Creating the Brand: A Common Mistake


During airline emergency procedure talks, the stewardess instructs the parents to place their oxygen mask on first, and then they may assist their child. Photo courtesy of Brad Chaffee.

One of the most common mistakes nonprofits make is the lack of investment in their own brand and mission. Many nonprofits are service driven. Isn’t this the point you ask? Well yes and no. Have you ever been on an airplane? When the stewardess explains the emergency procedures, she always reminds parents in an emergency situation to first put on their oxygen mask and then help their child put on an oxygen mask. Why is this? Don’t most parents care about their child first?Yes, but if the parent cannot be stable first, they are less help to their child than if they are in a stable condition. Much the same, in order for nonprofits to provide good service, organizations must be stable themselves. Because nonprofits feel like spending time and money on their own organization takes away from those in need, they often devote little or no time to developing their own brand and mission.

It’s no secret that many nonprofits struggle financially. It’s also no secret that smaller, local nonprofits may be lacking in time and manpower. Everyone wants their donation to go to food for the homeless or a new backpack for child of a single mother who is struggling, but no one every wants their donation to be used for operational use. Even many grants nonprofit organizations apply for and receive do not allow them to use these funds for operational activities.

The point is, if nonprofits expect to help people and provide services long-term they must improve their services and get better at what they do. The only way to improve an organization is to invest some time, effort, and money in it.  This may seem difficult, but it’s worth the effort in the long-run. Another way to raise funds and donations for improvement is for nonprofits to build partnerships with local and corporate businesses. Many organizations feel guilty spending funds that could be used for services. By building a partnership and getting items donated to improve facilities and services, nonprofits can still improve their program with losing funds for additional services.

Morgan Clendaniel makes an interesting point in “The Smallest Nonprofits Should Have The Most Powerful Brands when he quotes Burton Glass, a principal at Hairpin Communications: “I believe branding is more important for nonprofits than for-profits because nonprofits are in the business of cooperating more than competing.” This a good point, because nonprofits and volunteers often forget this and try and create competition among nonprofits for volunteers and donations. In reality, nonprofits could ban together and build partnerships with one another in order to improve and build the organization and it’s services further.  Cynthia Round, Executive Vice President of Brand Strategy and Marketing at the United Way of America views it as competition rather than cooperation. She says,
“investing in brand development is increasingly important to build credibility and differentiate in this competitive giving environment.” Either way, it’s important for nonprofits to seek some level of self-investment in an effort to improve their organization and their services.


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