Book Review: Breakthrough Nonprofit Branding

I don't read many books anymore. Social media has ruined me. Give me the 140 character summary. But I knew I would read a book by Jocelyne Daw and Carol Cone. I've been learning from these two women for years.

You know from reading my blog that I'm a local, transactional cause marketer. If you're a cause with a corporate partner I'll show you how to raise money with register programs and cause products. I'll help you enhance those efforts with special events, social media and location-based services.

But what I do has limits. And through the years I've grappled with how nonprofits can shift to truly transformative cause marketing. I even posted about this recently and enviously explained how some cause brands are like magnets that attract power, partners and money to pursue their worthy missions.

But how do they do it?

Breakthrough Nonprofit Branding has a lot of good answers.

BNB identifies seven principles for evolving a cause brand from something ordinary that has no pull to something powerful and really serves the cause. The best part is the 11 case studies the authors use to illustrate the principles, which really bring them to life.

My two favorite causes profiled were UNICEF and the Food Bank For New York City because they both reminded me of my own organization in some way.

UNICEF reminded me of my hospital because the initial research done on the brand revealed that people were unsure what UNICEF stood for. I think the same is true of my hospital. Sure, we're New England's largest safety-net hospital, but what does that really mean? Some key takeaways for me from this section were:

  • Research is key. If you have to figure out where your brand stands before you can chart a course for it.
  • The value proposition of your brand has to be simple and actionable. UNICEF: Whatever it takes to save a child.
  • Identify and label your core supporter community. For UNICEF it was empathetic globals, "people who care about the developing world and feel very strongly that people and the government should do much more to help those in need."

The Food Bank For New York City had me thinking of our food pantry that this year will serve 90,000 men, women and children--nearly double the mouths we fed just two years ago. Again, as with UNICEF, research revealed that external audience just weren't sure what the food bank did (its original name was Food for Survival). Two of the key lessons from their rebranding included:

  • This process begins at the very top of the organization. The board and senior management must be fully engaged for the rebranding to be successful. I really admire the food bank for the courage it took to admit that things weren't working and the cause needed a change.
  • To be a breakthrough brand you have to be bold in your goals. It wasn't enough for the food bank to focus on food delivery and 1,000 food pantries and soup kitchens they supplied across New York City. As the authors note they had to shift to the "higher-order, more compelling cause of addressing hunger and food poverty for New York City system wide." Yeah, the vision thing that stirs donors' ideals and giving.

After learning all seven principles and seeing them in action with 11 causes I gained a new appreciation for just how important (and demanding) rebranding is for a cause. It's a pilgrim's journey full of meaning, reflection and uncertainty. The trip is not for the fainthearted nor for the solitary traveler.

Fortunately, in the uncertain waters of nonprofit branding, we finally have a compass and a companion in Breakthrough Nonprofit Branding.