3 min Read
March 5, 2014

Brandraising to help the lost children of the Tijuana border area

Scott Walters, guest blogger

I wrote “Brandraising” hoping that people would adapt the principles in it to help nonprofits of all shapes, sizes, and missions communicate more effectively. I recently met Scott, who did exactly that, so I asked him to share his experiences here. -Sarah

Awesome! You’ve just been asked to create the new visual identity for an orphanage of 35-plus children in Tijuana, Mexico. You’ve met and talked with the director and the only staff member. Where is the Communications Manager you ask? Administrative assistant? Fundraising Manager? Social Media Specialist? Oh, the director assumes these roles when time permits? Soon you begin sympathizing with the orphanage believing that the priorities of their shoestring budget — food, clothes, heath care, education, a roof, and actual shoestrings — trump the need for a long-term vision and communication plan.

In 2007 I was approached by the director of Los Angelitos Orphanage to take a look at the visual identity and make any changes that I saw fit. Using my experience as a for-profit communicator, I went ahead with what I knew. A long-term vision was never realized prior to the identity development process. Creating communications that solicited donations was job one, so a consistent and engaging visual system had to be developed quickly. In light of Los Angelitos’ immediate needs and my lack of experience with nonprofits, I felt it necessary to put the development of a long-term communication plan on the back burner…on the stove…next to their empty fridge. 

Fast-forward to 2012 — Los Angelitos has a new visual identity and some semblance of a consistent communications effort. But they were still without a long-term vision and communication strategy. It was about this time when Sarah Durham’s book Brandraising was brought to my attention. Sarah, and the many examples sited within Brandraising, gave me some fodder for a case for to develop a long-term, nonprofit communication strategy. I started talking with the director about the true value of communications and how they could be measured. I reasoned that any communication campaign that Los Angelitos delivers would be up against the 3,000 to 5,000 marketing messages that people receive each day from both nonprofits and for-profits.

As explained in the book, it’s important to get the staff and board on the same page about where a nonprofit is heading in the longterm before Brandraising can begin. I figured it would go a long way in establishing clarity of purpose if it were articulated visually what Los Angelitos does. With this in mind I began working on an information graphic as a way to show why Los Angelitos exists and how it proposed to make good on its promise to the children, their supporters, and the community in general. Not to mention the director and the board.

The final graphic highlighted findings that showed how Mexico was creating the tools and market to support investment, development, and growth. In addition, with new economic reforms on the horizon, Mexico will be in dire need of college graduates to fill business leadership and policy-making roles. The knowledge acquired from a Los Angelitos-funded college education would allow the girls at Los Angelitos to influence the Mexican economy and society. In an ambitious way, Los Angelitos could be instrumental in making the street children of Mexico a thing of the past.

The infographic helped us move closer to articulating a vision. From this rough vision a clearer mission began to evolve, one that directs the orphanage’s efforts toward healing, rehabilitating, and acclimating the street girls of the Tijuana border area by providing them with a nurturing home and a higher education. This is a value that potential donors can relate to because it’s about creating and sustaining a healthy life cycle for both the children and the greater Mexican community. If Los Angelitos follows this path, they can begin establishing a leadership position around the core issue of helping homeless, abused, and starving street children, as well as rehabilitating a struggling society.

It’s now believed, by both the director and the board, that helping the street girls of the Tijuana border area does not stop when they turn 18, but should continue into adulthood, and that by way of this effort, Los Angelitos is helping the greater Mexican community. The emotional stories told by these girls have been collected and shared through several campaigns via email, social media sites, and fundraising kits. Comments have been positive. Communication efforts, while still being developed, have increased funding via online solicitations and have attracted a wider base of supporters ranging from pop-music stars to commercial contractors.