Where Most Nonprofits Fail When Trying to Manage a Brand

Denise McMahan is a guest contributor for Nonprofit Hub, and is the founder and publisher of CausePlanet.org where nonprofit leaders devour Page to Practice™ book summaries, author interviews and sticky applications from the must-read books they recommend.
_____________The Brand Idea

“We believe that although what a brand is may be the same across sectors, what a brand can do for an organization and how best to manage brands differ between for-profit and nonprofit organizations,” explain Laidler-Kylander and Shepard Stenzel, coauthors of The Brand IDEA.

This quotation captures the reason why the authors were compelled to write The Brand IDEA: Managing Nonprofit Brands with Integrity, Democracy and Affinity. “While there is a fair amount of literature related to brand and brand management, almost all of this has focused on for-profit brands. The lack of frameworks or guidelines specifically for nonprofit brands was part of the impetus for our original research, say Laidler-Kylander and Shepard Stenzel.

Specifically, “IDEA” in the title stands for Integrity, Democracy and Affinity. “Our framework is based on what a number of cutting-edge nonprofit organizations are currently doing and it has resonated strongly with many people in the sector. During our interviews, we learned how the terms of Integrity, Democracy and Affinity gave people a new language to talk about brands and provided an ‘on-ramp’ to a new way of managing brands,” add the coauthors.

In our CausePlanet interview, we asked the authors about where most nonprofits fail when trying to manage their brands as well as how to navigate board meetings when it comes to branding.

CausePlanet: Where do most nonprofits fail when trying to manage a brand effectively?

Kylander and Stenzel: Many nonprofits fail from the outset because they do not grasp the importance of their brands in driving their missions and they fail to see the value of proactively managing their brands (Integrity). In nonprofits, the brand plays important roles both internally and externally in building cohesion and trust and generating capacity and impact. You have a brand whether you manage it or not. The first step is to view the brand as a strategic asset for implementing your mission. When individuals are stuck in the old paradigm where they see the brand only as a tool for fundraising or are skeptical about the role of the brand in nonprofits, they are not able to be effective in managing the brand to achieve the organization’s desired impact.

CausePlanet: What rationale might you give a board that questions the resources (time, treasure or talent) necessary to manage a brand effectively?

Kylander and Stenzel: Brand management is less about the use of financial resources and more about embracing a brand mindset throughout the organization. If you understand the brand as the embodiment of the mission, a strategic asset that enables you to increase your organization’s impact, then the brand and brand management become part of everyone’s job. Brand Democracy suggests that organizations do have to spend time and effort including all stakeholders in the articulation and communication of the brand, but the result is not only much greater organizational cohesion but also a greater number of brand ambassadors. Many individuals spoke to us about how their brand acted like a “north star” for the organization or “the lines in the road.” When you have an effective brand, it facilitates decision making and can help clarify what programs, partnerships and people best fit the organization. It also allows nonprofits to reduce the amount of control needed to manage the brand. Organizations that have invested time in building brand Integrity, Democracy and Affinity have been able to subsequently build capacity and increase their impact.

In our live interview via webcast with Kylander and Stenzel, we found that every question our attendees had for the coauthors could be answered within the realm of Integrity, Democracy and Affinity (IDEA)—a testament to the framework. The authors’ three concepts or acronym IDEA surrounding a nonprofit brand became a useful and easy-to-remember guideline for brand management. For example, below are sample questions related to each concept within the IDEA framework:

The IDEA framework:

I – Integrity:

Does your brand align with your mission and core values?
Does your brand identity (internal) align with your image (external)?

DE – Democracy

Do you engage all your stakeholders in defining and communicating your brand identity?

A – Affinity

Does your brand allow you to collaborate and extend your sphere of influence to maximize your impact?
If you feel like you’re managing your brand through the lens of corporate standards, consider looking into The Brand IDEA; you’ll find the book speaks a mission-centered language and provides examples of high-impact nonprofits increasing their impact through customized and nonprofit-friendly IDEAs.

See also:
Breakthrough Nonprofit Branding
Blue Ocean Strategy
Where Most Nonprofits Fail When Trying to Manage a Brand

Denise McMahan

Denise McMahan is a guest contributor for Nonprofit Hub, and is the founder and publisher of Cause Planet, where nonprofit leaders devour Page to Practice™ book summaries, author interviews and sticky applications from the must-read books they recommend.

July 11, 2014

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