Take this true/false test:
Our organization understands the value of raising the visibility of its brand among clients, constituents, policy-makers and funders.
Audiences we’d like to reach clearly understand who we are and what we do.
Our brand generates a positive feeling about our organization to the point that people trust and respect what we say and do, and therefore want to help, support and do business with us.
If your community development corporation operates like the majority of nonprofits, there’s a high probability that you answered “false” to one if not all of the above. Many nonprofits have traditionally relied heavily on governments and foundations for their support, and didn’t need to concern themselves too much with raising brand visibility in order to increase revenue streams.
But times are changing rapidly.
In our post-September 11th world, government deficits at the national, state and local levels are exploding, resulting in a decline in government funding for housing and other human services. A less than robust stock market has forced philanthropic foundations to cut back on both the number and dollar amounts of their grants. Even United Way agencies in many communities are facing difficulties of their own and are unable to raise the necessary funds to support local nonprofits at the levels they have in the past.
In short, competition for dwindling resources is becoming more ferocious than ever. It’s not enough to simply be good at what you do – you have to differentiate your organization from similar organizations.
Which leads us to why your CDC brand needs to be visible, understood and respected by those you seek as clients, supporters and funders. People align themselves with and support organizations they know, trust and feel good about.
There are no quick fixes in creating a solid brand image. It takes time, effort, coordination, collaboration, consistency and resources. For many organizations this may represent an entirely new approach to promoting themselves. It also may require a great deal of introspection. You’d be surprised to learn how many nonprofits are so focused on – and competent at – service delivery that they’ve never given much thought to creating an identity for their organization that is easily explainable to themselves, let alone to external audiences. How many times, for example, have you or one of your staff been asked, “So, what does your organization do?” and been tongue-tied when giving a response?
If you feel the need to raise the visibility of your brand to facilitate support for your organization, what follows is a vastly abbreviated version of a much longer and in-depth discussion. But it will at least get you thinking in new and different ways about how to raise your organization’s profile.
Identify Your Brand
Gather your leadership and go through the introspective process of clearly defining who you are and what you do. Use your findings to create a “positioning” or “identity statement” that can be stated succinctly and is understandable to everyone to whom it is directed, followed by a series of supporting statements.
If you already have a mission statement, consider yourself ahead of the game. A mission statement describes your reason for being and points to lofty goals and objectives. For example: “The mission of XYZ is to provide safe, quality, affordable housing to low- and moderate-income families.” A positioning statement helps build the identity of the brand by summarizing how you go about achieving those goals. For example: “XYZ is a leading community-based nonprofit that works in partnership with others to provide affordable housing opportunities to low- and moderate-income families, as well as acts as a catalyst for inspiring local grassroots leadership and community development.”
The positioning statement is followed by supporting statements, which also become part of your key branding messages. Supporting statements may speak to how long your organization has been in existence; the trust and reliability you’ve built over the years; who currently supports you and how; how much economic activity you help to stimulate in your community; your production numbers; etc.
For many organizations identifying their brand may not be easy. Often there are many competing interests that need to be sorted out before a consensus is reached. The time and effort invested in the process will be worth the result – a brand identity that you can promote with pride and confidence.
Before going public with your clearly defined brand, make sure everyone on your staff – from CEO to support staff – understands what the process is about and the role he or she plays in representing the brand to the public. Everyone in your organization is an ambassador of the brand and represents the most cost-effective means of brand promotion.
This may require opening lines of communication between departments and staff that never existed before. Good branding is a team effort and should be viewed as an organization-wide priority. Quite often, a by-product of team effort is improved employee morale. People who are knowledgeable, take pride in the good work their organization performs, feel secure and respected in their jobs, and are recognized and appreciated for their work make for better, happier, more productive employees.
Be consistent with your messages and your brand. Keep your message clear and uniform, whether in conversation with others, speeches made to business groups and civic organizations, or in brochures, annual reports, public service announcements and other materials. Use your positioning and support statements as guides and weave their core messages into all your communications.
Your materials should have a consistent look and style that people can identify immediately with your organization. If you have a logo it should be used consistently on your letterhead, annual report, brochures, signage, etc. Many organizations create graphic standards that state everything from the color(s) to be used when reproducing the logo to when and how the logo can be used.
Live your brand! This point is crucial. In an age where public distrust of institutions of all kinds is seemingly rampant, there is no better way to garner public support than to live up to the image of your brand and the values your organization publicly espouses. If you do not, over time the value of your brand will diminish in the eyes of your intended audiences, and future efforts to recapture their attention will not have the desired effect.