Religion, Politics and Branding

Want to get a roomful of people who work in fundraising riled up? Forget religion and politics. Talk about branding.

Maybe that’s because branding is a lot like religion. And politics. It has its thought leaders, moderates, fundamentalists, left wingers, independents, evangelists…. And like religion and politics, it stands for different things for different people.

Nonprofit branding gets especially controversial in direct response fundraising. A brown logo-free carrier envelope with your organization’s name and return address in Times New Roman will almost always generate a better response than a meticulously branded one. It will also almost always irritate, and possibly even enrage, your communications director.

Jeff Brooks rails regularly, and rightfully so, over at Future Fundraising Now against the type of narrow branding mentality that kills direct response fundraising.

But this doesn’t mean you have to violate your brand to create really good direct response fundraising. That’s because branding is about a whole lot more than logos, color palettes and font families. In fact, if your brand IS your logo, then you’re in trouble.

Some think that branding is about how you present yourself. But branding is really about how people see you. Or as Amazon founder Jeff Bezos put it: your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.

And so in direct response fundraising, true brand integrity comes down to one simple thing: being recognizable to your donors in a way that goes far deeper than your logo and fonts.

What does this mean? Well, take yourself.

You don’t wear the same clothes every day. You mood isn’t always the same. You come up with new ideas and ways of expressing them. But this doesn’t prevent your friends from recognizing you and caring about you when you walk into the room. In fact, they love you. Not because you’re some vanilla version of who you think you should be for them. But because you’re you and you’re interesting.

So think about – or rethink – what it means for your nonprofit to be “on brand.” Being human is a pretty great starting place.


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