What consumer brands can learn from not-for-profits

Marketers could be excused for thinking that not-for-profit (NFP) sector brands learn from commercial consumer brands, not the other way around. However, developing a new brand for a long-established NFP organisation has been a salient reminder of the wider, strategic roles that a brand can play. 

Rebranding is not something that a NFP organisation undertakes easily. There is one school of thought that says not a single dollar raised by the concerned public should be used to build a ‘brand’. Whereas anxious NFP chief executives are balancing these concerns with the worry that if they do decide to build their brand, their limited resources won’t cope with increased demand the extra attention could create. 

And finally, the commercially-averse NFP leadership team believes that building their brand will diminish their separation from the commercial world, removing the vital essence of the not-for-profit relationship with its sponsors and stakeholders. 

For these reasons, when Te Puna Whaiora Children’s Health Camps, one of New Zealand’s longest running social services, initiated a brand review, it required complex thinking and an even more intricate process than would potentially be employed for a consumer brand. 

First we had to ask “what is the role of brand in the NFP sector?” And the complexity of the answer challenged our consumer brand thinking. 

NFP brands are now so much more than fundraising tools. Management teams are being asked by their boards how their brand is contributing to their social impact, to their external trust, to partner/sponsorship solidity, to internal unity and to capacity. 

An NFP brand also needs to perform numerous roles and appeal to multiple audiences. The brand must help the NFP acquire more financial, human, and social resources, and galvanise and help construct key partnerships. 

The visual identity is only the first step in the journey to developing a strong NFP brand. It’s the organisation’s ‘shop front’ and is critical to building its ability to change the world on behalf of their cause. However, it is the brand essence that is the ‘call to action’ and a constant reminder of the NFP organisation’s mandate to do things their way; to be brave, and speak out.

Knowing the brand story and buying into it also helps ensure their partners and supporters do things their way too and do nothing to undermine the brand’s integrity. Most importantly of all, an NFP brand needs to instill a sense of pride in all who engage with it. 

The brand developed for Te Puna Whaiora Children’s Health Camps – Stand Children’s Services (Stand) – is no exception. From day one, the rebrand inspired a step change within the organisation. It has given Stand the opportunity engage with their stakeholders, tell a fresh story and remind them of how important their work is to the community. In a nutshell, it has reframed their call to action and has reignited passion. 

In developing the Stand brand, Insight had to consider a much larger and more varied group of stakeholders than is usually considered when developing a consumer brand. Those making a financial or voluntary contribution (funders) aren’t the ones who will experience the NFP’s core promise. They aren’t necessarily looking for a “what’s in it for me?” And yet, at the same time they have a stake in ensuring the brand represents something they wish to be associated with, is professional and portrays the right image. 

Secondly, a NFP organisation has to be democratic in its management of its brand; harnessing and providing boundaries for enthusiastic members, volunteers and participants, while ensuring it minimises brand anarchy. Te Puna Whaiora Children’s Health Camps actively engaged with all key stakeholders and their feedback was critical in shaping the final identity. 

The response from Stand’s stakeholders has been overwhelmingly positive. Positioning statements “Stand for children” and “A world strong for children” have become rallying cries for change. The organisation is reinvigorated, with staff operating with stronger pride and an even greater sense of urgency. Politicians, funders and other child-support agencies have also noticed the change and are actively asking “what more can we do to stand for children?” 

Insight also had to be cognisant of the fact that NFPs don’t have the level of clarity between brand functions the commercial world does. Managing the brand isn’t simply the responsibility of marketing or ommunications. The entire team have to be custodians of their brand’s identity and be budding brand managers and brand builders. 

The brand framework also has to be more fluid as often the cause, the organisation and the offering are synonymous. The visual elements must be adaptable to allow tailoring to the need of the audiences and specific messaging, while instilling a level of brand consistency. Such adaptability is also essential for the inevitable use of the brand by social media. 

Stand’s strong visual image with a bold colour transition, a strong word mark, expressive typography, photography and graphic elements allow for this. 

The inspiration for the name was New Zealand’s totara. The ‘king of Tane’s great forest’ stretches high above the dense canopy of broadleaf trees and protects the other trees from storm damage. The inspiration for the bold colour transition was Stand taking the children on a journey from darkness to light. 

‘Stand’ helps explain the organisation’s unique proposition: They stand together to bring hope to New Zealand’s most vulnerable children; they help children and families stand up and be strong; they stand against isolation and fear; they take a stand, acting with urgency to deliver solutions that make a child’s world safer, happier and healthier place. And finally, they nurture dreams and aspirations of our nation’s children, allowing them to find their turangawaewae ‘their place to stand’

  • Steven Giannoulis is strategic development director at Insight

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