Breaking down nonprofit branding [book review]
For the last several years, I’ve been following the folks at Big Duck who provide excellent information on nonprofit communications through their blog, podcast and other resources, including workshops. When I stumbled upon Brandraising: How Nonprofits Raise Visibility and Money Through Smart Communications by Sarah Durham, Big Duck’s principal and founder, I immediately added it to my reading list. Happily, I was recently able to dig in and read the book!
Last month, Katherine Moffat reviewed Brand Atlas: a broad strokes primer on branding concepts. If you want to dig deeper into how the principles of branding can be applied in a nonprofit organization, Brandraising is just the book to take your knowledge to the next level and provide specific, practical steps to implement what you learn.
Branding in the nonprofit context
According to her bio and the book, Sarah Durham has been working with nonprofits since 1994, which shows in her ability to put key branding concepts into a nonprofit context. She indicates her purpose for this book in her explanation of her term ‘brandraising’: to help readers develop a clear, cohesive organizational identity and communications system that supports raising money and increasing visibility.
Durham targets Brandraising at nonprofit team members with little or no background in communications or more experienced folks grappling with the changing communications landscape. Having read the book, and because Durham really approaches branding from a holistic and mission-driven perspective, I feel that Brandraising is also very well suited to nonprofit executives or other leaders.
The three levels of nonprofit branding
While the first chapters introduce principles and realities of nonprofit communications and branding, and the last chapter touches upon implementation of the book’s concepts, the bulk of Brandraising focuses on a very detailed exploration of branding applied at three levels:
1. Organizational: foundational elements including vision, mission, values, objectives, audiences, positioning and personality.
2. Identity: visual identity and messaging platform
3. Experiential: the channels and tools through which audiences connect with organizations
Durham provides a thorough breakdown of the thinking behind the three levels and how this thinking can be applied by nonprofits. For example, she includes questions that can be used to assess the effectiveness of mission statements and to help to define an organization’s personality, guidance on how to think in more audience-centric terms and specific and detailed explanation of the elements of a visual identity and messaging platform. Coming from a messaging perspective, I particularly appreciated the guidance included on naming and taglines, the elements of an organization’s style guide, and how to identify and train key people.
A holistic approach to nonprofit branding
One of the greatest strengths of Brandraising is the very holistic, organizational approach that it suggests. We often hear (and remind others) that branding is about ‘more than logos’ and Durham very thoroughly explains why this is so. Durham ties branding inextricably into organization mission and vision and suggests organizational ‘personality and ‘positioning’ must be tied in to this foundational level – not left as strictly marketing communications concepts.
Brandraising equips readers with a long list of benefits to taking a branding approach that extend beyond typical marketing thinking. The book gives very specific information about how to build a strong and consistent identity for your nonprofit along with a strong and consistent experience for the audiences connecting with it.
Some of the specific topics and concepts that fit particularly nicely and make this book all the more relevant included:
- The various ways in which nonprofit communications are measured as compared to for-profit communications
- Exploration of the greatest nonprofit communications obstacles
- Basic principles of effective nonprofit communications
- Qualitative and quantitative measurement approaches
- Practical tips and questions to help meet your audience where they are
Throughout Brandraising, you’ll find numerous examples from real nonprofits and key concepts illustrated with the support of graphics. One problem I experienced in the ebook format was that tables and figures were glitchy and did not appear alongside the appropriate content – sometime appearing in the wrong chapter!
While I understand the intention to go the extra step and help provide practical approaches to implementing nonprofit branding in a real-world context, I found the last chapter of Brandraising a bit challenging. It is so difficult to give specific implementation advice to nonprofits as a group since they are so very diverse in their mandates, resources, cultures, etc., so I felt that this final chapter was ambitious. However, this is a minor criticism as there certainly were a number of practical nuggets in this chapter as well; I just felt that at point, I had already obtained was I was looking for from the book.
A valuable read and reference
Brandraising is not only a very informative read for any nonprofit marketer or communicator, but with so much concrete guidance, it’s a valuable reference to keep at your fingertips. If you feel the title suggests a fundraising focus – don’t be misled; it’s a very comprehensive look at how branding builds a strong framework for raising money and awareness of your organization. In fact, branding is used as a framework for what is really a book about how to deliver strategic, effective nonprofit communications.
On the whole, I would most definitely recommend reading Brandraising to those interested in nonprofit branding or those simply wanting to be more effective and strategic in their nonprofit marketing communications. My biggest regret is having bought the ebook, because, as I mentioned, this would be an excellent reference to have handy in physical form.
Have you read Brandraising: How Nonprofits Raise Visibility and Money Through Smart Communications? What did you think of this book?