Best practices for social change and environmental action

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Social sector branding is about mission … not money

In Best practice, Communication, Marketing, Nonprofit management on June 22, 2012 at 5:52 pm

Among business concepts, the idea of “branding” must surely be the most overused and misunderstood.  Interpretations range from simplistic matters of graphic design to highly nuanced, multifaceted strategic plans.

In the private and corporate sectors, branding is an essential element of marketing and, as such, naturally focused on the for-profit bottom line: making money… and jobs.

Branding is a bottom line issue in the social sector as well. The trouble is that far too many nonprofits and NGOs get confused when they too focus it on money  –  through fundraising and development – while ignoring its importance to the true bottom line: mission and impact.

Considering the current fiscal challenges of the social sector, this should not be too surprising. After all, it’s difficult to achieve much of an impact, or even remain viable, without adequate funding. But the danger is that a narrow branding emphasis on fundraising can lead to a perception that the organization has really become just about the money and has lost its sense of mission.  That perception may not be fair but it is becoming more common.

The irony, of course, is that applying professional-caliber branding to the organization’s operations , methods, and outcomes is probably the most effective way to raise money.  It’s more challenging, and it takes a lot more work,  but it is the best way to illustrate organizational effectiveness.

Nathalie Kylander and Christopher Stone of Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government  have explored this dynamic in the Stanford Social Innovation Review.  Their article, The Role of Brand in the Nonprofit Sector offers a provocative framework for bringing the benefits of good branding to good work.

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