January 30, 2015

Adopting national branding

1 comment

Stacy Jones

Stacy Jones

For the most part, when people hear the names American Red Cross, American Heart Association, Boys and Girls Clubs and Girl Scouts, there is pretty quick recognition as to what these organizations do.

Finding people who have never heard of these organizations or don't know the purpose they serve in communities would be a challenge. 

What these organizations have in common is they are local, independent organizations that are a part of a much broader network of state and national organizations.

They meet a local need with the backing of a national brand.

It might be surprising to learn that many nonprofits function this way.

Across most states you can find the same organization located county to county, or regionally, serving the same purpose.

These local organizations are then part of a state association, which is then a part of a national association.

Why then don't these organizations have the same immediate brand recognition as the others?

One of the reasons is there is no national branding for these nonprofits. Each local organization has its own brand, including its own name, logo and key messaging. There is no unity in their brand either within or across states.

These local organizations' brands evolved over time to meet the local flavor. Many of these organizations have stood resistant to adopting a national brand and for some, a national brand has never been attempted.

Arguments for not adopting a national brand have included:

  • A local brand maintains independence, which is important for meeting local needs
  • No consensus in brand can be built or enforced
  • Fear that if some negative press occurs with one organization, the whole network's brand will take a hit

While these certainly are valid arguments, to an extent, the benefits of adopting the national brand far outweigh any drawbacks, and there are national models that can be used to overcome these challenges.

Immediate brand recognition

As with any chapter or franchise in the for-profit sector, the stronger the brand, the more recognition it enjoys.

Nonprofits spend so much of their time telling and retelling who they are and what they do, working hard to build trust with their constituency.

Utilizing a national brand lets a local organization cut right through to how their particular organization impacts their local community.

They are still able to stay local, just like some Boys and Girls Clubs that offer services others don't, while having the recognition and trust that is reinforced statewide and nationally.

The unity and strength of the brand positively affect each part of the whole.

Strong network

Imagine connecting with a donor or legislator who already knows who you are and what you do because you have strong brand recognition.

They are able to connect your work with the positive work of your entire network all across the county.

Each time your national and state association gets positive press, it bolsters your local brand. The great work of the entire network helps to promote your organization locally and nationally.

Many voices working in unison, imparting the same message, builds stronger donor and legislative support. 

Shared marketing and messaging

Let's be honest, marketing can be hard work for small nonprofits.

Many are unable to keep their own brands straight: multiple logos, varying color schemes, differing tag lines and key messaging.

Some have no marketing plan and little to no marketing budget. Being a part of a national brand can cut out some of the challenges.

A set logo, color scheme, tag line and key messaging can help keep things simple.

A local organization's small part in an overall national marketing plan is often more manageable, rather than an organization feeling adrift promoting its brand on its own.

Stacy Jones is a senior project director at SHOESTRING: the nonprofit's agency, and is located in Troy, NY. Stacy can be reached at nonprofitexperts@shoestringagency.org or 1-888-835-6236.

Comment on this article


All of them have a sort of brand value and I think its more a name of trust than a marketing hyperbole. When these organizations come into play we have the feeling of being trustworthy and reliance. Be it a brand or not, they serve a purpose.

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