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Imagine Canada

Strong Charities. Strong Communities.

Branding your cause: 7 keys to recognition and results

Tuesday, February 7, 2017
Guest Writers
Shelley Mayer

“A brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.” - Jeff Bezos, Founder, Amazon.com

It really doesn’t matter if your organization is for profit, or nonprofit, the rules of branding are the same. It’s complex, this business of branding, but if you follow these 7 steps, you’ll be on the road to focusing your messaging and having it resonate with the people you wish to attract.

What is a brand? Put simply, it is a collection of perceptions your audience has about you. They have them, whether you craft your brand or if you leave it up to chance. Best to be proactive! Your brand is a long-term strategy that you nurture to convey the essence of your organization. Over time, you articulate it through various initiatives, such as your communications strategy and your marketing activities. Neither can be effective unless they are informed by a solid, well-crafted brand. Your brand is the underpinning for all communications.

Let’s take a look at how to develop a brand for recognition and results.


It takes an investment of work and time, but defining your brand by establishing a set of authentic values is the first step in building the foundation that will support your growth. It’s vital that you and the people in your organization are genuinely aligned, and ideally, passionate about what you stand for. If not, your brand runs the risk of landing as inauthentic with your audience.

A brand is formed as a result of every interaction your audience experiences. Therefore, if your brand is unmanaged and not unified, your audience can become confused about who you are and what you are all about.

So you must take care to define your brand, and once you do, you must ensure that the experience of your brand is consistent at all touch points. It must be compelling (which will connect with your target on an emotional level), and be authentic (meaning it is true to the culture of your organization).

A well-defined brand unlocks ways to make it inspire people, attract resources, strengthen your impact, and promote organizational effectiveness. Being clear about your brand will attract like-minded people and more powerful partners, build trust and greater credibility, while improving your overall culture.

The next steps require detailed work as well, but are made easier once you have step one solidly in place. In fact, the next part of branding is the where the fun really begins: articulating your brand.

Many brands struggle with the concepts of “mission” versus “vision” versus “values”. We’ll discuss all three here as individual keys to building your brand because they all play a role.


You mission is what you do. This should not be a complex or lengthy concept, but it may be deceptively difficult at first to nail it down and get it right. Take a quick informal poll in your organization with people from all levels and simply ask the question: What do we do? Ideally answers will all be in the same ballpark, but if not, seize the opportunity to define what you do, and formalize it as your mission. A clear mission can define and inform the brand and the decisions made around promoting it.


The vision that helps support a brand is more aspirational in nature than the mission, and drives forward thinking. You might want to establish it by asking people in your organization to picture what it would be like five years into the future. Let’s say your cause is dedicated to research fundraising for a particular disease. Your vision might be along the lines of “an organization that maximizes fundraising goals through an engaged network of inspired volunteers to eliminate the disease”. A vision can be as bold as you wish. It’s what your brand aspires to be. If it is extreme, it will likely influence the fierceness of your brand’s personality.


The values you establish for your organization must be authentic from the top down. It is an inescapable fact that the senior leaders always have the most influence, and their actions directly influence how genuinely core values are accepted and acted upon. I can’t stress this enough, because if you are just paying lip service to the values that support your brand – or worse, have not established any core values to begin with – it becomes impossible to build a brand over an extended period of time. Inauthenticity will be exposed every single time.

You’ve likely experienced it yourself. A brand says, for example, that they are customer-centric, yet you have an experience that disproves their position. In cases like this, the most likely root cause is not the person on the front line, but the true culture of the company which says they are all about customer satisfaction, but are instead focused somewhere else.


Now it’s time to look at how you position your brand in an increasingly competitive landscape. It will form the foundation of your communications. Your brand positioning sums up what you do, for whom you do it, what you promise to deliver, and why they should believe you. Think of the position of cars in the marketplace to get a better understanding of the importance of positioning. Toyota makes quality cars, but doesn’t position each car brand the same way. A Yaris sells for about $15K and is positioned as a functional, an affordable A to B car. The same company makes an Avalon for twice the sticker price, and positions it accordingly: more luxury, more bells and whistles. Your brand or cause must find its own unique positioning in the same way, so that your audience understands where you fit.


So, what is the one thing you can provide better than anybody else? What do you uniquely deliver to your audience? The promise of your brand will inform your daily decision-making because it supports what you want to be known for. It is built on key rational and emotional benefits your audience will be attracted to and take action to support. SickKids Hospital in Toronto has done a remarkable job over the years to support their promise through clear and moving campaigns that ladder up to their brand.


Consider that you have been baking the cake that is your brand. You have put all the ingredients together with care, making sure they all work together. It’s ready for the icing. That doesn’t mean, by the way, that the next stage in the process is frivolous or less important. On the contrary, the way the thing looks – the way it occurs to people – makes all the difference in the world, whether or not they will pick it up and try it, or move on to those delicious looking chocolate chips one shelf over. Is your brand playful, and iced in sparkles and pink frosting, or is it classic, conservative and iced traditionally in a nice rich chocolate?

I’ll switch gears here, so you’re not tempted to break your resolution and grab a cupcake. Let’s bring it into the corporate world. If you’re a fun brand, don’t look like IBM. If you’re conservative, don’t be Google. If you’ve taken care with the first 6 steps, step 7 should be easier to create than if it was informed by a flimsy set of ideals that don’t fit together.

Your brand personality is conveyed in many ways and includes your logo and tagline, your messaging and other audience interactions. It also comes across in the way you communicate.


A brand only becomes real when it permeates everything you do as an organization. A complete customer experience that is compelling, emotional and authentic, under a unified voice is imperative for successful campaigns and ongoing growth. It is built through the interplay of visual identity, values, actions of your team, reputation built over time, and more.


It may seem like a daunting task, this idea of branding, but it doesn’t have to be. By methodically tackling it as a way to improve the results you are looking for, it quickly becomes evident that it is the most vital part of your business plan. Remember, as a nonprofit, you are established to ‘do good,’ so people are predisposed to trust you. Your mission is important, and you likely have compelling and rich stories to tell. Connecting on an emotional level can be easier because of this.

So take a look at your brand and hold it up to these 7 keys to success. Are you checking all the boxes?


About the Author

Monique Newton

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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Submitted by Andy Donovan on
Love this post Shelley and who better to talk branding than someone who knows and also lives it herself each and every day.

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