I have a confession to make.
In the many tensions between communications and fundraising folks I often feel like a man without a country. My true love was strategic communications, but after 16 years I no longer wince when I am introduced as a ‘fundraiser.’
Among intramural tensions between fundraisers and comms folks, few issues polarize more than the issue of branding. And though I am a believer in building a strong brand, I have seen too many organizations spend ridiculous amounts of money on a new logo, or a tagline, or a new color scheme. And the expectation is that, armed with these awesome new clothes, the money will come pouring in.
But it never does.
Branding matters. Good branding isn’t about your colors or your tagline – it’s about conveying the essence of who you are. But even good branding won’t raise money.
Fundraising master Jeff Brooks is especially passionate on the matter. In a recent blog post he gently skewers a nonprofit boasting a new look, which unfortunately is about as donor and reader-unfriendly as you could get.
“Big warning sign: If it seems you need to say ‘Our look has changed, but we still do what we’ve always done just as well,’ you probably are digging yourself into a hole.”
Here are three ways branding gets in the way of effective fundraising:
Branding is often hijacked by organizational narcissism and magical thinking. I recently worked with a client who had come up with an odd set of donor prospect personas. Turns out the personas were based on program staff fantasies about the sort of person they believe would support them. No research. No reality. Much money spent.
Branding is about symbolism and fundraising is concrete. As Jeff says in his terrific book The Money-Raising Nonprofit Brand, branding consultants often come up with symbolic generalities, like “hope” as the centerpiece of their work. Most donors want to give money to achieve concrete outcomes, like feeding hungry children.
Unrealistic expectations. More rampant than Zika is the misbelief by EDs and boards about how fundraising works. If you think the perfect ad campaign or the exact perfect combination of words will attract donors to your doors, you are among the guilty.
There’s much more to say about this, but that will wait for later missives.
Meanwhile, I still believe in branding. Up to a point.