Branding your NGO for deeper social impact
“A brand is a storehouse of promises.”
These words from Olatomidé Asher kicked off a lively 90-minute discussion between him and Paul Sachs about “Branding your NGO to increase its social impact,” on June 29. Over 20 participants from multiple countries joined the discussion with comments and questions.
Asher is a practiced expert in global business, brand leadership, and social impact. He and Paul have known each other for 10 years and collaborated on different projects related to value, particularly in the African context.
Branding is not just something for the for-profit world. Many people start nonprofit organizations or NGOs to fill a gap in products or service for their community. Often, these initiatives do not thrive because the NGO is not differentiated from other groups addressing the same needs. Here are some points that were developed in the presentation.
Think of your brand as your competencies and values: A logo or slogan may be what people think about most often when they think about brand. Asher pointed out that this focus is mis-guided. Rather, he recommends, think about brand in terms of your organization’s core competencies. Once these are identified they become the centerpiece of your organization’s communications and brand.
Values are closely tied to the core competencies. Pinpointing organizational values and core competencies requires input from a variety of sources. NGO leadership, employees, volunteers, consumers, and community stakeholders should all be consulted to help an organization clarify its values and core competencies. Significantly, this effort is not something that requires the time and expense of an external consultant. Rather, any NGO can examine itself and come to identify its brand.
Brand the organization not the founder: A key factor in NGO branding is going beyond the personal brand of the founder. The personal story and motivation of a founder may be an inspiring foundation for the NGO brand, but the brand must be more than the founder’s story. A unique organizational brand is especially important in the transition of leadership. Developing a diverse team and creating a culture which connects to the brand rather than the person will help an NGO do this.
Authenticity was a theme brought out continually in the conversation. This characteristic is especially important for NGOs because it is difficult to differentiate one from another. For example, two NGOs who both offer the community vaccines may not be differentiated in terms of what product they are providing (vaccines). But the groups can be differentiated in terms of how the service or product is delivered.
One group may provide more information to recipients than another or maintain continued contact with the recipients over time or employ local personnel who are familiar with the overall needs of the recipients and community. Alignment between an organization’s values, competencies and activities creates authenticity which can be the foundation of a brand, and consumer loyalty.
Use the IDEA framework: to determine the essence/core of what your work and develop your brand
- Integrity (internal and external alignment of brand character)
- Democracy (transparency, trust)
- Ethics (strong, relevant, and inspiring values)
- Affinity (Collaboration based on shared vision and/or values)
- Identify your core competencies and values by getting input from many stakeholders.
- Incorporate these into your activities and communications – internally and externally.
- Ask for feedback from beneficiaries and stakeholders so that your organization continually refines and reinforces its brand.
- Continually reflect on your work and your values – are you walking the walk or just talking the talk?
Developing world challenges and opportunities: Viewing branding as a competence rather than a slogan is particularly important in the developing world. Words like poverty, disease and corruption are too often the narrative about the developing world. NGOs can feed into this narrative by focusing on the problem that is, rather than the solution that could be. For example, an NGO that focuses on teaching youth about advocacy should value youth as resources to be developed rather than problems to be managed. The activities of that NGO should be similarly aligned toward resource development rather than problem management.
Overall, an NGOs purpose and positive intent can create value that goes beyond monetary considerations and stand the test of time.
Do you need assistance, have suggestions or further questions you need answering? We can guide your organization in values clarification and communications. Please get in touch with us via email@example.com. We are ever ready to work with you to achieve the best results.