The importance of a unique identity – branding your cause – goes beyond appearances. The identity of an organization lies in its sense of self, understanding your audience, and a consistent look. Even for a nonprofit, creating an image plays a huge role in spreading a message successfully. If anything, this communication skill is even more important for nonprofits, who may have less gilded marketing tools at their leisure.
The first question to ask yourself is “who are we as an organization?” - what makes your nonprofit a distinct group? It is important to think of the groups you work with or that you would consider similar to yours, and then asses why you are different in either your mission or your actions. After understanding your group’s unique trait or traits, identifying the target demographic and audience is vital. Without an understanding of who you are talking to you cannot decide how to talk to them, which is something to be addressed later. So, whose attention do you want? What do you want them to do for or with you?
Did you know that organizations have personalities? It’s true. Every successful company and nonprofit alike have a distinct feel to them that makes them distinguishable and likeable. This personality makes a group memorable, and if time is taken to form the right personality for your goals, it can be a huge push forward. That being said, forming your group personality needs to make sense. A healthcare company wouldn’t want to form a chummy and colorful personality, as this would conflict with their line of work which is more no-nonsense. Being too relatable and friendly would actually harm their work when what they really need to present is an image of strength and professionalism. On the other hand, a bakery with a cold and serious personality could lose customers.
Along with creating a specific attitude, you need a cohesive look. In the communications world we create the visual consistency of an organization by using what is called a style guide. A style guide is a document or booklet containing lists of logos, a color scheme, and a stylistic pattern for content. The creator of a style guide will lay out exactly what colors are used where – perhaps yellow is consistently used as a header color and blue is always the body font color. They will also have listed what fonts and logos are used on specific platforms as well. The stylistic rules of the style guide are to be shared to all the members so that the consistency can be spread thoroughly across the group.
Does your nonprofit have a mission statement? Having a well worded mission statement keeps you on track, and lets others know what you are about. To formulate this statement there are two components needed: your “vision” and “action”. By vision we mean your overarching goal - what are you hoping to accomplish? The action part of your phrase indicates how you achieve this vision. An example of a mission statement for a nonprofit could be: “Organizing local grassroots groups to advocate for clean air though fundraisers, lobbying, and hand on work”.
By combining these elements: a mission statement, an appropriate personality, a cohesive look, and sense of self, any organization can become more successful. An audience wants to understand the source of a message before they feel comfortable participating.
Mary Katherine Sullivan is an intern with the Choose Clean Water Coalition