Can Branding Help Fundraising?
Maybe. But for most nonprofits, it can’t take the place of a solid strategy.March 2012 By Tom Harrison
One of the biggest trends — and controversies — in the nonprofit sector today is the role of brand. The trend: Many of the leading nonprofits in America hire brand experts and agencies from the corporate world to help shape the way people experience and engage with nonprofits.
The controversy: Many seasoned direct-response fundraisers claim that branding doesn't raise money, and worse, they lament that new brand guidelines sometimes actually hinder fundraising success.
In reality, corporations have learned that if you build positive brand recognition for a product, when people need that product, they're more inclined to buy theirs. When they need soap, they go to the store, scan the brands, and pick the one they've heard of or experienced positively. Strong branding guides and motivates purchases.
With charitable giving, it works almost exactly that way with media-fueled disasters. Media coverage of earthquakes and hurricanes often encourage people to give. The disaster plus media coverage create the perceived need to respond, and donors tend to donate to organizations with strong brand presence. Thanks to their strong brands, organizations like Red Cross and World Vision start receiving contributions before they've even had a chance to ask for them.
So what's the controversy?
For most charitable giving, it doesn't work that way. People don't wake up in the morning thinking, "I've got to give some of my hard-earned money away today!" Don't you wish they did? And there's no supermarket where people scan the shelves for nonprofits to give to. Despite the websites that purport to channel charitable giving, it hasn't really worked when it's not driven by massive media attention.
So if your cause is in the media enough to sustain your fundraising, then building a strong brand is imperative.
If, however, your cause only gets occasional media attention — or, let's be honest, no ongoing media attention focusing on urgent need — it's just not enough to build a nonprofit brand. You have to match best-in-class branding with best-in-class fundraising to convert donors' propensity to give into actual revenue. You need to (a) target those audiences most likely to give (b) through the right media (c) with an offer that is urgent and compelling — and (d) present the case and make the ask in a creative way that breaks through the clutter.