Branding in the Nonprofit Sector


Nonprofit organizations face a unique challenge when it comes to branding. Nonprofits are inherently rooted in emotions, and capturing that essence in a brand can be difficult. There is temptation to shy away from branding efforts and allow the mission and values of the organization to speak for themselves. However, strategic branding is critical in a competitive climate for funding, attention, and volunteers. Due to shifting consumer expectations, for-profit brands have been engaging more and more in values-driven marketing, further emphasizing the need for nonprofit organizations to build a strong, cohesive brand that defines their identity and increases recognition.

For example, Girl Scouts is a nonprofit that has greatly benefited from restructuring their brand over time. As a result, Girl Scouts avoids becoming stagnant in a fast-paced landscape. Their branding aims to capture the holistic Girl Scout experience. Their logo represents confidence, empowerment, and unity. The trefoil and the three faces within it tie back to the Girl Scout’s three-part promise. Their extensive brand guidelines ensure this essence is captured in all of their initiatives and communications. Thanks to these branding efforts, most people have an understanding of the organization’s mission and goals. 

As a part of their branding initiatives, Local Minds, a UK-based organization that provides mental health services, developed a logo that beautifully encompasses the goal of their programs. The scribble to the left illustrates the mental state people can find themselves in when dealing with a mental health issue. The scribble is smoothed out nicely to write out “mind”, representing the transition to a healthy mind.  

The American Heart Association updated their mission and logo in 2018 to modernize their brand and better reflect their main objective, “to be a relentless force for a world of longer, healthier lives”. Their brand guidelines consolidate the organization’s positioning under a clear message: “life is why”.  All of their communication touchpoints are related to this message and their mission. The simplification of their branding and messaging keeps their organization current and engaging, without losing the strength of their heritage.  

It is important to recognize that many smaller nonprofit organizations do not have the same branding and marketing budget as larger organizations. However, there are many cost-effective options for nonprofits to seek out help with their branding and marketing initiatives. At Smith Design, we’re always excited to support nonprofit missions through our pro bono strategic branding and design efforts.  

The Nevada Blind Children’s Foundation, an organization dedicated to providing essential educational and extracurricular activities for children who are visually impaired, partnered with us during the opening of their new Children’s Learning Center. We developed a logo for the center that utilized core brand equities while differentiating the center as a unique initiative. We also designed a branded booklet for the foundation’s After School Programs & Events. 

God’s Creatures Ministry reached out to us for assistance with a challenge they were facing in the development of their branding. Their mission relates to Noah’s Ark, providing a safe place for all species, but they were struggling with how to fully capture this nurturing spirit in a logo. With this goal in mind, we explored brand colors, ark shapes, and various animal illustrations before creating the final logo.  

As Marty Neumeier explains, a brand is “not what you say you are, it’s what they say you are.” A strategic nonprofit brand approach should communicate the mission, differentiate the organization, motivate the team, and promote engagement with new and current supporters. Through this process, thought leadership is attainable for nonprofits of all sizes.  

Through insight-driven strategic branding, a unique and ownable positioning can inspire meaningful communications across all touchpoints. For help with nonprofit branding efforts and navigating the ever-changing world of consumer trends, reach out to our team below.   

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