A Passionate Case for Monolithic Brand Architecture

Many local non-profits have backed their way into a branding problem.  And most remain unaware.  As a charity grows, multiple programs develop and services are added.  That’s a great thing!  But those services splinter into multiple names, different buildings, and even develop unique identities within the organization.  Some non-profits end up with more brands than Proctor & Gamble!  Problem is, there isn’t nearly the same kind of advertising budget to support them.

how local non-profits have backed their way into a branding problem

Local non-profits haven’t had a reason to give much attention to their brand.  Until recently, competition was low and donors were generous (ah, the salad days…).  So there was no real need to define what makes one charity unique from another.  The cause was the brand – Homelessness, hunger, animal welfare, disaster relief.  Without a defined brand, and with no advertising to support it, donors really gave to the cause, and the charity was largely just the means to address social change.

Enter the boomers.  With a heart to do good and a desire for action, the amount of registered non-profit 501c3s skyrocketed.  Over the last 25 years, registered 501c3 non-profits in the US rose from just under 600,00 in 1994 to more than 1.5 million in 2017.

Competition for donations has gone through the roof too.  That same generation, acting as donors, demand much more from a charity they might choose to support.  “What are your outcomes?  Are you fiscally responsible?  Can I come for a tour or volunteer?  What makes you unique and innovative?”

All this means that there is an explosion of nonprofit organizations, all competing for more demanding donors.  That is not a bad thing.  Actually, these are the exact reasons why brands are built!  A brand gives a donor a reason to choose.  Your brand lives in the space between what you promise to do and what people perceive you to do.  And it takes work to manage that.  But local nonprofits, stewarding very limited resources, typically do little to establish a brand identity, create brand equity, or advertise to support their brand in the market.

It’s one thing to not manage your brand.  But it’s another to do harm.  And that’s what happens too many times when nonprofit organizations expand.  For instance, I can think of one homeless shelter, I’ll call them City Mission, who launched a women and children’s shelter, and then called it Dorcas House.  Besides the fact that in the Bible, even Dorcas wanted to be called Tabitha… this can create confusion for both donors and staff.  Multiple names and even disparate identities hamper the precious few moments a charity might receive to establish brand equity.  If you have different names for different areas, chances are most donors don’t even realize they are part of the same organization.

To give an example of an alternative solution, of a monolithic brand architecture, take a look at Fed Ex.  All of their services reinforce who they are and what they do.

how local non-profits have backed their way into a branding problem

Not to mention the super cool (hidden) arrow between the E and the x – – which speaks to who they are as a company.

So if you are a local nonprofit about to expand and add more services, congratulations!  Just think before you name.  It may not be as thrilling to go with for instance, City Mission Family Center instead of say… Dorcas House…. But I guarantee with a limited marketing budget, a monolithic brand architecture will help you build your presence and strengthen who you are in the community.

A great first step is to define your brand.  Run market analysis and discover brand perceptions that donors have about who you are and what they think you do.  I know a great marketing agency who loves to help!

By: Glenn McKinney