How to craft a brand strategy for non-profits

Brand people and non-profits have a lot in common. We are purpose and people-oriented. We are problem solvers who are looking for something greater than ourselves. And most importantly, we are motivated by making an impact and doing good in our communities.

As a brand agency in Seattle with a wide range of enterprise tech and consumer clients, Northbound has always been committed to including non-profits in our client base. We are motivated by making purpose-driven impact for people of our community. Our approach to brand strategy work looks different for a non-profit because non-profits don’t and can’t act the same as for-profit. One model is not for all. It’s important to know the differences, fundamentally and in vocabulary, to understand the considerations necessary to be successful in crafting a brand strategy for a non-profit.

First, what’s the difference between for-profit and non-profit?

For-profit and non-profit organizations differ both structurally and financially. These differences lead to a different set of considerations when developing a brand strategy in order to have the greatest impact on how a non-profit attracts donors and signals their purpose to their donor base. 

Why engage in brand strategy development if you’re a non-profit?

When we work with for-profit organizations to develop a brand strategy, we consider how the strategy will impact both the operations team and revenue team. But for non-profits, we have to consider how the brand strategy will have value and influence in funding, capacity building and service delivery. By having a core strategy and consistent storytelling, non-profits are able to create organizational efficiencies and donor engagement, internal alignment and efficient decision-making practices, and most importantly, clarity of purpose, across all three areas. 

Understanding the different vocabulary is important

To build any brand strategy you need to clearly define the audience, what the organization does, why they do the work they do, how they define their single brand purpose, and how that comes through in messaging. And how it all comes to life, through powerful storytelling and impactful design, is important for all brands. But non-profits use different vocabulary and definitions compared to for-profit organizations, so it’s vital to understand them to be successful.

The brand purpose for a non-profit is the same as their mission and vision, we define these simply as:

  • Vision: What you want the world to look like when you can close your doors
  • Mission: What you are doing or actions you take to help achieve that world

It’s essential to recognize their mission that’s likely already established and approved by the Board of Trustees.

Non-profits have two distinct audiences; donors and population served. Their reason for being is for their population served (and yes, it can be honeybees, the arts, or individuals experiencing homelessness) but the brand strategy must be relevant to the donor base, because that’s how a non-profit survives. 

What non-profits do in the world is defined in their mission, but it can be beneficial to dig a little deeper, get more granular to present a unique purpose.

Why non-profits do the work they do should be about impact and outcomes. Non-profits often need a little push to quantify their services.

For messaging, it needs to serve both audiences, creating urgency and reason for donors to give now and resonate with the population served, leaving them feeling inspired.

When the brand strategy comes together, you can see the significant impact and influence it has for a non-profit.

Getting clear on the differences between for-profit and non-profit organizations and adapting the brand strategy development is fundamental to ensure you are creating a strategy that has value and longevity throughout the entire organization.  

Kristen Baker Account Director

Kristen Baker | Account Director

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