How to build your nonprofit’s brand foundation with behind-the-scenes best practices: Part 1

Jun 21, 2023

The building blocks of nonprofit marketing

by Lexie Thomas, Write Place owner and content expert

Nonprofit marketing is not for the faint of heart. There’s often more to do and less budget to accomplish your goals with than in a for-profit business situation.

Staff members for nonprofits frequently wear many hats and operate with fewer people on the payroll than is ideal, putting pressure on their time. Volunteers may be contributing, and board approval is likely needed on any major branding decisions.

Did I mention that nonprofits also typically have multiple audiences to develop messaging for? That’s double, triple, or quadruple the content and material that a business needs to produce and maintain.

The fearless in-house humans tasked with nonprofit branding and marketing may have skillsets related to marketing and be full of passion for their mission, but it’s not feasible or reasonable to expect that they have a thorough understanding of the tactics and exercises a seasoned marketing professional has in their toolkit.

All things considered, it’s not surprising that many nonprofits find themselves taking—by necessity, not choice—a piecemeal approach to branding and marketing. The material the nonprofit needs to communicate with the public and potential donors is created and pushed forward without a complete strategy to provide helpful structure and direction.

Inconsistent messaging and a muddled brand identity can be the result.

Here’s the good news: This is not a reason to throw everything out and rebrand. But where do you start, as a marketing professional or as nonprofit staff member in charge of leading branding and content efforts, when the time is right to zone in and focus on taking your marketing strategy to the next level?

Reality check: You don’t start with a spiffy new logo or redesigned website, although those pieces may be in your future. Ideally, your team will start with substantial behind-the-scenes efforts to organize your marketing and define your brand.

Knowing where you currently stand is the first step to a sustainable marketing strategy and brand identity for your nonprofit.

  • Conduct an inventory of your materials. Set up a spreadsheet and divide it into categories by type of asset. This inventory should include presentations, annual reports, social media platforms, videos, print materials, testimonies, and more. Work selectively if necessary—it may not be critical to document every single press release. The themes or occasions in which a press release is used along with a few examples may suffice. Other columns to consider include the asset’s location, native format, intended target audience, whether the item is current or needs updates, when it was created, who owns it, etc.
  • Document your marketing tech stack as part of your inventory. What online tools have been used to produce your content and support your marketing? Typically, this includes donor management software, website analytics, social media platforms, an e-newsletter service, etc.

Inventories can be tempting to bypass, but they are eye-opening. The exercise of organizing your content and tools allows your mind to map how all the pieces fit together and can spark promising ideas. Keep a brainstorming list nearby as you work so you don’t lose track of these ideas!

Content and tech stack inventories help your nonprofit marketing team:

  • Uncover tools you forgot you had.
  • See gaps you need to fill sooner than you thought.
  • Identify new uses for content already in your arsenal.

Get organized within the systems that support your branding and marketing efforts.

  • Put your team’s marketing roles on paper. If marketing and branding tasks are shifted to whomever has time or energy, or if outsourcing happens, it’s extremely wise to officially assign marketing tasks within your team and define what makes the most sense to hand off to outside resources. This step will increase synchronization, boost productivity, and increase your team’s confidence that they know how to contribute.
  • Don’t underestimate the power of organizational systems and consistency. When in-house nonprofit teams are sharing the marketing duties, an organizational system can provide a needed backbone. Determining a folder structure and file-naming system can help teams find content more quickly and be sure they’re using the right material. Perhaps more important is a content sunsetting process and point person charged with archiving or storing outdated material so it’s not accidentally used.

These are not the glamorous steps of nonprofit brand building, but they do pay dividends as you move through the process of building a more sustainable, repeatable foundation for your marketing efforts.

Check back next month for a new article in this series, which will focus on developing an internal brand identity and creating audience and donor personas.

Recommended reading: Some of the concepts in this article are covered in more detail in the book Brandraising by Sarah Durham. I highly recommend this great read to those interested in nonprofit marketing!


Photo by on Unsplash


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