Thursday, March 8, 2012

Associations, Nonprofits and Branding - A New Brand IDEA

My mind is all abuzz at the moment.  I just read the greatest article from the Stanford Social Innovation Review called, "The Role of Brand in the Nonprofit Sector."  If you are serious about your association's brand, this is a must read article that includes new research from Harvard University's Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations and the Rockefeller Foundation.

Their main point is, we have been stealing our branding ethos from the for-profit sector, when in fact nonprofits and associations have branding needs that are similar but that are different in some key ways.  Our branding methodology needs to be couched in a framework that is familiar but serves our key constituencies.  The framework is being called Brand IDEA and stands for brand integrity, brand democracy, brand ethics and brand affinity.

The briefest of explanations are below - please read the entire article to put these smaller bits into the larger context - 

Brand INTEGRITY - They are not using the word "integrity" to refer to moral integrity, but structural integrity.  The idea is your association brand should not be subject to "internal" and "external" differences but that your internal and external messaging and identity should be fully integrated with your mission.  Brand assets should be professional looking and easily available in multiple formats.

Brand DEMOCRACY - Your association's brand should be easily communicable and spread by staff, volunteers, members, stakeholders, etc.  In the age of social media, attempting to tightly "control your brand" is impossible. The brand itself should be built to withstand democratic creation of meaning, not dictated by a Communications Manager with a power complex.

Brand ETHICS - This is not "ethics" in a moral sense, but ethics in the sense that your brand should be used to further your mission in every way.  This extends to the images you use, the companies you choose to affiliate with and any co-branding efforts you undertake need to be directly born out of your mission.

Brand AFFINITY - Your brand is not a "weapon" to be used in a competitive sense.  Branding in the for-profit sector focuses on the "win" vis a vis Coke vs Pepsi. An associations or nonprofits brand is actually a community and coalition building device.  Be a good player, be a good citizen.  Your brand will speak for itself.

I encourage every association executive out there to read this article.  It places association and nonprofit branding in it's own light and reframes some of the "for-profit" branding techniques we have co-opted for ourselves.

What a great brand IDEA.  Kudos to the authors, the folks who conducted the studies and who came up with this framework.

I will never look at branding the same way again.


  1. Shelly -- came across your blog while searching for branding principles for non-profits. This is a great article, thanks for the tip!

  2. Rachel -

    I am glad you found it helpful! I haven't thought about branding the same way since I read the original article....

    Take care and thanks for stopping by...


  3. Sounds like the post will have some real good notes charities in new york city can use.


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