Sunday, May 6, 2007

Unpolishing the Apple: Branding the Non-Profit Organization

There is a strange phenomenon in non-profit branding that I call the need to "sell by underselling."

Look at your typical donors. In their consumer profile, they overwhelmingly prefer products that have strong branding campaigns (i.e. that spend a lot on advertising) to quieter brands (i.e. the "store brand" in grocery stores). They are swayed by slick packaging and are not offended when a store clerk tries to sell them something. They buy stock for companies that perform the best, without ever questioning how much the companies spent on advertising.

And yet, in their charitable profile, it's almost the opposite: they don't like to see non-profits "waste" money on advertising, they are turned off by marketing pieces that "look expensive" and don't like organizations that ask them for money. One of their primary questions to non-profits is how much they spent on fundraising.

In order to meet the needs of donors, non-profit organizations have to walk a thin line. They have to achieve brand recognition without spending money on advertising, they have to tell their story effectively without spending money on marketing pieces and they have to raise enough money to stay in business without spending too much to do so.

Beyond that -- they have to find a way to ask for money without asking for it.

Given this situation, I am amazed at how some non-profits can continue to thrive year after year while their brand grows stronger and stronger.

DISCUSSION: What are the unique challenges faced by non-profits when working to build their brand?