3 Unlikely Sources of Inspiration for Nonprofit Branding

Interior designers often rely on mood boards to inspire their work process from start to finish. Part idea collection, part road map, mood boards communicate the desired atmosphere of a room or feel of an event.

Traditional mood boards include things like fabric swatches, paint colors and light fixtures. But more unique boards feature objects or images to help designers evoke a desired mood. Designer Camille Styles, for one, created a mood board with a fat slice of wedding cake to inspire her white-themed party.

You can approach your nonprofit brand as an interior designer would approach a mood board. Keep reading for advice on how to find inspiration for nonprofit branding from unlikely sources.

Fat Cake for Nonprofits

Some organizations get too caught up in themselves to construct an innovative brand. Don’t get stuck in your head or be too literal. If your nonprofit gives scholarships to worthy students in need, a logo featuring an apple or a pencil is the easy way out. Don’t take it.

Instead, look outside of your immediate sources of inspiration. Consider the personalities of the students your organization attracts. What do they study, and where? Pointing to details like these will guide you in creating an unexpected but thoroughly relevant nonprofit brand. Other unusual branding inspiration sources include literature, movies, places, food, sports and music.

Not Basket Cases, But Still Emotional

In the for-profit and even the nonprofit sector, emotional people get a bad rap. But emotion rules nonprofit brands—at least the ones worth mentioning. For example, Heifer International helps hungry families across the world by inviting supporters to give the “gift of a goat” to feed the hungry and support sustainable agriculture. To build their brand Heifer International’s blog draws attention to how donors feel. One supporter gave a goat in someone else’s honor. They announced the gesture with a card that read: “May this gift bring you joy as it brings hope to a family in need.”

Joy and hope are emotions worth communicating through your nonprofit brand. Like Heifer International, let emotions be the foundation of your brand. They don’t have to be classic like hope or joy, either. Go the unexpected route by focusing on feelings of excitement, awe or passion.

Getting Down to Business

It probably comes as no surprise that your organization can take the lead of for-profit branding. We recently wrote about eyeglass company Warby Parker. Their branding inspiration was less about glasses than attitude. Birds, bicycles and even Jack Kerouac fanned the flames of Warby Parker’s creativity.

Nonprofits are slow to adopt branding strategy since it’s traditionally understood as a business tactic. But you should brand your nonprofit as businesses do.

Open your nonprofit’s eyes as Warby Parker did. Craft your nonprofit brand with a mind toward emotion and attitude, and don’t tie yourselves down by fixating on your cause.

What outside sources of branding inspiration has your nonprofit made use of?


Jill Havlat

August 1, 2012

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