“Focus is your friend. A clear and distinct brand meaning will help nonprofits attract top talent, earn revenue and vet partnerships.”
– Carol Cone, Managing Director and Executive VP, Edelman
Branding stood out as an increasingly significant function for forward-thinking nonprofits at the BBB Charity Effectiveness Symposium on February 22nd. Nearly 300 nonprofit leaders and advisors gathered to hear post-recessionary strategies from organizations such as the U.S. Fund for UNICEF and Food Bank for New York City, two of the cases featured in Breakthrough Nonprofit Branding. The takeaways were practical and relevant to nonprofits big and small.
UNICEF: Discover brand meaning through deep research
In 2006, the U.S. Fund for UNICEF realized that they were “keeping pace but were not growing,” said Caryl M. Stern, President & CEO. While UNICEF was second in brand name recognition to the Red Cross, people didn’t understand what exactly they did. Furthermore, employee moral needed improvement. And so began a deep research process involving staff surveys and brainstorming, constituent focus groups and a competitor landscape analysis. Breakthrough Nonprofit Branding documents the sequence of strategic initiatives leading to UNICEF’s brand discovery, the impact of which refocused and revitalized the organization. From 2007 to 2010, UNICEF increased their revenues by 17%, an impressive feat given the recession. More importantly, UNICEF helped to reduce the number of children who perish daily from preventable diseases from 24,000 to 22,000.
Food Bank for New York City: Embed brand meaning to ensure continuity during leadership change
Earlier this year, Dr. Lucy Cabrera announced her retirement after 23 years leading the Food Bank for New York City. Yet at the Symposium, she was confident that the Food Bank’s brand values were deeply embedded in its staff and would continue to live within the organization after her departure. The reason is rooted in Food Bank’s 2002 name change and subsequent nine-year brand journey to shift external perceptions away from being a quasi-government agency (which they were not). Their refocused brand meaning was to be an organization dedicated to solving food poverty.
This significant shift served as a beacon for Food Bank to stay true to its mission while expanding its services, from food distribution to financial empowerment, disaster relief, nutrition education, children’s programming and more.
In a previous conversation with Dr. Cabrera, she also stated that succession planning matters whether with leaders or with star staff. Effective succession planning starts from the first day employees are hired, not from when they announce their departure.
According to Susanna Zwerling, VP, Government and External Affairs of Verizon New York, a nonprofit can improve its fundraising success by reaching out to understand the foundation’s goals before submitting a grant application. For example, she revealed that one of Verizon’s branding goals is to communicate with consumers that they are a technology company, not just a phone company. With this knowledge, a nonprofit can become a more attractive grantee prospect by tailoring its pitch to explain how a Verizon Foundation grant would help the nonprofit move into the digital space, aligning mutual goals.
Another tip to understand a foundation’s goals is to observe where a foundation is housed within the corporate organization. The Verizon Foundation falls under the Government and Community Affairs department, meaning that an ideal grantee will help Verizon inform local communities about the collaboration.
Jason Lilien, Bureau Chief of the New York State Attorney General’s Charities Bureau pressed nonprofits to do the research necessary to understand the value of their brand assets. In doing so, a nonprofit can obtain greater value from a corporate partnership and avoid relationships that could damage its reputation. As Edelman’s Carol Cone declared in November 2010, “cause marketing as we know it is dead,” in reference to the inauthentic campaigns that have increasingly emerged. By truly understanding its brand, a nonprofit can vet and reject potential partners whose values are not aligned.