Philanthropy Branding and Donor Recognition: Tips on Linking the Two

November 19th, 2013

Cattle brand  Donor Recognition is the most under-utilized brand communicator that non profit organizations have at their “fingertips”.   Recognition exists within facilities, across campuses and online. It is perhaps the only 24/7/365 messaging system that the non profit can use to communicate its brand.

Today’s fundraising marketplace is increasingly competitive. Capital Campaigns are reaching dizzying heights. Donors are savvy in their evaluation of their giving options. Fundraisers must keep up.

Philanthropy Branding, the “what and the why”, of a non profit organization, must be carefully defined and then clearly conveyed to its public. A brand must reach far beyond the logo. Also, the identity and communication goals of the fundraiser are NOT identical to those of the general marketing objectives for the same organization.  Thus, it is even more critical that thoughtful focus and communication energies aim to convey a sense of pride in mission, values, identity and image that is in the best interest of the fundraiser.

Those who portray their brand well are those who tell their stories with clarity and consistency, just as any brand-aware  “for profit” company would. It’s crucial that non profits today differentiate themselves,  stand out and establish a brand “experience” for each viewer via the thank you’s that the donor recognition opportunities offer.

In her book, Branding for Nonprofits: Developing Identity with Integrity, D.K. Holland explains that  “the brand promotes the identity and underlying values of a unique culture by communicating the messages, products and services” created by that organization.  A “brand strategy” is a plan that codifies logo, colors, tagline and typeface, and also specifies language, images, formats and positioning appropriate to the message. Donor Recognition can support that strategy like nothing else can.

Donor Recognition “walls”, area naming plaques, giving program displays, donor testimonials and untold volumes of donor lists online or within publications already exist for nearly every non-profit today.  Yet a focused tie-in to an organization’s philanthropy brand is a rare occurrence. Instead, they most often exist as missed opportunities to speak to each viewer/prospective donor.   It is time to give Donor Recognition a fresh look through eyes keenly aware of brand essence and brand loyalty.

Admittedly, it is hard to bring a fundraiser’s focus to bear on a re-thinking of messaging and brand direction during its day-to-day administration of tasks. Yet, such critical evaluation and re-defining of brand identity simply MUST be a part of every Capital Campaign needs assessment and feasibility study. Tips on how to link Philanthropy Branding and Donor Recognition are:

1.   Audit of Existing Donor Recognition:  Establish an audit of existing donor recognition elements along with the content of each.  Identify what has been successful, what has not, and where patterns and inconsistencies lie.  Focus attention on melding the core objectives of your donor recognition program with the unique spirit, or brand, of your organization.
2.    Recognition Messaging Master Plan: Create a Master Plan of all elements and locations of recognition venues and their messages. Understand the audience of each. Look for places where the celebration of giving can be better presented publicly. Consider your Philanthropy Brand strategy within the context of each venue and recognition type.  Itemize each with a written strategy for inclusion in your plan.  Do this as a process to be sustained going forward.

3.    Recognizable Graphic Identity for Philanthropy: Establish a family of design components to present the “face of philanthropy” within your organization via recognition. Do so aligned with traditional branding practices. Diligence and consistency is key.

4.    Consistent Messaging & Content Hierarchy:  Implement a combined recognition and philanthropy branding message plan by codifying stylistic decisions regarding content,  grammar, typography, etiquette, and punctuation.

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