A recent article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review provides compelling rationale for one of the most difficult aspects of introducing and maintaining brand in a not-for-profit: winning over the skeptics.

“But we’re not selling sugar water,” grumbled the child rights specialist at one of my first brand sessions with a large international NGO. The resistance to the concept of brand was so strong that we considered rebranding our brand effort.

In “The Role of Brand in the Nonprofit Sector” (SSIR, Spring 2012), Nathalie Kylander and Christopher Stone listened carefully to nonprofit leaders to understand the roots of their skepticism and ambivalence to brand.

In doing so, they were able to identify four significant areas of resistance. They then turned them into positives and came up with four significant areas of pride that drive brand acceptance in an organization with altruistic goals:

  • Fear of over commercialization turns into pride in the mission of the organization
  • Fear of top-down short cuts to organizational change turns to pride in participatory planning
  • Fear of brand as an end in itself turns into pride in the values that define organizational culture
  • Fear of over-shadowing smaller brands turns into pride in supportive partnerships

Turning a powerful for-profit brand construct into one that can be fully embraced by charity leaders and staff opens the door to the clarity and cohesion that brand has to offer. The authors point out, “When an organization’s employees and volunteers all embrace a common brand identity, it creates organizational cohesion, concentrates focus, and reinforces shared values.”

In turn, that cohesion and focus increases an organization’s ability to have an impact and that reinforces the brand image and identity.

Have a look at this article in full—it’s chock full of carefully researched and articulated reasons for not-for-profits to wrap their heads around brand.