Photo by Iker Urteaga on Unsplash
November 12, 2020

Developing your nonprofit’s brand strategy

To watch or listen to this webinar, please complete the form at the bottom of this page.

Sarah Durham recently hosted a webinar to explore how to develop and use a clear brand strategy. Effective brands are grounded in strategy and include a powerful combination of visuals and messaging.

Here is a recording of the webinar, followed by a transcript of it. Learn how to build your positioning and personality in support of your brand and other helpful tips you need to reach audiences with a consistent, compelling message.


Jen Petersen: For those of you joining us right now, we’re going to wait a few minutes before people start coming in and just feel free to chat in your name, your organization and where you’re from. If you feel comfortable and please do it to all panelists and all attendees. Yeah. Nice to see so many of you coming in, please continue to chat your names and we’ll get started in just a few seconds here. Wonderful. Welcome everybody. Good afternoon. We would like to welcome you to today’s Developing your nonprofit brand strategy webinar. My name is Jen Petersen. I am Big Duck’s marketing coordinator and I use the pronouns she, her and hers. We have just a few reminders for you today. Our session will be 60 minutes long today’s webinar will be recorded, and we’ll send the link to those recordings in a followup email tomorrow to you, along with the resources that we have that we share today, feel free to ask questions.

Jen Petersen: You can type those into the Q&A panel. We’ll have it set that you can view all of that. You can view all questions and even vote up the ones that you would like to have answered. If you’re experiencing any technical difficulties during today’s webinar, please email [email protected]. If you need support [email protected]. If you want to tweet your takeaways, please do so @BigDuck. Follow us at Big Duck on Twitter. So just a few housekeeping things for you today. You should see the Q&A button at the bottom of your screens on the right. You’ll be able to access your controls by hovering over the mouse. At the bottom of that screen, the chat feature is on the left side of that, of the, on the bottom. Be sure to select all panelists and attendees and the drop down. If you’d like to see and respond. If you’d like to, if you’d like others to see and respond to your chat, otherwise it will just be sent to me and Sarah today. That’s all I have for you today. And I am happy to introduce you to Sarah Durham.

Sarah Durham: Thank you, Jen. And welcome everybody who is joining us here today. We’ve got people chatting in where they work and where they are. We’ve got folks, a lot of Canadians here, somebody from Fargo, North Dakota. We’ve got people in California, people in New York, people from all over the place. I am in a gloomy today, Massachusetts central, Massachusetts. Jen, where are you?

Jen Petersen: I am in it’s gloomy today, but I am in Belize.

Sarah Durham: I prompted that because Jen’s and Belize, it’s amazing. Alright, well, Jen is going to be standing by and throughout this session, as she mentioned, she’s going to be keeping track of all the questions you ask. She’ll shoot them over to me at the end, and we will have some time for Q&A, but I’ll also be keeping an eye on that as we go in case there’s anything that comes up that is easy to address on the fly. For those of you who don’t know me, I am the CEO of Big Duck, which I founded in 1995. Big Duck works with nonprofit organizations to help them develop strong brands, strong campaigns, and strong teams. And what we’re talking about today is the strong brand part. So this is very central to what we do here at Big Duck, but we also have a sister agency called Advomatic. Advomatic builds websites for nonprofits in Drupal and WordPress. And it also does technical support for those websites. So if you would like to hear more or learn more about Advomatic, you can truck on over to and there’s a lot of information about Advomatic over there, and I’d be happy to connect you to folks at either business, if you are interested to hear more, but with that, let’s get into our content. I’m going to stop my video right now. And it’s Jen mentioned, we’re recording this. We will be sending a follow up of the deck.

Sarah Durham:So here’s what we’re going to talk about. First, I’m going to take you through a definition of brand strategy, help you think a little bit about what a brand strategy is specifically in a nonprofit context and why it can be helpful for you. We’re also gonna talk about how to use a brand strategy. Some of the people who are on this call are people who’ve already done some branding work, and they’re thinking about how to get the most out of that. I’m also going to try to pause as I go at some key junctures. So again, feel free to chat in questions or comments as we go. And I will see if I can keep an eye on some of those things. But I’ll leave, definitely leave some time at the end. This is a workshop for you, not for me.

Sarah Durham: So please let us know how we can help you get more out of it. Alright, well, the basis for talking about brand strategy is to put the brand strategy in the larger context of an organization’s brand. You know, we often say at Big Duck that your brand is your voice. It’s how you communicate about your organization on a larger sense. And I think 11 years ago now I wrote a book called Brandraising. Here’s the cover of the book. You can find that on Amazon or wherever Wiley sells books these days, and this is the model that’s outlined in the book, strategic planning, it all begins with your vision, your mission, your values, your objectives, the things that you, you examine and look at that set the course for your organization. So of course not every organization goes through a formal strategic planning process.

Sarah Durham: Some organizations do this very informally and that’s okay, too. But as an organization, that is mission-driven everything you do emerges from that mission. So in the Brandraising model, we believe that smart communications always begins with vision missions, values, and objectives, and really understanding who your audiences are. We’re going to talk in a minute about positioning and personality. So we’ll skip over that for now, but you can see that all those things up at the top, in the organizational level of this triangle, they impact everything you do. And they inform the second layer, which is the identity layer. That’s where your visual identity comes in. That’s your logo, the colors you use, photos use all the visual elements you use and also your messaging. And there are lots and lots of ways to do messaging at Big Duck. We typically help organizations either develop organizational messaging ways. They talk about all of their work or sometimes persuasive messaging, the type of messaging that they use chiefly in fundraising or recruitment. When they’re trying to reach a specific audience and get them to take a specific action in a kind of an organized and cohesive way, your visual identity and your messaging, our brand assets, all of the things that you used to communicate are kind of assets or tools. And then you use those assets. You sort of employ them online in print, on air, in person and in mobile.

Sarah Durham: So all of these things together, starting with your vision and your mission down to the tweet that you might send after this webinar, during this webinar, all these things together, shape your organization’s voice. They determine what you’re trying to communicate, who you’re trying to communicate it to and how you’re gonna communicate it. Now, everything I’m talking about today is in this book Brandraising, but hopefully won’t need to buy the book today because you will get enough of cheat sheet from this conversation. But there’s a lot, a lot more detail in that.

Sarah Durham: Okay. So brand strategy, I skipped over this before. Now, it’s time to dig in. If you read books about brand strategy or you Google brand strategy, you will find that there are lots and lots of different models for brand strategy. Strategy is just really an approach. How do you translate that vision, mission, values, all that stuff that you might do in strategic planning, into communications. How do you make sure that you’re communicating something clear and compelling? Well, after many years of studying brand strategy and looking at how for-profits do it and nonprofits do it, we found that the most effective elements to help an organization articulate its brand strategy are positioning and personality. And these are not ideas that we invented here at Big Duck. These are ideas that have been alive and well, in the marketing and communications sector for really, for decades, probably since like the seventies or eighties.

Sarah Durham: So what are they you might ask? Well, positioning is the idea you hope to establish in the minds of your target audiences. So you as an organization have a mission, you need to reach certain people and get them to take action and service of that mission. What do you want them to think when they think of you?

Sarah Durham: Let’s look at a couple of examples. For instance, if I walked out on the streets of New York City and I asked a hundred people, what is the Make-A-Wish Foundation? Have you ever heard of Make-A-Wish, probably a lot of people would say, yeah, I’ve heard of Make-A-Wish. And they might say, well, what they do is they grant wishes for terminally ill kids that is that’s positioning in action. That is a kind of a, a reduction of the essence of what they do into something that people can keep in their minds. And that becomes kind of a big idea that Make-A-Wish as an organization continues to reinforce, or if I ask people, have you ever heard of Doctors without Borders? What do they do? People might say, well, they do international medical aid. They’re doctors who volunteer to do medical support in the field.

Sarah Durham: So these, as you can see are very reductive examples. These are very large, well known organizations, and they probably do a lot more than what we think of when we think of these things. But boiling it down to something simple, a kind of a North star or a destination, is part of how you help people understand who you are and form a picture of your organization that is clear and consistent. So positioning is the first half of an effective nonprofit brand strategy. We found that when organizations take the time to ask the question, what do we want people to think of when they think of us? What’s that simple, big idea that it becomes much easier to communicate in a clear, consistent, cohesive way.

Sarah Durham: If you partner that with personality, this is where you start to form a more dimensional brand strategy. And personality is the tone and style you want people to associate with your organization. This is sort of like a short list of adjectives. I’ll show you some examples of this in a minute. So let’s look at a couple of examples first in the, for profit world and then in the nonprofit world. Starting with the for-profit world, these are probably all brands that you are familiar with. In fact, I’ve used the slide for many years in many different contexts and actually in, in other parts of the world and pretty much everybody, wherever I go knows exactly who the companies are behind each of these logos. But what’s more interesting is we don’t just know the name of the company. We have ideas about these companies. We think, Oh, FedEx, they’re the people I go to if I want to ship a package overnight, even though FedEx actually does more than just overnight delivery, they do all kinds of other things. They kind of own this part of our mind. That is about what they do, or you know, Target. That’s a place where I can go buy all kinds of different things. Now when we couple that with personality, we start to infuse a more emotional connection. So sometimes in my workshops, when I, when I ask people what they think of, when they think of Target, they’ll say things like, Oh, Tarjay they do more design-y products. They’re more like Walmart, but maybe they have better design or more of an aesthetic. And, and that kind of association that becomes more emotional or more style conscious. That’s part of the personality of that brand. Same thing with all of these, we, we tend to not only know something about what they do, but their adjectives. We associate with them, something about the business that we think we understand that it’s part of their personality.

Sarah Durham: Now, when we think about nonprofits and here’s the range from very large, well known organizations to some smaller organizations, some of those things are true, but some of them are different. And I’m just going to toggle back to second for a second to these brands, because one of the things that is true about all these brands is that you are their target market. You have probably interacted with these brands. You are consumers of their products, or even if you haven’t interacted with them or use their products and services, you seen them on the street, you’ve seen them online. They have massive marketing budgets. They have the ability as businesses to get in front of you and try to inspire you to sign up, to buy their products, to, to become a customer.

Sarah Durham: That’s not true for these organizations and it’s not true for several reasons. One reason it’s not true is that we are not all the target audience for every organization. And that’s probably true for a lot of the people on this call too. I mean, some sometimes when a nonprofit contacts Big Duck, we will hear the person we’re talking on the phone with say something like, well, our organization wants to be a household name. We want everybody to know who we are and what we do. Well, if you have a mission that is actually relevant for everybody where everybody might want to support you or benefit from you, perhaps, maybe like the Red Cross, then maybe that is a good objective to have maybe that that’s possible. But for many organizations, the target audience is going to be a little bit more focused. So for instance, Educators Rising, this is an organization that reaches and engages young people to try to inspire them, to become teachers.

Sarah Durham: Sure, we should all care about sparking the next generation of teachers, but it’s not going to be quite as easy to get every person in the country or every person in the world engaged with that mission. So that’s one big way in which positioning and personality are going to be a little different for nonprofits. We’re not necessarily trying to appeal to everybody. We’re trying to appeal to the people who are your target audience, the people you most need to reach and engage in order to advance your mission. Another thing that’s very different is that we don’t all interact or transact with these organizations. We might sometimes see them pop up in our inbox, or online or in social media, but they don’t have marketing budgets. You probably don’t have a marketing or advertising budget to be able to do broad outreach.

Sarah Durham: And in a way that’s why it’s even more important that you be very clear what you’re trying to communicate and how you’re trying to communicate so that when you do reach your target audience, you have the ability to persuade them and move them in in an efficient and effective way. So let’s say you’ve gone to the trouble of developing a brand strategy by which, I mean, you’ve got your organization’s positioning, you’ve got your organization’s personality. And you know, now you’re, you’re wondering what to do with it, or why should you bother going to develop those things? Well, once you’ve got your brand strategy sorted out, you have the ability to start to communicate in a much more cohesive way. But I want to sort of back up and put this in a slightly different context. One of the things that I’ve noticed over the years is that if you ask 10 different people in 10 different organizations, what communications is about for their organization, you’ll get 10 different answers.

Sarah Durham: Well, this is the definition that I find helpful. And I wrote about this in a book that I just published earlier this year called The Nonprofit Communications Engine. My definition is that nonprofit communications is the practice of creating and sustaining mind-share and engagement that advances the mission. What is mind-share? Mind-share is basically awareness. You know, when I use those examples earlier of Doctors without Borders or Make a Wish, they have mind-share, we’ve heard of them before. So we couple mind-share, which is awareness with positioning. That’s that big idea that we think of when we think of them. So not only have we heard of them, but we know something about who they are. Mind-share, and positioning are only as powerful as they are useful to engage people. In other words, it’s not enough that have heard of your organization. It’s not enough that they’ve heard about you and think they know what you do. They actually need to then take action. They need to donate. They need to sign up. They need to become a member. They need to sign a pledge. It’s once they take an action on your behalf, that they help you, they join you in advancing your mission. And that is our goal. So as we think about brand strategy, we want to spark engagement and we use mind share and positioning and personality as tools to build that engagement. Alright, quick plug for that book. Here’s what it looks like. The Nonprofit Communications Engine.

Sarah Durham: Well, another thing that I wrote about in the book that I think relates to brand strategy is the outcomes of a successful communications function. And there are three of them. We’ve talked a little bit about engagement already. That means the right people need to know, remember and connect with your organization and take meaningful action on your behalf. The second is clear voice that your organization’s voice should be clear, credible, compelling, and consistent at all points of contact and brand strategy, first and foremost helps us reinforce that clear voice. The third is sustainable momentum. We want everybody in your organization to be an effective communicator, not just your executive director and not just that board member. Who’s a dynamic speaker. Everybody in your organization should be able to write and speak on message so that they can represent you wherever they are, whether they’re, you know, at a conference or introducing your organization in a program, et cetera.

Sarah Durham: So when you go through the extra sides of the developing a brand strategy, you get a number of benefits. One of the primary benefits is that you start to have some easy tools you can use to train your team, to write and speak on brand. And what I mean by that is that in day to day communications, you might have people who are responsible for social media, other people doing grant writing, other people who are out doing some public, speaking, other people who are out in the field, trying to recruit people into programs. All of those people need a way to talk about the organization. And in many organizations, particularly as organizations grow, what we see is that people become really good at talking about their part of the organization. They’re great at talking about their program for instance, or, or the, the founding story of the organization, but how do you talk about the whole thing, the whole organization in all of its beauty and depth without boring people to tears or going into enormous detail, you do that by making sure you are first and foremost, hitting on positioning and using personality in some engaged way.

Sarah Durham: Another benefit is that your earned owned and paid media, all of those tools reinforce the central ideas of your organization. So earned media, that’s PR that’s when somebody writes about you or you get, you know, coverage on, on on somebody else’s, you know, TV channel or blog or whatever it is owned is your website, your email, your social media, these are your owned channels of communication and paid is advertising. All of those things will feel more consistent. If the people managing them have some clear guidelines for positioning and personality that they can use consistently. The other benefit is that positioning and personality are going to provide a strategic basis for any big brand changes you make. So for instance, if you were going through a process where you needed a new logo, or you were developing new messaging without starting with brand strategy, you tend to get into a situation that is very subjective.

Sarah Durham: If, for instance, I put 50 new logo designs in front of you and there’s no brand strategy you’re going to react to subjectively, you’re going to talk about which ones you like or which ones you don’t like. If there’s brand strategy on the table, the brand strategy gives you another way to assess the value of those logos. You can start to say which of these logos reinforces the big idea, our positioning that we want people to think of when they think of us or which of these logos is most reflective of the personality that we want to express. Okay. So we’re going to talk here about how you can use your brand strategy, but I’m just going to pause for a second, check in with Jen and see if there are any questions. It looks like no questions so far, but feel free to chat them in as we go and we’ll tackle them at the end, if not along the way. But I do want to say Jen has chatted out some links to these books. So if you’re curious to check any of them out, just take a look at the chat.

Sarah Durham: Alright, how can you use your brand strategy? There are a lot of ways to use brand strategy. And I think one of the things that sometimes goes wrong or not really goes wrong, but it is sort of a lost opportunity is that when you create a brand strategy the tendency is just to use it in a rebrand just to use it, to then create a new logo or new messaging or whatever, but actually the best value you’re going to get from it is how you use it in day to day communications. So for starters, if you’ve gone through a brand strategy process, integrate it, and any other brand resources you have into your trainings in HR, because you, when you hire a new person, you want them out of the gate to understand how to write and speak about your organization in a clear and consistent way.

Sarah Durham: Of course, you should use your brand strategy in big projects. So a big project might be not only a new logo or messaging, which I’ve talked about, but when you overhaul your website or when you redesign your newsletter or when you launch a new initiative, even on the program side, you might even have your positioning and personality start to define how, how the program is gonna feel or sound. We’ve even seen organizations who redesigned their office spaces when they move to be on brand, so that as people walk into the office, it feels inspiring and consistent. And Nice chat here from Layla about using this thinking to form 2020 plans. That’s a great idea. I mean, if you, as a communications person can say, okay, what we want to communicate is this idea in this way, what does that mean for how you’re going to communicate next year? And, and Layla, if you’re comfortable chatting in a few of the ways that that has, has come to life in your organization, either to me or Jen privately or to the group, that would be awesome. Don’t forget to use your brand strategy in day to day work. So it doesn’t mean that every tweet has to be perfectly on brand, but it would be nice if the majority of your social media, the majority of things you’re posting to your website, the things that go in your e-newsletters, all that stuff that is the day to day nuts and bolts of communicating felt like it laddered up to the big idea and the tone and style you want to communicate.

Sarah Durham: And then also use it to coach the people who are communicating. So if you’re the communications person in your organization, ideally, maybe like once a year, twice a year, maybe even quarterly, if you’ve just gone through a big organizational overhaul, you’d sit down with your colleagues in other departments and you’d say, hey, let’s look at some of the things you’ve been writing or speaking about or designing. And let’s talk about how much they are how comfortable you are using them and how much they express the voice of our organization. So positioning and personality, or in that organizational level of the brand raising triangle, because they’re not just relevant for the day to day communications, they might even shape some of the things you do in other aspects of your organization. But of course they are going to be very informative and useful for your visuals, your messaging, which by the way, all of that, including your brand strategy, I hope you will put in one big document or one big resource, some sort of comprehensive brand guide so that your colleagues have something that they can read and refer to and use as they’re writing and speaking about your organization. And then all of that is going to shape your day to day communications.

Sarah Durham: And I think, yeah, This is a good place before we dig into some examples also for me to flag that, you know, as communicators we often think of brand guides as, as visual guides, as things that show you how to use the logo for instance, or what colors to use, what the Pantone colors are, or RGB breakdowns are. But actually most of the people in your organization are not going to be designing on your behalf. They’re going to be writing and speaking on behalf of your organization. So positioning and personality also very helpful in that way too, because positioning and personality and messaging work is what most people in your organization are going to be able to use day-to-day. So please try to capture that stuff in your brand guide too, and give trainings on writing and speaking just as much, maybe even more as you do about visuals if you are a communications person who trains your team. Alright, so let’s look at a couple of before/afters and unpack some brand strategies. So you can get a sense of how this comes to life. And these are all these are all examples from organizations that that have given us permission to share this. And I’m just looking actually there’s a really nice chat here that, that Jen just shared with me that from somebody who said that they created a tone of voice guide to really help everyone understand how personality comes to life and communications. I love that a tone of voice guide. That’s exactly what personality is. And it defines the organization’s tone of voice as opposed to the individual. So, so if I’m having a bad day and I’m cranky, or I’m just a snarky person, you don’t want me, my, my attitude infusing your communications. You want it to be the organization’s tone and style. Thanks for that comment.

Sarah Durham: All right. Couple of examples. This is a before of the Center for Constitutional Rights website. So this is what, what their website looked like. And in the process of creating their brand strategy We worked with them on this, but this is actually a process that some people have, have done independently. You could go through this process with volunteers, but the process of creating a brand strategy involves really digging in to the organization’s strategic vision, a strategic plan, or any research that’s been done around the strategic plan, interviewing people both within the organization, but also the people on who are centered in your work, the people who are key to your mission, if you are a school that might mean talking to students or parents or faculty members, not just your leadership. So there’s usually a lot of input points that go into crafting a brand strategy. And out of that, you come up with positioning and personality that is ideally really brief and really differentiated. So for the Center for Constitutional Rights, the positioning that they arrived at was “we dare to fight oppression, regardless of the risks, standing with social justice movements and communities under threat.” And their personalities, unapologetic, agile, tough and impassioned. Now on the right of this slide, you can see their old logo. And the question that we asked strategically and they asked strategically is, is this logo on brand?

Sarah Durham: What does, this visual representation communicate? You know, this personality, does it feel unpolished, genetic, agile, tough impassioned? And does it, does it communicate as much as it could? And the answer to that was no, it actually could be a lot gutsier. So after a redesign, it ended up looking like this, and I’m not going into the redesign process in depth cause our focus today is specifically about brand strategy, but you can see that again, the, the outcome of this was to come up with a new logo where the name wasn’t changed, but where the positioning and personality felt more alive, that it felt more on strategy.

Sarah Durham: Here’s another before for one of the organizations I showed you before this, this organization was called Future Educators Association, and you can see up at the top and organization for high school students interested in education, careers. And you already know probably from the preview I gave you before that they ended up changing their name. But so the positioning that they arrived at was that they cultivate skilled teachers sustainably and at scale, and they want to communicate that they’re energized expert, fresh, charismatic, and powerful. Now this logo certainly does not do that. It feels very kind of, you know, dry and not dynamic, but a new logo where elements point up a tagline like there’s power in teaching certainly feels much more on personality than a tagline, like an organization for high school students interested in education, careers, neither of them is wrong per se, but, but what is differentiating about one or the other? And I should note actually that is part of our process and a part of your process. If you, if you go through this process on your own, it is really critical to look at your peer landscape. It’s really, really important to look at who else is out there communicating in your space and how do they communicate? How are you going to set yourself apart from them and differentiate with them so that when you’re collaborating with them, it’s clear how you’re different and where you’re aligned or when you’re working in different spaces, people don’t confuse you.

Sarah Durham: Here’s another quick example from the New York Women’s Foundation. I believe this is the, the before of the website, the position That arrived at is that we are the expert in women’s philanthropy, transforming our city into adjust and thriving place for all their personalities, authentic entrepreneurial, fierce, inclusive, and authoritative. And again, you can see there’s nothing wrong with this logo. This logo is perfectly nice, but it’s certainly not fierce. And it could be, it could be, you know, less soft. It’s got a sort of quiet quality to it, this logo. So after redesigning their identity, they ended up coming up with a much bolder look and this tagline “Radical generosity” which one of our copywriters at big duck wrote I think really, really embraces and expresses their positioning and their personality. We often think of the name of your organization, the logo, and the tagline is kind of a system. They travel together. When I look for instance at your website, odds are good I’m going to see your name, your logo, and your tagline kind of as, as one part of the system, but they’re not the only ways you express your brand or that your brand strategy can shine through. It shines through on the pictures you choose. Who are you showing? How are you showing those people? Are you showing people who look, in the case of the New York Women’s Foundation, authentic entrepreneurial, fierce, inclusive, and authoritative, or are you showing images that actually are sort of a disconnect from what you’re, what you’re trying to communicate? So these are, these are some of the ways that you can start to apply brand strategy in, in what you do.

Sarah Durham: Okay. So this is just a plug to remind folks to chat in questions as we go. I’m going to keep, keep talking for a couple more minutes, but we’re going to pivot over in, you know, in the next few minutes into addressing your question. So some coming and it looks like we’ve got a few already, Jen and I will turn on our cameras in a minute when we get to Q&A too. And we’ll use our voices to address your questions.

Sarah Durham: Okay. So how do you know your brand strategy is coming across clearly? Well, it’s interesting, you know, we did a study at Big Duck a few years ago called The Rebrand Effect, that we actually have an ebook about that. And Jen, maybe if you, if you can find it in our eBooks on our website and chat it to the group, this might be a helpful resource. If you’re, if you’re really wondering if all this rebranding stuff is worth it, what we did in this study was we hired a market research firm and we went through a process of recruiting people who worked in nonprofits, who were not our clients. And then we asked them to take a survey about if they had rebranded and what they changed and what they did.

Sarah Durham: And we looked in the survey at what goals were of rebranding and whether or not these organizations achieved those goals. And if they did achieve the goals, what else was going on and, and, and how did they measure success? And one of the things that was universal in that research as a finding, and we see a lot in our work at big duck too, is that when you change your brand strategy and when you’re using things more consistently, you find that your staff really gets a lift. And that sounds like not the biggest benefit in the world because it’s very internal, but it’s actually very powerful. If all of a sudden your team feels empowered to communicate and feels like they know how to write and speak and design on message, they are much more likely to go out and talk about your work. They are much more likely at the conference to give a short, sweet, effective elevator pitch that actually gets the other person to ask for more information. And so that lift in terms of your team feeling like they are empowered to communicate is one of the most immediate benefits of doing this work.

Sarah Durham: But you can also use your brand strategy in your earned, owned and paid media. This is part of the nuts and bolts day to day communications work. That probably a lot of you on this call are engaged in. So again, your owned media, that’s the stuff your organization controls, your website, your email, social media, things like that. Is that on message, are you reinforcing that big idea you want to reinforce and are you using a copy and design and other elements that are on personality. Earned media can be a little bit trickier because in earned media, you’re probably being interviewed by a journalist or you’re being covered in some sort of collaborative initiative with other people, and you don’t necessarily get to control all the images or even control what they communicate, but if you’ve done any kind of media training and you, we have a brand strategy into that media training, or even you just remind the person before they get interviewed, what the positioning and personality is, you can find that, that, that it is you, you, you’re much more likely to see those people give answers to questions that reflect a more deliberate intentionality around the communications or the voice of the organization.

Sarah Durham: Finally, your paid media is much like your own media. These are things like your Google grant ads or if you do geo-targeting for instance where you really get to control the visuals and control the messaging and in a really short and dynamic way run campaigns that express your personality. And that will in turn help ensure that the people you are trying to reach are going to be more likely to engage in your mission, because if at every point of contact in your earned owned and paid media, or even when they hear somebody speak or they go to an event, the same ideas get reinforced, then they start to form a more cohesive and consistent understanding of your organization. One of the exercises that we often do at Big Duck that I think is really informative, that you can try is we will, we will look at an organization, social media posts, look at their website. We will grab a bunch of brochures or flyers, whatever we can get that an organization is used to communicate with. We’ll kind of lay it all out on a table and we’ll just look at what it says. What are the big ideas coming across? Are you communicating in a way that feels powerful and consistent and persuasive, or is your voice as an organization feeling fragmented or disconnected?

Sarah Durham: We also do a lot of work around brand architecture. And what we often see is organizations who have a program or an initiative that kind of almost gets its own brand. It kind of starts to look and feel and sound unlike anything else. And that can be a little bit of a disconnect. It’ll mean that maybe that program’s communications are powerful, but it doesn’t connect back to the mothership of your organization.

Sarah Durham: So I see a lot of questions coming in. I want to get over to those questions. So we’re going to do that in a minute. I’m just going to share some other resources with you before we get into the Q&A, so that if you are going to DIY your brand strategy, you’ve got a couple of other tools up your sleeve besides this talk.

Sarah Durham: First we just published an ebook about brand strategy. So a lot of what I’ve been talking about today is in this ebook and Jen just chatted out a link to it. You can download this for free, but this will give you something that you can not only reference in the future, but you can share with your colleagues if you’re trying to help them understand what this is about. And then of course, there’s the two books that I mentioned earlier, Brandraising which is probably about 10 years old now, and The Nonprofit Communications Engine, which is sort of a bigger picture look at how your organization needs to set up a communication system that hums along. And actually I’m going to be doing a webinar about this. That’s coming up pretty soon over for Advomatic. I think that Jen can probably chat out a link to that too. If people would like to sign up to hear more about other aspects of your communications engine, that would be a good way to do it.

Sarah Durham: I have the great joy of hosting Big Duck’s podcast, which is called The Smart Communications Podcast. This is on Spotify and iTunes and a bunch of other places where, where podcasts exists and each of these episodes is like 10 or 15 minutes long, and they are designed to help boost your organization’s capacity for communications too. So I hope if you like podcasts, you’ll check them out and let us know what you think. Alright. So I am going to stop sharing my screen, turn on my video. I am going to ask Jen, there’s, Jen asked Jen to join me and welcome back, Jen and Jen is going to help with the Q&A. So I’m ready when you are.

Jen Petersen: Perfect. So let me just find the first question from Alex Bennett, potentially a nonprofit could say almost any, almost everyone is their target audience, because almost everyone can be a donor or a user. So it seems brand strategy means selecting the most important audiences. What are basic basic principles in that?

Sarah Durham: Yeah. Yeah, that’s, that’s a great way to frame the dilemma, Alex. And I think that that’s why a lot of people do sort of default to the, we want to be known as a household name in The Nonprofit Communications Engine book, there is a visual and I wish I had it in front of me now, but basically it’s like concentric circles. It’s like a bullseye. And the question is who, which audience should be at the middle of the bullseye because they are so essential to your mission. So to use one example, I served on the board of the National Brain Tumor Society for many years. And that is an organization that is all about conquering and curing brain tumors. So who’s at the middle of that circle. Patients with brain tumors, people directly affected by brain tumors have to be at the central audience for that organization because advancing the mission is all about that audience and maybe the next layer out or their family or their friends or people who work in the clinical brain tumor space or the research space.

Sarah Durham: And then another layer out might be people who work in the CDC or the National Institutes of Health or people who have distant connections to people affected by brain tumors. But you don’t start at the outside and work in, you start at the inside and work out. And that’s because there is never enough money. And there is never enough time even in the for-profit world, but particularly in the nonprofit world, to start at the outside. So once that core base of supporters, that the people who are most essential to your mission know who you are, understand what you’re about. It will be easier to unlock the subsequent rings of audiences.

Jen Petersen: Great. Thank you, Sarah. We have another question from Carolyn FatherGill. Her question is how do you help clients and their board members get past their subjective preferences and committing to the same brand strategy, even if some don’t personally like it?

Sarah Durham: Yeah, this is a great question. And you know, it’s one that we have explored in a lot of different ways over the years at Big Duck, because we rebrand many organizations every year and we’ve been doing it for 25 years. So we’ve rebranded hundreds and hundreds of organizations at this point. And the reality is you cannot fight people’s subjective preferences, that particularly for the staff and especially the leadership of the organization, you really have to like it cause you got to live with it. I think that infusing a conversation about brand strategy gives you a lens to start to create some shared language, is this on strategy. And sometimes over time we have found that people who have maybe a personal preference for something or subjective feeling like they don’t like a particular color when they understand intellectually that that color is very on strategy, that it really reflects the personality of the organization sometimes that will shift their perception.

Sarah Durham: So my advice to you is lead with a conversation about brand strategy, but make room for people’s feelings. I mean, we are, we are humans and if you have to live with this thing, it’s, it is good that people like it. And, and there is also a real challenge about getting lots of people to like it, your full board or your full staff to love. It is probably not going to be realistic, but hopefully you’re working if possible with either a consultant or you are able to facilitate discussions about that. There will have to be some amount of compromise there.

Jen Petersen: Great. Thank you for that one, Sarah, what the next question coming up is from Taylor Spooner, we have multiple comp I’m sorry. We have multiple components that make up our nonprofit revenue generating industries that compliment our fundraising. They each have their own target audiences too. How do you go about speaking to all of these different audiences while staying on brand?

Sarah Durham: Yeah, that’s a very common challenge in larger organizations. When you have fee for service programs, I’m thinking, for instance, about one museum in New York City that I’m aware of that has a fee for service program, which is actually the parking lot of the museum. And a lot of people just park in the parking lot. And don’t go to the museum. When you start with the organization’s voice and when you’re doing the work of your organization’s brand strategy, you definitely should be pressure testing it against your sub brands. You should be asking the question, is this organizational voice going to be appropriate across all the different sub brands we have? For many organizations there has never been brand strategy work, or there has been messaging or visual work that’s been incomplete. And so a good first step is to start with a little bit of a one-size-fits-all framework if you’ve never done that before.

Sarah Durham: And then as time goes on and you’re used to speaking with one voice as an organization, you can start to segment, you can start to develop you know, specific messaging for specific programs, for instance, and, and again, brand architecture, which is the strategy for thinking about how you organize all those different programs and initiatives so that they do feel related, but also usefully distinctive. That’s a really important part of a rebrand. And so a brand architecture strategy can be very helpful and Jen, I don’t know if you, if I think I mentioned that ebook earlier, but if you haven’t already, maybe we can send out as a resource in the followup. We’ll send out the brand architecture ebook.

Jen Petersen: Great. Thank you. Our next question is from an anonymous attendee and the question is, as some nonprofits are feeling that they’re on hiatus this year, is this the best time to rebrand for 2021 as a respraying or the worst or the worst? Because after a quieter period, it may be confusing.

Sarah Durham: Yeah. You know, I have done a lot of webinars with some excellent fundraisers this year. People like Craig Shelley at the ORR Group who’s super smart. People at CCS Fundraising, one of the questions that’s been coming up a lot in webinars is this idea of being quiet right now. Should we fundraise right now? Should we have our capital campaign right now? We rebrand right now. And I think for a lot of organizations, they are taking a step back because of the, you know, uncertainty of these times, the fundraisers that I’ve been talking to actually advise against that. They all say, you got to keep out there, you’ve got to keep that mind-share going. You’ve got to keep raising money. And I think actually that is also true for rebranding, that usually when you rebrand an organization, you get a lift, you see a positive benefit from that and you need that lift as soon as you can get it.

Sarah Durham: So don’t, don’t wait until it feels like the world is emerging from this, this strange pandemic moment to do it. And actually over at Advomatic, Theresa Gutierrez-Jacobs wrote a terrific blog about that. She wrote a blog about going live with a new website and a new brand, in this moment and what can happen. And we’ve seen a few organizations go live with new brands now. And definitely the fuss that they’re making about the relaunched brand is, is quieter. It’s, there’s less fuss perhaps right now than there might be in some other times, but they are seeing a lift. They’re seeing a lift in donations and they’re seeing a lift in support from that. So I wouldn’t wait if you have the time and energy to do it.

Jen Petersen: Awesome. Thank you. Next question is from Evelyn Matheeney. We are developing a brand monitor and we will be looking at this for a number of core external audiences. How important is it to measure this from a staff perspective?

Sarah Durham: Okay, well brand monitors can mean a lot of different things, but what I think you are referring to Evelyn, is a brand monitor is usually a way of benchmarking or tracking public perception. And at Big Duck for many years, we actually had had a brand tracking tool. We created it was called The Brandraising Benchmark, and it was basically a public awareness polling device we created, so that we were able to measure has the public ever heard of this organization and what do they think about the organization? And then after the rebrand, you can go back and repeat that study and you can see, have you moved the needle are more people now aware of the organization, or have more people grown to trust or support this organization. After many years of doing that sturdy survey, we started to conclude certain things about the value of brand monitoring or polling.

Sarah Durham: And one of the big things we concluded was that the answers that you get from your poll tend to be skewed by a number of variables. I won’t go too deep into that, cause that may be too much of a tangent, but what is really important or really valuable in brand monitoring is not what people say about this pole. It’s the difference between this pole and the next pole and the next poll, assuming you’re conducting the same survey at, at regular intervals. So if every six months you do that brand monitor and you ask the same people, the same questions in the same way, you are going to start to see changes your awareness level, going up your mind-share, going up your, you know, the positioning and personality starting to stick. It’s the tracking of those differences where brand monitoring is valuable. With that said, most nonprofits cannot afford to do that kind of research. And they don’t. The very large organizations do it. The organizations like Make-A-Wish do have a, an annual research budget for brand awareness tracking, but the vast majority of organizations that we’ve worked with don’t budget for that. And that seems to be okay. They see the results in other ways through fundraising support, through a programmatic recruitment, et cetera, et cetera.

Jen Petersen: Awesome. Thank you. Next question is from Poly Laughlin, how often should you publish an email in an enewsletter? We do a quarterly.

Sarah Durham: Well, you know, there are, a lot of people have written about this and we’ve dug into how often should you publish your enews in a few different projects with clients. I think the typical nonprofit, if I remember the stat correctly produces a weekly enews, I think that’s about right. It might be, it might even be 60 emails a year and I might be wrong about that. So don’t quote me on that exact number, but definitely enews has changed a lot over these years. You know, when I started working in nonprofit communications in the nineties, it was all print and it was quarterly or monthly because writing and designing and printing that thing and mailing, it was expensive and time consuming, et cetera. What has changed over the years is a shift towards doing smaller, more clickable emails that drive people to visit your website, to read more.

Sarah Durham: And I am a pretty big fan of a once a week enews or once a month enews, but what you’re getting is content that is coming that is bringing you to the website. So for instance, if you subscribe to Big Duck’s newsletter, which many of you do you’ll know, we produce a once a month newsletter, but that newsletter is just packed with articles and links and things like that. Jen actually produces that newsletter. And and when you click on any of those things, you go right to the article and that’s the goal. The goal is to bring people to your website so that once they’re on your website, they can poke around and read more and get more information.

Jen Petersen: Great. That was super helpful. Our next question is from Kylie Soulfas, how long should the process of creating a brand strategy take? What does it look like to create an implementation plan and establish a realistic timeline to make the change?

Sarah Durham: So how long your brand strategy takes is going to depend on a few variables? One variable is the relationship of the brand strategy development to strategic planning or other changes in your organization. The ideal way, and our belief to do brand strategy is as part of, or right after a strategic planning process. In a robust, strategic planning process. You’re already talking to your primary audiences, you’re already doing research. You’re already looking at your peer landscape. And that is a great opportunity to just layer in some additional questions or some additional thinking about brand strategy. Big Duck has done a few projects where we either lead or are embedded in strategic planning processes, and the brand strategy is just one of the outcomes of that process. Other times we will pick up where that process leaves off. So if you’ve gone through a robust strategic planning process, the brand strategy lift is a little bit lighter because there’s less research to do.

Sarah Durham: For most of the organizations we work with from start to, I mean, we have a process to develop brand strategy. That’s pretty fast and, and a little bit down and dirty for organizations that have just done strategic planning and who have process fatigue. So it can take as little as a month or six weeks. That’s a pretty fast timeline and that’s building on existing research. It can take as much as three or four months to develop a robust brand strategy if you’re starting from scratch and you’re doing the research and you’re talking to a lot of people in your community as part of that research process.

Jen Petersen: Great. Thank you. We’ve got about four questions left, which should just be, keep us right on time. Our next question is from summit Simon McDonough, have you seen any best practices about how to onboard new team members into brand strategy besides dumping a lengthy brand branding guidelines on them?

Sarah Durham: Yeah, I mean, I think that in the organizations that have done this really well, that I’ve seen have, have developed trainings that are integrated into onboarding. So what you’re describing Simon, is I start my job at your nonprofit and somebody hands me this massive brand guide. And they were like, good luck, Sarah, you know, go use this. What if instead, when I joined your organization, I get a short video to watch that maybe your communications director or your executive director has prerecorded explaining why the voice of the organization is important and why you as a new staff person can play a role in communicating clearly and consistently, and kind of gets me motivated, tells me a little bit about why, how do you use the brand, the brand, a guide, or why the brand strategy is important. And then I get that brand guide and I can process it.

Sarah Durham: And then maybe a month later you come knocking on my door and you say, Hey, Sarah, I just want to check, do you have any questions about that? Can I talk you through some things? Here’s some examples, et cetera. So I think just like any training for new staff, the more you make it a little three-dimensional and holistic, the more powerful it can be. In fact, I just had a call recently with a client of Big Duck’s who we rebranded three or four years ago, who the director of development who manages communications, also, she actually made this really awesome, very short video and she made it so that every time there’s a new board member, it’s like a board brand training tool. And she just recorded this really compelling, short thing about why it’s important and how to use it. And now she’s got it. And every board, new board member gets it as part of their welcome kit.

Jen Petersen: Great. Thanks Sarah. A couple more questions. The next one is from Andina Butler. She says, great presentation. Do you think that all people are used at every level of an org should be given a baseline understanding of the brands of the org’s brand strategy or are the vision mission and values enough?

Sarah Durham: Personally, I’d like everybody in your organization to get a little bit more than the vision and mission. I mean, the vision and mission absolutely is essential. If I understand the vision and mission, you know, that that’s really the DNA of your organization, but that doesn’t necessarily help me with how to write or speak or produce materials on behalf of the organization. So I think if you hire a lot of part time people or people who come and go very quickly where they’re not going to be writing and speaking on behalf of your organization, maybe those people don’t need much more than the vision and mission, but anybody who’s going to be around for a while who might be communicating on your behalf in any context, I think a little bit more training is a really valuable thing and certainly giving them a brand guide and ideally also giving them some, some onboarding, some orientation and some follow-up coaching. It’s not that big a lift for the people on your communications team, usually to do that kind of training, but you get enormous benefit from people feeling empowered and, and able to write and speak on brand.

Jen Petersen: Great. One last question. I think you can probably answer pretty easily. It’s from Drew Rosenthal. He would like to know what is Advomatic?

Sarah Durham: Oh, well thank you for asking Drew. Advomatic is a company that builds and supports nonprofit websites in Drupal and WordPress. It is Big Duck’s sister agency. So sometimes when big duck takes an organization through our brand raising process, Advomatic then helps bring that brand to life through the website and also maintains the website so that it is bug free and up to date. And, and the shelf-life of the website lasts a lot longer. And Drew, if you’re curious, you can check it out at Advomatic.Com.

Jen Petersen: Great. Thank you guys for your questions. I thank you, everyone for joining us. We hope you enjoyed the session and found it valuable. You can always find future webinars and Just to remind you that we will send a copy of this recording out to all registrants tomorrow, along with all the resources that we’ve shared with you today, if you have any feedback, we really welcome that we love to hear from you. So please make it constructive and, and appreciative, and we will send it to [email protected]. Thank you again so much for joining us and we have several free webinars coming up over the next six weeks. So we look forward to seeing you there. Thanks for joining us again and have a good day.

Sarah Durham: Jen. Thank you. And everybody, thank you. Stay safe and be well and thank you for the awesome work you all do to make the world we live in a better place.

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