The Money-Raising Nonprofit Brand
Nonprofit fundraising is a fundamentally different world - financially, emotionally, and practically - than commercial marketing. Here, the author explains why commercial marketing strategies don't work and provides practical, experience-based alternatives that do.
The Money-Raising Nonprofit Brand
How and Why Commercial-Style Branding Can Torpedo Your Organization
Thinking about rebranding to improve your fundraising results? Think again. Commercial-style branding is the wrong tool for nonprofits. If you try to attach that type of brand to your organization, you can expect painful drops in revenue and engagement.
The Color Master held us in the palm of his manicured hand.
He was part of a team of Brand Experts who'd been flown in to hand down my client's new brand - a thing of beauty that would launch the organization into a new era of public visibility, skyrocketing revenue, and cutting-edge design. (That's how an energetic memo from the VP of marketing put it.)
The audience of 50 or so "stakeholders" sat in a darkened meeting room, staring like goldfish at the Color Master's slides.
The stake I held was helping the organization produce its direct-mail and online fundraising. I was at this daylong seminar with experts from the branding agency to get my "marching orders" on how the new brand would play out in fundraising.
The screen showed a solid rectangle of purple.
"Warm Medium Eggplant," the Color Master said. None of his colors had regular names like "purple," and most of them had two adjectives. "Warm Medium Eggplant creates a sort of visual embrace." Long pause. "It makes you feel cozy and included. Like you're six years old and sitting in Grandma's kitchen. It evokes the aroma of baking - something delicious, with a hint of cardamom."
Everyone in the room swooned. All that from purple - excuse me - Warm Medium Eggplant?
"This is going to be a grand slam," someone behind me stage-whispered.
While I pondered what a "grand slam" might be for a color, images of purple things flashed by quickly on the screen. A thick purple blanket. Grapes. A teapot - old-fashioned, yet purple.
Then the screen went dark. The Color Master's face, floating above his black turtleneck, was the only visible thing in the room. "Warm Medium Eggplant," he intoned, "is our main primary accent color." That meant it was one of the two colors of the yet-to-be revealed new logo, and we would be required to use it in great abundance.
"Whoever would have dreamed of purple? " The stage whisperer asked from behind me. "It's so creative ."
I never would have dreamed of it, I thought. The organization was a venerable American institution that had been helping the poor for three generations. It owned a piece of psychological real estate that most fundraisers would give their firstborn to have: Its donors saw giving as a sign of patriotism. The old, soon-to-be-scrapped logo tapped into that perception: It was red, white, and blue, and included a stylized stars-and-stripes flag.
Reliable sources had it that the rebranding work was costing the organization $300,000. But hey, what's $300,000 when you consider the benefits the new brand was going to bring? According to the Brand Experts, we could look forward to:
Paradigm-crushing improvements in awareness and revenue! (That's exactly how they put it.)
Access to an elusive but promising new demographic of young, smart, affluent donors!
An end to a dated look that was, frankly, a résumé stain for any self-respecting creative person!
The investment in the brand would more than pay off - tangibly and intangibly - before we knew it! (Also exactly how they put it.)
The screen became a block of yellow. A pale yellow, almost white. "Light Vibrant Butter," the Color Master intoned. He said it with such solemn drama that hearing God say "Let there be light" could hardly have been mo