The Secret To Managing Nonprofit Brands

Jan 19 2014, 3:08am CST | by

The Secret To Managing Nonprofit Brands

In an interview with Nathalie Laidler-Kylander, co-author of a new book titled The Brand IDEA: Managing Nonprofit Brands with Integrity, Democracy, and Affinity, we explored the origins of the book, key themes and insights, and how best to apply this new framework to your own nonprofit organization.

Rahim Kanani: Tell me a little bit about the origins of this work. What motivated you to explore this topic in such great depth, and why now?

Nathalie Laidler-Kylander: The origins of this work came from a desire to understand how and why so many nonprofit organizations had strong and trusted brands. Over the past decade, I (Nathalie) conducted research on nonprofits, developing case studies and exploring the drivers of brand equity with several different colleagues. More recently, as a Senior Research Fellow at the Hauser Institute at Harvard University, through a generous grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, I co-authored an article with Christopher Stone in the Stanford Social Innovation Review titled, “The Role of Brand in the Nonprofit Sector”  (Spring, 2012). The positive response to this article inspired further research, culminating in the publication of The Brand IDEA: Managing Nonprofit Brands with Integrity, Democracy and Affinity, (Jossey-Bass, 2014 with co-author Julia Shepard Stenzel). The book is therefore the result of over a decade of research and incorporates data from interviews with over one hundred organizations.

The motivation to write and publish this book was really to help all nonprofit organizations manage and build their brands more effectively to implement their missions. The growth of social media and an increased emphasis on collaboration have changed the nonprofit landscape. As a result, organizations are increasingly interested in understanding how they can best manage their brand to achieve their desired impact. There have been few resources available that address this issue. Julia and I were motivated to fill this need, sharing the voices and wisdom that emerged from our research. The brand IDEA framework defines a new paradigm for brand management. We were truly inspired by the many people we spoke with who devote their lives to making the world a better place.

Kanani: What does the IDEA framework stand for and how did you come up with this concept?

Laidler-Kylander: The acronym IDEA stands for brand Integrity, brand Democracy, and brand Affinity.

Brand Integrity means that an organization can describe who they are, what they do, and why in a way that embodies their core mission and values. The internal identity of the organization is consistent with the image that external audiences hold.

Brand Democracy refers to a process that actively engages internal and external audiences in both defining and communicating the organization’s brand. It is this process that builds brand Integrity, harnessing the power of social media, and reducing the need for strict brand controls.

Brand Affinity leverages the brand to support collaboration and partnerships, working with other organizations toward shared goals in order to maximize social impact.

The brand IDEA framework differs from traditional brand management approaches in three key ways. First, the focus of the brand is on the mission and values of the organization, not on customers. Second, positioning of the brand is designed to support collaboration to achieve shared goals, rather than competitive advantage. Third, instead of tight policing of the brand, we argue for much greater participation and engagement in defining and communicating the brand.

This framework came through a rigorous review and distillation of our research. We wanted to synthesize the approaches of successful organizations using terms that would resonate with people in the nonprofit sector.

Kanani: With this framework in mind, what are some examples of nonprofit organizations that are effective in managing their brands, and does that translate into better outcomes on the ground?

Laidler-Kylander: There are so many excellent organizations effectively embracing and managing their brands that it is difficult to choose just a few examples. We are impressed by the work done at Special Olympics to realign and manage their brand. Organizational growth had led to internal confusion and a plethora of interpretations of the Special Olympics brand. A Steering Committee with broad representation worked to incorporate local input (brand Democracy), ultimately developing a guiding idea that is communicated in both words, “revealing the champion in all of us,” and in pictures. The realigned brand embodies the mission and values of the organization (brand Integrity). The organization manages its brand using clear guidelines and simple tools that support local needs. According to the organization, adoption of the realigned brand has been very successful and has led to greater clarity and consistency.

The Center for Civilians in Conflict is a smaller organization with an effective brand that defines the organization’s unique value and how it fits in the ecosystem of related organizations. Proactive brand management allows the organization to have clarity on who they are and facilitates their ability to cultivate new relationships and build new partnerships to achieve an even greater impact (brand Affinity).

The Omaha Community Foundation attributes much of its recent growth (54% increase in assets over 5 years, 221% increase in new gifts) to work it has done on its brand. This is an organization that has a very strategic view of its brand. The brand reflects the importance of partnerships with donors, nonprofits, and beneficiaries, and aligns with the organization’s mission.

Save the Redwoods League actively manages their brand, incorporating the concept of brand into everything they do. As a result, the brand becomes an effective filter for decision-making, helping the organization stay true to its mission and values. This isn’t done through strict control of the brand, but by engaging stakeholders and providing guidance and training. As a result, the organization has built trust with other organizations, resulting in more partnerships and projects.

Kanani: At the same time, perhaps without naming names, what kinds of nonprofit organizations are less effective at managing their brands, and how does that affect organizational impact?/>/>

Laidler-Kylander: The organizations that are less effective at managing their brands are ones that don’t view their brand as a strategic asset. Some nonprofit practitioners still view their brands simply as fundraising tools and they are skeptical about brand and the role it can play in strengthening their organization and furthering the organization’s mission. The brand is so much more than a logo and should be managed with the goal of supporting mission impact, not just fundraising or PR. In those organizations where brand is not connected to the mission and values, the result can be confusion, as well as distrust or misunderstanding by external stakeholders, including donors, beneficiaries, and partners. All of these limit the ability of the organization to implement its mission and achieve impact.

Many organizations also fail to understand the important role a brand can play internally. While the external role a brand plays in building trust with stakeholders is fairly obvious, the internal role is less so. Organizations that engage internal stakeholders, and help them to understand and internalize the brand, increase organizational cohesion and effectiveness. Stories that capture the essence of the brand are effective for both internal and external audiences.

Kanani: As you dug deeper into these issues, did anything in particular surprise you along the way?

Laidler-Kylander: We were truly surprised by how this framework resonated with people in all types of nonprofit organizations. We spoke with several organizations that had used the brand IDEA framework from the SSIR article to support their rebranding efforts. They commented on how the language and concepts of brand Democracy, Integrity, and Affinity helped to bring people together and overcome skepticism, particularly at moments when the process was challenging. Many individuals and organizations have changed their mindset dramatically, inviting participation and building a strong brand that can then be freely shared, rather than policed.

Another surprise we found was how the framework is consistent with many concepts related to nonprofit management. For example, a participative approach to brand management fits well with the movement toward greater organizational porosity and open innovation, and the approaches of collective impact and collaborative networks parallel our notion of brand Affinity.

Finally, a number of public sector managers have reached out to us expressing interest in using the Brand IDEA framework as a useful tool for their organizational entities. While we are just starting to explore this, there may indeed be some aspects of the brand IDEA that could be useful beyond the nonprofit sector, particularly the notions of brand Democracy and Affinity.

Kanani: If you were to apply the IDEA framework to a nonprofit organization assessing their own brand strategy or looking to implement one, how might the application of your framework differ if the organization was a few dozen employees versus a few thousand employees?

Laidler-Kylander: In our book, we devote a chapter to exploring how different aspects of the Brand IDEA might be more relevant for different kinds of nonprofit organizations. For example, organizations at the very start of their organizational lifecycle might focus on the development of brand identity through brand Democracy. An organization that is the mature phase of its lifecycle might be more concerned with aligning brand identity with brand image. Likewise, service delivery organizations may have a different approach to brand Affinity than advocacy organizations whose mission may depend on building partnerships and coalitions to raise awareness.

Having said this, we believe that all aspects of the brand IDEA framework are relevant to many different kinds of nonprofit organizations. The suggestions we provide for implementing the brand IDEA can be adopted by everyone. In the case of a small versus a very large organization, the application of the framework is essentially the same. As with any organizational change, implementation in large organizations can take more time and energy in proportion to the size and complexity of the organization.

Kanani: Finally, if you were to give readers in managerial positions across the social sector three actionable insights to managing their brand more effectively, what would they be?

Laidler-Kylander: One: Start thinking of your brand as more than just a fundraising tool. If you think of brand as a strategic tool that embodies your mission, drives organizational cohesion and enables you to create greater impact, you will be already more than half way to managing your brand more effectively.

Two: Get comfortable with letting go of your urge to control your brand. Engage a variety of stakeholders in both the articulation and communication of the brand and start building both internal and external brand ambassadors. Provide guidance and support such that brand management becomes part of everyone’s job.

Three: Use your brand to further your mission and achieve greater impact through partnerships and collaborations with other organizations that share similar goals. Since none of us can achieve our goals alone, our brand is instrumental in attracting and supporting the partners that we need.

Source: Forbes Business

 
 

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