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Consider how your brand relates with the outside world

Welcome to part two in our "Branding your nonprofit" series. By now, you've articulated your mission and thought about how to increase both brand integrity and brand democracy. Now, we'll turn our attention to ethics and affinity to look at how your brand relates with the outside world.

Ethics 101

While brand integrity focuses on building a strong mission, brand ethics is about core values, culture, and how well those are communicated both inside your organization and to the outside world. For an example of master brand ethics, look at Google. Their brand has a reputation not only as a leading tech giant, but as an elite, progressive place to work. They've invested so heavily in their brand's culture that they've built physical spaces out of it around the world.

Though Google is an extreme version, it provides a good model for the "highly ethical" end of the scale. Even the smallest or most local brands can benefit from thinking of their organization as a "campus" unto itself. What does your campus value? How do you want people to feel when they step onto it?

Highly ethical behavior

For our purposes, the term "ethics" isn't in any way a morality judgment. A brand with a low level of ethics is like the telephone repair person who doesn't answer his or her own phone. The repair person might claim to value working telephones, but it's not borne out in real life.

There's no single sure-fire way to increase brand ethics, in part because "highly ethical" looks radically different across industries. Ethics spring from your brand's core values. Do you value efficiency and friendly service? Empathy and confidence? Would your audience agree? Consider it like this:

  • Think from the outside in. What's the first thing people see, feel or hear when they first come into contact with your organization? What's your "campus" moment? For better or worse, this moment will stick with them and their perception of your organization — so make it a strong one.
  • Strive for a unified tone. The volunteer at the Holocaust Museum will naturally need to address patrons differently than the volunteer down the hall in the preschool classroom. Each organization develops its own tone. By adhering to this across sectors, you start to build a unified "sound" that naturally communicates your brand's values.
  • Build up, not down. Work from a place of strength. Figure out what your brand does really well and head in that direction. Rather than focusing on eliminating your weaknesses, focus on what you're already doing well — then make it better.
  • Strategize your media. Once you know the story you want to tell, you can target your media to reinforce your mission across platforms. This increases both exposure and brand reinforcement.

Affinity and the community

Brands with a high level of affinity play well with others. They're comfortable working alongside other brands for a collective purpose, sharing resources and information across the board. "We came to view ourselves not as being the leader, but as a partner of choice," explains Peter Bell, former CEO of CARE.

Are you a "partner of choice?" Do you collaborate easily? Are you quick to share credit? Do you talk about other brands as much, or more than, your own? Do you strive to level out power balances whenever possible? What kind of reputation are you building for yourself?

Affinity assignment: think about another local (or online) nonprofit who might care about your work and contact them. If possible, have something to offer — time, resources, a cup of coffee. Focus solely on building good will.

Look toward the future

Don't try to tackle everything at once. It's normal for an organization's attention to IDEA — integrity, democracy, ethics and affinity — to drift over time. One month you might focus on brand identity, the next on ethical strategies. Organizations that have been operational for generations have different needs than the nonprofit your neighbor started in her basement. Similarly, service industries will approach something like brand affinity differently than those trying to establish a coalition.

Your branding story will be unique to you, taking into account all the nuances of your organization. Get started today!

If you'd like to review the basics, return to one of our branding series: Branding your nonprofit: Integrity and democracy.



MissionBox editorial content is offered as guidance only, and is not meant, nor should it be construed as, a replacement for certified, professional expertise.



Stanford Social Innovation Review: The role of brand in the nonprofit sector by Nathalie Kylander and Christopher Stone (2012)

Nonprofit Quarterly: The eight building blocks of strong nonprofit brands by Peter Frumkin (2015)

Forbes: The secret to managing nonprofit brands by Rahim Kanani (2014)

Nonprofit Hub: Five ways to build your brand's buzzability by Randy Hawthorne

Nonprofit Village: Branding vs. marketing and what nonprofits need to know by Alizah Epstein

The Fundraising Authority: Creating a brand for your non-profit by Adam Farwell

Ologie: Ten things you should know about branding your nonprofit (2012)



Writer and firm believer in using business as a tool for positive change