Why organizations need branding for fundraising

I’ve seen a lot of comments lately about how branding can kill your fundraising. Critics write about how a focus on image and positioning disregards the needs of donors. How branding looks too much at the overall experience and not at encouraging people to take action and donate. The problem with most of these comments is that they look at examples of branding done poorly, and interpret that as branding being bad in general. The tub is still damp and there’s no baby in sight…

It makes me want to write a piece on how fundraising can kill your fundraising. For every bad brand implementation I know of, I can think of dozens of bad fundraising campaigns. So maybe it is time to change the nature of this discussion.

Your most important fundraising asset

The reality is, when done well (which, we admit does take effort to pull off well), branding can enhance your fundraising efforts.

 We believe that your brand is the most important fundraising asset you have.

This has been conclusively demonstrated by longitudinal research conducted by Canisius College on the brand’s impact on fundraising. This research found a positive correlation between strength of brand and all current and future giving results.

Good branding is about knowing your distinctive and about being more relevant to your audiences.

Your mission is what you do. Your brand is the unique way you carry out that mission. All your “competitors” likely have similar missions. So to stand out from the crowd, you need to have a clear and compelling brand — a story that differentiates you.

We all know that donor acquisition is getting harder. Part of the problem is the increased competition for donor’s attention and dollars. Having a strong brand helps current donors tell your story better to others and makes it easier for prospects to single you out and identify with you.

Without a strong brand, you’re just another face in the crowd.

Great branding should never undermine strong direct marketing principles. The two should enhance each other. Your branding brings alignment and consistency to what you say. Your direct response marketing adds punch to that messaging by providing clear and compelling calls to action.

The critics of non-profit branding are right when they point out examples where organizations create brands that have little to do with donor perceptions or needs.

In the for-profit world people say: “It’s not a brand unless it makes you money.” While mercenary, there is some truth to this statement. For ministries, however, I’d refine it to say, “It’s not a brand unless it helps you achieve your objectives.”

I believe that non-profit brands can be amazing tools for bringing missional alignment to your organization. But they can also be your secret weapon in enhancing your fundraising efforts. In short, they can help you with both ministry and marketing/fundraising objectives.

Ending the perception that brand hinders fundraising

So let’s end this unhelpful dichotomy between branding and direct response fundraising. You’ll have the start of a great brand that will improve your fundraising if you:

  • Do your research right
  • Listen to your donors
  • Find out their perceptions about your organization
  • Build on those perceptions, and then stretch beyond them to aspire to something more

After you’ve finished the list above, you’ll still need to define what the heart of that brand is. Next, you must find clear and compelling ways to communicate the heart of the brand and translate it into actionable offers. Finally, you’ll need to implement consistently, over a long period of time.

The end result? A stronger fundraising program, driven by a distinct and powerful brand, built on your donors’ perceptions.

The two will support each other. You’ll be far more effective at your fundraising if you start with a strong brand. Your brand will be far more tangible to your donors if you practice great fundraising principles.

If you want to raise more money and create a more loyal donor base, you need both a strong brand and great fundraising. Without both, you’ll be like a three-legged dog: you’ll get by, but you’ll never achieve all that you might have.

If you have questions about branding, feel free to contact me at sbrock@masterworks.agency.