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Strong Charities. Strong Communities.

4 tips for pushing your brand beyond “business as usual”

Tuesday, May 2, 2017
Guest Writers
Marketing Communications
Shelley Mayer

To some, the term “business as usual” may seem like a strategy for charity success, and it actually can be. If the status quo is helping achieve the goals of an organization then staying the course is certainly an option. If it ain’t broke…

But there can also be missed opportunities in an atmosphere that discourages “rocking the boat” or trying something different. 

There are also companies whose brand DNA includes innovation – Elon Musk’s ventures come to mind – and in those cases the idea of “business as usual” is an even more positive strategy, because it means constantly looking at new approaches.

For many organizations though, “business as usual” can reflect troubling issues. Doing things a certain way because “we’ve always done it this way” will cause stagnation or worse. The good news is that there are tactics and approaches that can generate new pathways to reaching more people.

Focusing on these four key tips will help your charity create more impactful opportunities:


A brand is not a logo. A brand is someone’s overall impression of you. The most robust and successful brands communicate who they are at every single point of contact with their audience. A brand is built through messages that are consistent, and this is not strictly limited to marketing initiatives. For example, the way an organization answers the phone, or deals with a customer concern, or how members of the organization interact are all indicators of what a brand promises to its audience.

The foundation for a brand is built on core values that inform what it is truly all about. 

Once you have established your genuine core values, articulating your brand is the next step. This process is the development of what your brand looks, feels, and sounds like. And yes this is where your logo comes into play.  More on building your brand.


It always amazes me that in the nonprofit sector, so many organizations and the people in them are humble in spirit. I think it’s because the motivating factors are genuine and sincere. It is vital to remember that if an organization is a leader in their industry, they must behave that way.

Take ownership of what you believe in, provide inspirational leadership and play the role of a convenor within your space. Here are a couple of examples from some of our clients:

The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) created a truly national conference that attracted a wide range of mental health professionals from coast to coast. The conference is now the showcase event for mental wellness in Canada and has helped CMHA increase brand recognition, attract new partners and supporters, and raise awareness for the mental health cause. 

The Daily Bread Food Bank is best known for food drives, but there is so much more to their mandate. They educate the GTA food banks they distribute food to, and advocate for the hungry at all levels of government. Perhaps the best example of their content leadership is The Hunger Report, an annual audit of hunger in Toronto. The report is so influential that it is used by governments to inform policy and is leveraged by many other stakeholders.


There are several ways that collaboration can become part of your plans.

Think about other organizations that have similar values to yours. Is there a way to collaborate for mutual benefit?

If you are building a fundraising event, look for like-minded sponsors and find new ways to attract them. Traditionally, sponsors are given a document with a menu of ways for them to participate. Instead, why not ask them how they would like to participate, and collaborate with them for maximum results.

A story in The Guardian showcases an inspiring example of collaboration. Age UK is a charity that supports age and aging in Britain. One of its goals is to provide outlets for seniors to continue to enjoy an active quality of life, and it also relies on fundraising. They partnered with a sharing platform developer to connect seniors with donors. So for example, says The Guardian, “a retired gardener could offer a few hours of gardening and in return the recipient makes a donation to AGE UK”.

Another way to think about collaboration, is sharing information within your own organization. Habitat For Humanity Canada provides exceptional brand leadership by creating resources for its affiliates across the country as well as peer to peer consulting services so that experience and knowledge gained at the local level can be shared across their network.


This is where things can get really fun because it represents your opportunity to truly innovate and switch things up in order to make a profound impact.

Start by taking a look at how you operate, and at each step, ask “why”. This will quickly uncover areas where you may be stuck particularly if the answer is “because that’s how we do it”. That’s never a satisfactory answer, so you’ll need to dig a little deeper, because chances are, the industry you’re in is rapidly changing, and historic challenges have likely shifted.

Then, when you’re getting rolling out a brainstorm, a good (and unthreatening) question is: How might we _____? IDEO the great innovation agency in California is a place I admire and that’s how they kick off their meetings. It seems to get people thinking bigger. Establish a big goal, like “What is your biggest dream for your cause or organization if resources were not a limit” Then start asking “how might we”. Often, charities and causes begin too small in their thinking at this stage, so try this structure out if you are hitting a road block and see what ideas emerge.

Another inspirational mind in our sector is Dan Pallotta. He has a demonstrated passion for disruption, and his successes have changed the charity landscape.  He was the pioneer for multi-day peer-to-peer fundraising events starting with AIDS Rides which, according to his website, have raised in excess of half a billion dollars in nine years. The Breast Cancer 3-Day walks are also his brainchild.


It may feel uncomfortable at first, and you may make mistakes. But pushing beyond “business as usual” will reveal opportunities that will breathe new energy and passion into your cause and inspire current, and new donors and volunteers.


About the Author

Shelley Mayer

Shelley Mayer is founder and president of Ramp Communications. She is inspired by organizations that are making a difference for individuals and communities, and her passion lies in developing creative, practical marketing solutions to help them achieve their goals.

Guest contributions represent the personal opinions and insights of the authors and may not reflect the views or opinions of Imagine Canada.


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