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Finding Brand Clarity for Your Non-Profit

Finding the right focus and message for non-profit brands can be a struggle. However there is a simple framework that can bring more clarity and relevance to your organizational identity.

In this webinar replay, you will learn more about our six brand success factors, how to assess them and understand where you currently are, and how to move your brand forward.



Blake Howard:

So during the pandemic in the United States, the last 18 months or so, nonprofits have really struggled. It's been a big challenge for many of us and for nonprofits in particular, finding a way to fundraise, to stay relevant, to continue your work and make an impact has been hard during the pandemic. And for many of you, you've probably put your strategic plan on the shelf, or you've turned your strategic part of your brain off because you're trying to survive. And so today is a chance to maybe activate that part of your brain again, and to get a little bit more strategic and to think about the bigger picture as it relates to your brand.

And I've found in my work in doing this, working with many nonprofits, helping them find their clarity and definition around how they identify as a brand and then how they express that out into the world, the number one challenge that I see with nonprofits is clarity. It's clarity. And I think it's because there's so much heart, there's so much goodwill, there's so much passion, and clarity requires focus. But when you have an abundance of heart and goodwill, you want to help everybody. But in doing so, you can cause a lot of confusion as it relates to your brand and your brand communication.

So I want to do two things today. I want to talk about understanding where you are in terms of clarity, because you need clarity on where you are from a brand perspective, so that you can really think about where you are going. So we're going to do two things, we're going to talk about where you are. We're going to go over a quick diagnostic tool that should help you assess from a brand perspective - where are you? And from a brand health and brand strength perspective - where is your organization? And then where are you headed, where are you going? We'll do that second.

I want you to imagine, use your imagination, that your organization's logo is on-screen. So this is your logo. What would you think in that moment, what would come to mind for you? And maybe more importantly, what would you want your donors or your most important stakeholders to think? What would you want your volunteers or your champions or your staff to think? And whatever the answer is to that question is essentially branding. So branding is about defining the ideal reputation. How do you want to be known in the marketplace?

In going through an exercise like that of saying what is the ideal? How do we want to be known? We think there's two really important things to keep in mind. First is, what is your unique contribution to the world? What is it that's your unique calling, your unique purpose, the unique way that you go about making an impact? Whatever it is, that's really important, you have to answer that question as a brand.

Secondly, what does your audience need? What are they looking for? Why would donors support you? Why would volunteers volunteer? Why would board members be on your board? Why would staff come to work for you? More importantly, who are your beneficiaries? And what do they really need from your services and from your mission? And where those two things overlap is where we want to focus in building the brand. We call this being radically relevant. So we want to be distinct. We want to stand out, we want to say something different. We want to be radical, but we also want to be relevant. We want to have a clear value proposition. We want to make sure we're specific with the value that we provide to a specific audience. So we want to do both of those things, and we call that being radically relevant.

Understanding Where You Are

So in terms of being radically relevant, let's talk a little bit more about understanding where you are. And I like to think that brand is an asset and it either propels your mission and your potential forward, sort of like an airplane has a tailwind and it makes it go faster, easier. It either propels you forward like a good tailwind, or it's a barrier that drags you down like a headwind. It slows you down, limiting your impact. So we understand, is your brand propelling you forward, or is your brand actually holding you back?

And there's a way that we measure this, a diagnostic that we have put together that I'll go through at a high level and maybe in a future webinar we'll maybe go really specific and deep in how we kind of measure these different areas. But there's six factors overall that in our years of working with organizations we think it's really important that brands do these six things, in order to have a brand that's driving the impact, the mission, or in a for-profit context, the business, forward.

Super Six

So I'll walk through these six factors. The first is a lot of what we're talking about today, clarity. How clear are your offerings? How clear are your programs? How clear is your focus as an organization? How clear is your cause or your mission? Is it easy to understand? What you do, is it easy to understand and engage with? So from a donor perspective, people just need to understand what it is that you are actually doing, what you're actually offering, in order to support you. Recipients need to understand clearly what it is that you could provide for them. So clarity is really important.

In the for-profit context, we talk about: do you make the sales process easy or hard? And that's a big indication of clarity. Secondly, you want to think about distinction. You want to think about just being distinct from the competition. And this is in terms of design, so do you have a unique brand color palette from the competition? In terms of message, are you saying something that's incredibly different? In terms of programs or offerings, are you offering something completely distinct and different? That's really important because the exercise of branding is mostly driven by a need to be distinct and to stand out. The language branding was derived from the time before there were barbed wire fences in the agricultural world, and farmers literally needed to understand whose livestock was whose, and what was yours and what was your neighbor’s?

And in order to do that, you would brand and mark your cow. So the origin of the term branding even comes out of a functional need to differentiate. So how differentiated are you as a brand? Thirdly is control. And this is about brand documentation. Do you have good brand guidelines? Are they easy to use? Are they clear? Do you have good brand governance? Is there a structure for approval on who says what's on brand and what's off brand? And if so, then you probably have consistent communications out in the world on your social media feed, on your website, when you write proposals. When you think about communications, your brand is probably pretty consistent if you have good control mechanisms.

On the relevant side, this is about attraction. Do you have a relevant look and feel that is attracting people in? I like to think about brands sometimes as a metaphorical storefront, and as people walk by they stop and they look in the window and they make a decision. Do I go in and engage, or do I keep walking? And that is a big part of what a brand should do. It should attract people into that metaphorical store. So you need a good value proposition, you need a relevant look and feel. And if you do, then you're likely to have people enter that store and engage.

Secondly, on this side is devotion. So if you have attracted people into this metaphorical storefront into your organization, they're curious, they want to know more and they actually engage, do they have a good experience? And if they have a great experience, whether giving, volunteering, partnering, benefiting, whatever it might be, if they have a positive experience, they're likely to engage with you for the duration, for longevity. So devotion is about commitment, affinity over the long term, do you have high devotion?

And then lastly is alignment. How aligned is your organization on the role of brand? What does the brand do for your organization? The meaning of your brand? Things like purpose and position and personality and audience. Are you aligned as a leadership team around what those elements are? And then is your staff aligned around those brand definitions? And if so, then you would have really high alignment. You'd have a staff that's able to implement and to make a difference from a brand perspective.

So, based on the way I explained these six factors, think of one or two that are most difficult for your organization. Is it clarity? Is it distinction? Control? Attraction? Devotion? Or alignment?

Okay, clarity and attraction. Those are pretty consistent with what we see. So this is a big generalization, but in general with nonprofits, we see, as I've mentioned, clarity scores really low. So the red here indicates caution, warning or urgent need. Yellow indicates middle of the road, and then green indicates typically performs pretty well. So in this case, devotion, most nonprofits, are good at connecting on a heart level. They're good at engaging, making an impact. They're good at creating volunteers and stakeholders over the long term. But where they struggle, again, is being clear sometimes in terms of being distinct or having really good governance or guidelines in place for consistency in the control, and then attraction and alignment as well.

So the goal of this, and again, I wanted to kind of just for sake of time go at a high level, but you can think about, all right, as an organization right now, where are we in terms of these six things? And based on whatever we feel like is most urgent, most broken, most needs attention, well then that's where we can start to focus as an organization going forward with our brand communication. So if it's clarity, which we're going to talk a little bit more about in a minute, you might want to think about, all right, how do we have more specific terms? How do we have more clear specific language from a messaging perspective? How do we make sure that our offerings, we're not using really technical terms, or we're not getting caught up in the way that we have spoken in this cause for years? How do we make sure a fifth grader could understand it?

In terms of attraction? Well, you might just need to find the right hook. You might need to really think about a new way to reframe the work that you do. You might need to think about reframing your value proposition. And alignment. I think we're actually going to be able to get to a place in a positioning framework in a minute that really could help that. You need good documentation and you just need a central place to define what the brand is to start and then you can start to socialize that with leadership, board or internal staff.

Understand Where You Are Going

So let's switch gears a little bit now and talk about understanding where you are going. And to do this, I want to share a positioning framework. We've used versions of this over the years. The one that I'm going to share is specific to nonprofits and I think it works really well, it's a Mad Libs style, fill in the blank kind of a model that if you get this right, you can be really clear, you can use it to write specific brand messaging off of. You could use it to think about how to be more distinct in your language or in your design. You can also use it, as I just mentioned, to be more aligned as an organization.

So I hope this gives you a little shot in the arm on how to get a little bit more clarity into the way that you think about your brand. So there's four questions that we're going to answer in this Mad Libs style, sort of fill in the blank that we'll get to in just a minute. First, who are we? Pretty basic question with big implications. Sometimes this is very clear and easy for someone, for an organization, sometimes it's very difficult, because we're trying to define what is our category, what's our cause? What's the general playground that we play on as an organization?

And again, this gets back to clarity and it can be difficult to choose a phrase that's one or two words, maybe three, that clearly defines what you are as an organization, that kind of fundamental now. And then secondly, we're going to talk about what makes us unique. What's that key distinction? What do you do that really is different from anyone that you're compared to? Thirdly, who are we for? Who do we serve? Who's that beneficiary or that client? And then lastly, why do we exist? What's this core belief?

And the way that we're going to answer it is, again, in this sort of Mad Libs style, fill in the blank:

"We are a...", and this will be where we get into that category, the cause.

"that...", and we'll get into more of the differentiator, which I think for nonprofits more times than not gets into a how. How do you do your work? What's the method and the distinction within that method?

"For...", who's this ideal recipient?

"Because...", fill in the blank for kind of a core emotional conviction.

And we're going to talk about these four sections.

And once you put them all together, I want to give you a little snapshot of what this looks like when you fill it out. So it might sound like, "We are a global sustainability nonprofit that creates stories and entertainment to meet local needs for the global good, for impressionable youth and teens, because we believe a sustainable future depends on the stories we share." So that's just a little example of how that all starts to fit together.

Who are we?

So let's go one click at a time. And first we'll start here with “who are we?” I love the photo of the old Michelin men, which were entirely creepy, and very bizarre mascots back in the day. So this is a cause category, “what most defines us?” And again, this is that noun that sometimes is hard to choose, especially if you're an entrepreneurial organization. You don't want to limit yourself, you want to be able to make an impact everywhere, so defining who you are as the organization might feel limiting, but I promise you it's the first step into gaining that clarity.

So a couple tips around this. When we fill in this, “we are a” blank, think about these constructs. “We are a nonprofit fighting for…”, maybe if you want a little aspiration in there. Or “we are just a blank nonprofit”, what's that word or two that would go before nonprofit? Or an organization. “We're a blank organization”. Some examples might be, simply put, "We're a human rights organization, we're an environmental nonprofit, global sustainability nonprofit. Or we're a youth development nonprofit, maybe we're arts and entertainment." Or maybe you're a faith-based ministry. You can see with these examples that it's very simple, very clear, no more than three to four words. It's probably in your mission statement somewhere. But you just want to think about “would a fifth grader understand it”, if I said this phrase, would a fifth grader go, "Okay, I kind of get that."

So the problem that I see is they get really broad and long and lots of ands, and that's typically where mission statements become more pluralistic and less singular. And here you're really trying to get singular. Okay, so that's the cause category, which is fundamental in the first place to start in our positioning framework. 

What makes us unique?

Second is around what makes us unique. And I think this conversation with nonprofits is fun, and it's fun for me because nonprofits don't necessarily like to admit that they're competitive, but you are. You know you're competitive, you want to be the best and you're competing for donor dollars, you're competing for volunteers and stakeholders and board members. There is competition related to nonprofits and that's okay. It's okay to admit that.

So here we're saying what is unique about you? What is really special? What's the unique way that you make an impact? And maybe what's really unique about your programs or the experience, or maybe the methodology that is beneath all of your programs? And the way to start answering this question, it's kind of two ways maybe to think about it. First is to look at your competition, or your comparator. So maybe you just Google your cause, whatever cause category we just worked through, whatever you land on there, maybe just Google that, see who pops up. Or you likely know who it is that are very similar, that swim in the same lanes as you, you probably partner with them. They're probably colleagues or comrades in the trenches, doing the great work that you do. But it's helpful to look at their websites and we like to screen grab them and just give the squint test.

And you're looking for two different things here. One, trying to understand just visually, how are they presenting themselves to the world? I like to look for what's that lead brand color? You also want to think about imagery, or just general layout. You can kind of just assess how everyone else is presenting themselves to the world. And then secondly, it's helpful to look at the message. What's the message that's right front and center that you need to pay attention to?

You can look at the brand voice, the tone of which it's written, is it sympathetic? Is it kind of this humble attitude? Is it more a spirit of partnership, or is it a little bit more bold and aggressive? You can try to understand that. Sometimes we summarize it down so you can just see that key message and that key theme. And the whole point of this exercise is to understand how other existing organizations are communicating the essence of their brand so that you can communicate something different, something distinct.

Or maybe you just understand that there are similar programs that are out there and you need to think, "Okay, what is it that we can do that really is kind of our hook that is unique from other organizations?" So a couple tips here. You really want to look for specifics. Try to not be broad in this section. I'm okay with a little broadness in the cause category, but here in the distinction it really is all about specificity. And it's okay that this changes every two to three years, I'm okay with that. This is not an evergreen... Two to three years is kind of long nowadays, but if it does change, that's okay. You really just want to focus on what is the most distinct part of your story and who you are.

And oftentimes with nonprofits, it's the how, “how are you doing your work?” And that's where I see a lot of vague language oftentimes. And so I want to push in on that more, what specifically is the how? Maybe you can also ask “why have you been successful?” What have you specifically done that has made your organization successful?

Thirdly, “if your organization went away, what would the world be missing?” Hopefully it'll be missing something. If not, maybe you can go back to the drawing board and create some new programs, or some new experiences. But if your organization went away, would your beneficiaries just go somewhere else? Would your volunteers and donors just go somewhere else? Or would they feel that void in that gap? And if so, why? What is it about that disappearance that would be missed?

And then fourthly, “what's your fundamental verb?” I think choosing and defining a fundamental verb for the way that this paragraph and this Mad Libs positioning framework is constructed is really important. Are you building? Are you creating? Are you starting? Are you leading? Are you changing? Thinking about that verb is really important. A couple of examples that I'll walk through quickly here that I think do a wonderful job of adding specificity, one is a local nonprofit that we have worked with before called Bearings Bike Shop, they're a youth development organization, but specifically the way that they make an impact with the youth and their community is through the bike. They teach kids how to fix, repair and maintain bikes, and the more community service that they do, they actually can earn a bike. So it's all about the bike. It's all about earning the bike. And by doing that you learn all kinds of skills and responsibilities. You get mentored while you're doing that, and you didn't even know it, but the specific angle is all about the bike. So that is their unique method.

Another example, Charity: Water, I think they've been so successful because they launched with the specific model of 100% transparency. That was a big part of their story and who they were, and how every penny that was given would go straight to the field and you can even zoom in on a map and see the exact well that you contributed to help build. And I think that's incredibly unique, that 100% transparent model is a how. That is a how. That's making it an impact. You could also think about the way they did the engagements with the birthday parties, which someone dropped in the chat earlier, which comes to mind for Charity: Water.

And then the last one, another one that we looked at, Boys & Girls Clubs of America. They are a youth development organization, but specifically what makes them unique is they offer mentoring, like Big Brothers, Big Sisters and they have a facility like the YMCA. But when you put those two together, it's about mentoring in a safe place. That is what's unique and the language around that is “A Place To Become”, they uniquely offer a place to become.

It's specific, it's a place and it offers mentoring in that safe place. So a couple of examples for some brands that I think have done a marvelous job here on this section. 

Who are we for?

So let's move on next to the third blank for the beneficiary. And this is really “who are you for?” Who are you helping? Who are you serving? How are you making that impact? And getting really specific on a persona, or an ideal beneficiary, and this is not at the exclusion of anyone else. And this is difficult for nonprofits as well. You don't want to focus on a singular group, because you feel like you're excluding others. But we want to deeply empathize with a specific beneficiary and we want to make sure that we tell our story with clarity.

So that's where specificity and idealisms come into play that really are beneficial from a brand perspective. And we're talking about beneficiaries, not necessarily donors, which the donor conversation is obviously very important for a brand in the nonprofit space, but I've found that if you can get really clear on who you're helping and who you are making the impact with, that will attract donors. That's what donors want. They want to understand how you are making a difference, they give, how that money specifically makes an impact.

Beneficiary/Client Persona

So as you think about the target beneficiary or client, I want you to think in terms of persona and I want you to think about what's most common in 80% of those that you serve, or those that you help. And I've found that there's often a mindset. Maybe if you're an organization that's fighting homelessness, maybe the ideal person that you help isn't the homeless, it's the down and out, or it's the in between or the momentary. Getting to a place where you can give dignity and humanity to whoever that person might be in terms that describe their mindset.

So a couple of questions that you can ask to get into that is, demographics aside, (demographics are important but not necessarily for this particular exercise), what's the most defining and driving mindset? At the end of the day? What is most critical to those that you are serving? And then secondly, what are their functional needs? What do they just need in terms of transaction, or receiving from you? And then what are their emotional needs? How do they need to feel? What emotion do you hope that they feel when they interact with your organization? And then lastly, why do they choose to engage? Some of those questions can help you start to get at the overall mindset.

And I've found that the larger your organization is, maybe the broader this mindset might be.

So maybe you're a youth development organization and you're focused on the at-risk youth. I think that's fair in this exercise, but if you're much more narrow, then perhaps you're working with the arts and entertainment influencer or you're thinking more specifically, more narrow in how you define this persona. So a few thoughts there around the beneficiary.

Why do we exist?

And then lastly, we're going to get at why do you exist? And this is my favorite out of all of the blanks, because it allows us to say something specific and moving with conviction. So this oftentimes is in as few words as possible, how can you pack a punch? At the end of the day why does your work matter? What's your unique point of view on the work that you're doing? Why did you get into this to begin with? And maybe you can even think about, what do you feel like is broken in this nonprofit space that you're in?

Why are you doing this differently than someone else? Might be a good way to answer this. And I also think that it gives you a chance to speak into some sort of cultural context, because a lot of times these might be driven by a cultural moment or something that's relevant in culture. For this section, I want to walk you through a couple of examples that we have put together in the past, and then we'll talk about some tips on constructing this yourself.

So this is how they start to sound. And I like this “we believe” construct, “we believe”, and then you fill in the blank. We believe global sustainability is within reach. That's a provocative statement. Global sustainability doesn't seem in reach right now. So what do you mean by that? You want to know what that statement says, really, what's beneath that?

And that's kind of the design of this. You want to be able to ask. You want someone to say, "wait, tell me more about that." Or we believe that water should do more. What do you mean? What do you mean water should do more? Tell me about that. Or we believe that circumstance should not dictate opportunity. Or we believe that food is the answer. So some of these are more specific, some of these are more higher level, but with this one it's very intriguing. What do you mean food is the answer? The answer to what? What's the problem? So a couple ideas here on how to construct this core belief statement. Why did you choose this work? You specifically, why did you choose this work? This is a good question to ask as a group too, maybe as a leadership team, to include various perspectives on this exercise.

What are you fighting for and against? What is your pointed, unashamed commentary on your work? Then what is your vision for the future? Those are a couple questions that might prompt us. And I have found with writing this particular belief statement, there's a little bit of a spectrum. So you could say, "We believe the world needs to change." Okay, well that's aspirational, but maybe too global. “The world needs to change”, could be said by any organization. But maybe too specific would be, "We believe the world should change in the year 2022 by doing sustainability efforts and yada yada yada." So it gets too specific the longer you go. And I've found that it's somewhere in the middle. It's using a word or two that is specific to your cause, or specific to maybe even your method, but still high level enough that feels really aspirational and intriguing, and gets at this idea of what really moves you and convicts you.

Okay, so we've gone through this whole framework now. And again, this is just a recap of the one that I showed earlier and how it starts to come together. And the idea, once you have this framework together, I think it's a great tool and a great exercise to use as a group, to go really wide on all of those blanks and find a way to narrow it down to a point of clarity. And once you do have it, once that positioning framework is filled out and completed, and you or your leadership leadership team feel really good about it, then you can start to socialize it and then it can start to really drive your message, your look and feel. You can even have an application into your culture, and it certainly should have a role in your strategic planning. So we see a nice parallel with brand and strategic plan.

Oftentimes a strategic plan might say, "We need to improve our brand communications." Well, once you go through that effort and you do improve your brand communications, next, your brand should inspire back your strategic plan. How do we continue to live out our brand promise? How do we continue to live out our brand positioning? Whatever it might be, this should certainly influence your strategic planning.

Couple final tips, really focus. Once you have it, commit to it and commit to the words. Commit to the language. Don't reinvent the wheel. Once you commit to it, and you feel aligned with it, you don't need to go through more exercises of finding the right language. Now copywriting is fine, and you can think of specific channels and specific messages for different audiences as needed. That's great. But your core language should remain intact for as long as it feels really relevant.

And I would say at least two years. Because by the time you're getting tired of it, maybe your staff will just be getting used to it, and certainly your donor base or your volunteers or your stakeholders will just be hearing it. So you have to commit and have that level of focus, and not be tempted to reinvent the wheel. 

A Change of Brand Podcast

Okay, last thing. If you really enjoy this type of conversation and you want more examples, I would encourage you to go check out a podcast that we have. I host it, it's called A Change of Brand. It's retelling the change stories of the world's most loved consumer brands. So a lot of consumer brands.

There is one nonprofit from season one with the ACLU, if you want to check that out. But it kind of dives into all the rebrand glory, drama or disaster that can happen in this change process. I interview either those that led the work from an in-house perspective, or an agency perspective, and there's a lot of history on each of these brands. It's really fun and you can get it wherever you listen to podcasts. And with that I'll turn it over to Craig and we'll do some questions.


Also, if you have any questions specifically about a situation that you are in that you'd like a short consultation on, feel free to shoot me an email. You can see my email here, just We'd be happy to have a chat. 


"How much of this work is real and true, versus aspirational?"

Great question. I love that. So to me it is a blend. So, I'm going to give you a vague answer, but I think this is true and I hope this helps. There is a current reality around your organization and the operational capacity that you have, so as you go through this exercise of defining the ideal reputation that you want to have, and you fill out these various blanks in this positioning framework, it needs to have a little aspiration, it needs to drive you forward a little bit. And I'm okay with there being some language in there that is representative of programs that don't maybe exist yet, as if they are going to exist I think that's okay. The main watch out is you just don't want to outkick your coverage. And we do see this a lot in for-profit, non-profit, all organizations, sometimes there's a visionary leader that really wants to deliver on some big promise and sees this key distinction, but then you peel back the layers and there's not a lot of substance to it just yet and it seems like a lofty goal.

I think that's where you have to be careful and not overpromise, and especially as this type of work influences brand messaging on the external side. You just have to be careful. Consumers, donors, stakeholders, we're all skeptical. We can all sense when something is maybe too good to be true, and over time if you can't deliver on whatever it is that you're promising, that's where the devotion side of that model I show at the beginning just really goes down. If you can't really deliver on whatever it is that you declare, or that you promised, you're just going to lose engagement. So I find it's a blend of both, it might lean more towards the truth, but you do need to sprinkle in a little aspiration.

"When branding a church, lots of churches share the same answer to, “why do we exist?” and share many ministries, values as other churches. So what would be the recommendation in these situations for finding what is that thing that makes you unique or positioning in general?"

Yeah. I would say every nonprofit has a unique role to play in society. And if there is not a unique role, then they shouldn't exist, it almost shouldn't be there. So if it does exist, it's got a unique role to play. I think a lot of times maybe in a church context, there's certainly a proximity, local... I think it's more about the beneficiary there. You can really get focused on who you're there to serve, and hopefully that is a unique persona, as compared to maybe other churches in the area.

It also could get into the unique method of the programming. It could be the teaching style, it could be the music style, it could be the way certain programs are organized, or the community is engaged. So I think it still goes to the method. Now the challenge might be understanding other churches and understanding what type of methods or programs they have, but in general, I think it's still the same. I still think it's about what's the point of view? What's the methodology? What's the unique persona that that particular church is designed to serve?

"How can a local chapter establish a unique identity when it's a part of a national organization? What are the most important elements to align on and where is the flexibility?"

I think that my first thought is understanding maybe the global, or the parent brand, and how defined that is. Because I think understanding how defined that parent brand is would maybe help understand how to apply that in a local context.

We have done work with Boys & Girls Clubs of America and they have 2000 clubs, I think, and they're a federated model, so there's some brand governance federally, but then there's a lot of autonomy on the local level and each club needs to do its own fundraising. So they have a lot of local needs. I think in that particular instance, if their brand is about “A Place To Become”, it's about mentoring, it's about a safe facility, then you just have to understand what does that community need? Maybe there's some communities that need safety more than others, so maybe turn up that message. If others really need mentoring and sort of that relational side and maybe turn that up a little bit more. But hopefully if you're a chapter of a parent organization, hopefully there's some good definition on what they want the brand to mean and perceived as, and then you can take that and say, "Okay, what does that mean on a local level? What do our stakeholders really need in this local context and how do we apply that language down to the local needs?"

"How do you begin to develop a logo after you answer these questions, a logo that really feels right and is integral to what you're offering?"

Well, I think there's a lot behind that, probably, depending on your resources and what makes the most sense. Obviously if you have a budget, I would say if you're a staff that's more than three, you should think about hiring a professional graphic designer. There's many affordable ways to do that. If you're fairly large, maybe midsize to large organization, you probably need an agency to help lead you through how to create something that would last and stand the test of time, that you don't have to reinvent every couple of years. I think, that aside, how you resource it, assuming you have a professional designer, I think the positioning framework is going to have some very specific words. And this is how our design team uses the exercise that we just went through, they look for specific words. So the distinction is a big part of that, and that's where we want to get specificity sprinkled in there.

The verb oftentimes really helps them, or maybe the methodology, the example that I showed of creating stories and entertainment on a local level for the global good, I think it was, the idea of creating stories and entertainment. We helped that organization think of themselves more as a media production company, so what would it look like to brand yourself as a big movie producer, versus a nonprofit? So we started to think about design in terms of black and white, really dramatic, some of the visual language was about layout and space and full bleed imagery.

So you can find specific language in that positioning framework that becomes your creative brief that you would then task a designer with, and most designers who are professionals would be able to take the language that's in there and really think about creating a symbol, or a mark, that's differentiated, that's attractive, that kind of hits on a lot of the notes we've already covered.

"Our nonprofit tends to want to reinvent the wheel on aspects of this brand framework with new donor campaigns, for example, they'll decide to focus on the audience the campaign is targeted on, versus their beneficiary audience. How do you translate this brand framework to new initiatives and campaigns well? Any aspects of this framework that will change?"

Yeah, that's a good question. I think this is about defining the core of the brand. And if you can define that essence, then you should be able to extend it to a specific audience. So I think Nike is a perfect example of this in a for-profit context, where the brand, some of the comments in the chat are all about winning and victory and athletes, and that certainly is manifested in the Just Do It tagline that they're so well known for. But they have many other campaigns that are around that sort of halo around that central idea of victory. “Find Your Greatness”, or “Yesterday You Said Tomorrow”. There's ways that you can get creative with it and it's really just about finding language that would be relevant to a specific audience, but still around that core idea. So I would say in the nonprofit context, if this is defined as positioning framework, then we would say, okay, so maybe Boys & Girls Club's example, “A Place To Become”. What would that mean to an individual donor?

Let's say we want to increase our unrestricted donations from those that they give regularly $10 to $50 a month. Well, let's think more specifically about that demographic now and what do they need? What do they want? What are they looking for? What impact would really move them? And then perhaps it's a campaign that's derived off of A Place To Become, but it's like for every dollar you give help three kids believe in themselves, or you help the youth in your area find a safe place to become who they were meant to be. Or you can use the core idea to still extend it into a campaign.

And I think that's okay as long as the core idea doesn't change, and I will say it's unfortunate that most nonprofits don't have someone in the role of a creative director, because a creative director should be the one to keep things connected and to be the one that judges the success of that campaign, not just on terms of reaching the audience, but also keeping the core of the brand connected. So I think that is a challenge for a lot of nonprofits because it is just about direct fundraising at the end of the day, but that can come at the expense of brand erosion over time. So I think you can keep the positioning framework intact and still extend it into a campaign that's successful and maintains the integrity and the consistency of that brand definition.

"How do young entrepreneurial organizations deal with the volatility of framework and brand? Is that bad? And how can we find alignment and work on consistency then?"

Yeah, I think what I hear you saying in that question is “how often can this change?” And I do think for startup organizations, what I have seen is a business model changes a bunch, because you're nimble when you're trying to figure out what works just right and then that changes fundamentally the brand, and the way you could deliver on any sort of promise or even think about the value that you provide. And I think that's okay, there's certainly life stages of brands. There's a startup stage where you're just trying to figure out as an organization what works, how do you create value? And the brand is going to shift and change over time, and I think that's okay, that's needed.

It's really more about figuring out the business model or the organizational model or the fundraising model, and once you figure that out, you get into a second stage, a growth stage. And I think in that stage you need to have some more consistent messaging and alignment around that positioning framework. And that's where you should see it stick for a lot longer. And then even beyond that growth stage, you really have this substantial substantiation, taking up in the for-profit world, maybe market share or leadership. And I think that's where you really go long into that brand promise and it's harder to shift and change.

So I think as an entrepreneur, things would just be scrappy and nimble, and that is hard on the brand. When we work with startups, either for-profit or not-for-profit, and their model changes, it does disrupt maybe a lot of the language that was really good or that had a really strong value proposition, and you have to restart it and redo it. And I think that's the cost of entrepreneurship. But hopefully you can move past that and figure out the right model and then you could have more consistent communications.

"Do you think we should get to doing the actual work of the organization before defining these things you described, or should these precepts be done first?"

That's a good question. I would say you need to do the work first. Now maybe some of the life stages that I just shared are helpful to that. I would say that if you have been doing the work for a while already in other areas, or for other organizations and now you're starting a new organization, you probably have enough context in your head to go through an exercise like this. Again though, I think the challenge is how do you really fill in these blanks if you haven't done it yet? How do you really know the answers to some of those questions if you haven't done it yet?

So I do think you can put the cart before the horse in brand, and if your model isn't quite galvanized and your business plan, or your organizational plan, isn't quite sturdy, then it's difficult to build off of. So think about it as building a home. Your organizational plan might be the blueprints, and then you start constructing the framing of the house and there's certain load bearing walls that you start to build, and then the brand is really going to become more of the drywall and maybe some of the decoration, or maybe the external choices of siding and paint and things like that.

But if you don't have a really sound framework, it's going to be really difficult to fill out the exterior of that home. So, I'm a firm believer in trying to have some organizational models and plans in place. Now maybe you're pretty good at creating those quickly. Maybe you haven't done the work for this new organization quite yet, but you've been in this industry for a long time, or this cause, or this category for a long time. So you could start with defining more and then you could get into the brand work quickly, but you gotta have some experience or some material to work with, I think.

"Who should be the key players in this process? What levels of leadership do you recommend including in the positioning framework discussion? Also, will there be future nonprofit stories on A Change of Brand, I loved the ACLU episode."

I would love to have more nonprofits on the show. So if you have any connections to major rebrands in that world, let me know. I would say that, first off, we did a webinar a few months back about managing or leading the rebrand process that gets a little bit more into the nuances of key players. I would say that first and foremost, the executive director should be involved in making decisions along the way. If you're a giant organization, then maybe a CMO, or a COO, or someone at a C-level to represent that leadership in the process would be important.

I think that marketing and creative services should play a role in the conversation, if you have a really large team in that department of your organization, obviously not everybody, but they should have some input on the front end. I think that's really helpful. I mean, we typically recommend a core group of maybe three to four that work really closely with us behind the scenes or offline. And then we usually have a brand team on the organizational side that's anywhere from five to 10. Obviously the smaller that group, the faster you can move and the easier the decision making will be, but you might not have as much alignment or socialization within the organization after you've launched the change.

So I think there's various ways to do it. I think if you have a really committed organization, you might want to think about inputs from a large group within the organization at various points throughout the process. I find that helps. Actually, there was an episode on the podcast on Loom, which is a for-profit organization that's a video sharing service, and they used their own product Loom to post weekly updates on Slack for their whole company as they went through a rebranding process.

So they literally just did a screen recording of that week's decisions or discussions and they just posted it. And it was the most transparent example I've ever seen. And I thought it was fantastic, because it kept people in the loop of where they were in that change process. And I think negative reactions to major brand overhauls, from an internal perspective, are typically because people are angry, they weren't consulted or they didn't give input, and so they don't like whatever it is that has been created. So if you can lead people along the way, I do think that that ultimately helps. But there's a whole other webinar that you can watch or read that might give you more information.


All right, thanks so much, Blake. Again, you can check out the A Change of Brand podcast. And Tad in the chat mentioned that Blake also has another podcast called The Creative Rising, which is more geared towards the creative professional who's looking to level up in their career. So, please feel free to check that out as well. Feel free to email me personally and I'd be more than happy to get you an answer, and thanks everyone for joining. Have a great day.