am a brand strategist passionate about using my time, talent and 12 years of experience to help people and communities. That is why I started Up and Up Creative, to help nonprofits use the power of branding to reach more people, raise more money and do more good.

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