Here at Angel Oak, we’re pretty agnostic when it comes to politics. We may comment on public perceptions or reactions to politics, but that’s about as far as we go. So you may have read a previous post about healthy nonprofit brands using Hillary Clinton’s campaign as an example. Well, in the spirit of equal time, this post focuses on building an effective brand and utilizes President Donald Trump’s current administration as our example.
My favorite definition of “brand” is that a brand is what people say about you (your organization) when you’re not in the room. This is as true for nonprofits as it is for Fortune 500 companies. The people who support nonprofits, your champions, are your best ambassadors when they believe in your brand, and your most vocal critics when you fall short of their expectations for your brand.
Let’s take a look at President Trump’s brand through this lens. While he’s only been in office for about 30 days, people from both sides of the political aisle have had a lot to say, and his brand has taken some hits. What can we learn from these first 30 days about building a strong nonprofit brand? Here are 5 tips to help you and your organization build an effective brand.
- Be consistent – One critique that has arisen during the President’s first month in office is that he fluctuates on previously held positions, giving the appearance that he is weak and ineffective. One day he is defending his latest cabinet pick, and the next, he’s pushing him out the door. In order to build a strong brand, your organization must be consistent in its operations and communications. Be sure you use consistent language, identity and messaging when you engage your audiences. This will create a level of comfort, familiarity and trust that will serve you well in the good times and during those inevitable challenging moments.
- Be transparent – It’s safe to say President Trump has a tenuous relationship with the media. While some of this may be justified, one of the biggest hits he takes is around not being forthcoming with information and facts. Your organization’s brand is built on trust. Trust is built on transparency. Is your organization open and honest about the good and the not-so-good? Supporters don’t just want the good news. They want to know when you’re struggling and how they can help. This type of transparency builds trust and equity in your brand.
- Build relationships – We can all agree that President Trump isn’t known for fostering great relationships. He doesn’t really endear himself to others. How well does your organization engage with its supporters? Are you communicating with them regularly? Are you inviting them to experience your mission in action? Are you listening to them? Be sure you’ve set up a marketing plan that sets you up to succeed. In fact, just be sure you set up a marketing plan. We’ve found most organizations don’t have one.
- Be collaborative – This one’s pretty obvious, right? President Trump isn’t known for being a team player. That’s all I have to say about that. Most donors want the organizations they support to collaborate with other nonprofits to ensure they’re making the greatest impact possible. They want to know you aren’t squandering their support by isolating yourself and the work you do. By connecting with other organizations, especially those that have high brand affinity, you’re also able to earn some additional credibility and equity for your brand.
- Be sure your team and supporters are equipped – Sometimes it seems President Trump and his staff are speaking different languages. His aides aren’t always equipped to speak on his behalf. What are you doing to equip your staff, volunteers and supporters to speak on your behalf? Are you providing them training around your mission, vision and values? Are they experiencing your mission in action? Are you arming them with printed material, email content and social media content they can share with their universe of friends and family? These are all important tactics to effectively share the great work you’re doing, which will build the effectiveness of your brand.
When people think of branding, they usually think about their logo and tagline. Notice we didn’t get into that at all in this piece. You can compare it to the presidential seal. Presidents may have this centuries-old identity at their disposal, but it is basically useless if their actions and words don’t align with the mission and values for which it stands.
So, while it’s important to have an effective visual identity, it’s more important to ensure that your operations and communications effectively represent your brand. Then you can be certain that what people are saying about your nonprofit when you’re not around is encouraging them to support you and your mission. For more tips and tricks to help your nonprofit break through, check out our Nonprofit Nuggets.
– David Chatham, Senior Marketing Consultant