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  • Dr. Ken Thiessen

Branding and Nonprofits - Part 2


Brand Reputation and Brand Promise

Brand Reputation

In my last blog post, I focused in on the need for nonprofit organizations to identify their core beneficiaries and articulate their core competencies. Once you’ve identified your core beneficiary and you’ve articulated your core competencies you can begin to become more specific about your brand reputation - that one thing that your organization is known for, or that you want it to be known for. Several examples may be helpful. For the Red Cross, their Brand Reputation is synonymous with their core purpose – emergency response. A client I work with has articulated their brand reputation as “Giving Hope Today.” Their core beneficiary is a person who is struggling to find hope in their day to day existence. They’ve lost a job, don’t have the financial resources to provide for the most basic of necessities, struggle with an addiction, or they’re living on the street. So no matter who you are, this organization wants you to know that when you access their programs or services, you’re going to leave there having a bit more hope that when you first walked through their doors. The key thing to remember in articulating your Brand Reputation is that it must speak to the wants, needs, desires and fears of your core beneficiary. If you Core Beneficiary isn’t someone who finds themself in an emergency situation then it does little to have “Emergency Response” as a Brand Reputation.

Brand Promise

But as you know, reputation isn’t enough. There are a host of organizations and companies with a reputation that precedes them. Sometimes an actual encounter with the organization or company leaves you feeling disappointed and frustrated because they have been unable or unwilling to live up to the reputation. As you think about your nonprofit, what are the two or three promises that you can not only make to your core beneficiaries but deliver on with a high degree of proficiency and consistency? It’s not just about the promise - it’s about the ability to deliver on the promise! In addition, it’s important that your brand promises be measurable so that you can objectively assess how you’re doing as an organization. If they’re measurable, then you also have to put in place some process to gather the kind of objective feedback that will be helpful in the assessment process.

The client I referenced earlier has set out three brand promises - a place to belong, a heart of compassion, affirmation of dignity. These are specific and measurable outcomes and they have tangible metrics as to how they’re doing in each area. Let me provide a few examples starting with dignity. This organization offers a community barbecue for their core beneficiaries. Participants usually sit on the ground. Recognizing their brand promise, one of the staff asked the question, “Is this how we affirm dignity?” They quickly agreed this would be considered unacceptable if the staff were to attend a similar event sponsored by another agency. They decided to provide something as simple as chairs for people to sit on. The response from participants was one of profound gratitude and appreciation.

This organization also hosts a weekly lunch meal for its core beneficiaries. The meals were always served on paper plates with plastic cutlery and paper cups. They made the decision to purchase ceramic dishes, mugs and glasses, and purchase metal cutlery as an tangible way of affirming dignity. The concern was that the dishes might get broken by clients. To date, the only dishes that have been broken have come at the hands of volunteers. The first week they had the ceramic dishes, one of their regular clients cupped the mug in his hands and just held it. When he was asked if something was wrong his response was, “I can’t remember the last time I held a real mug in my hands. One week, subsequent to the transition from paper to ceramic dishes, a new person showed up for the weekly lunch. At the end of the lunch, this individual tried to leave with a mug and some other utensils tucked neatly inside their coat. One of the regular participants gently went to the person and informed them that the dishes weren’t to be taken out of the building. What was clear was that this weekly lunch had become a place where this second person felt a real sense of belonging. As the staff shared this story with me, they also told me how this second individual had been a particularly difficult person for the staff to deal with but they had worked hard at living out their brand promise of providing a place for even the most difficult person to belong. The spoke about the transformation they had seen in this individual to the point where he had taken ownership of helping newer clients understand some of the unspoken community rules and values of those who attended on a regular basis.

As you think about your nonprofit organization, what’s your brand reputation? What are your brand promises that you can with consistency deliver on? Do you have a brand reputation? Is it a reputation that has substance or is it more about smoke and mirrors? Is it a reputation that you’re proud to uphold and advertise? Do you have brand promises that are measurable and do you have a process whereby you can objectively measure how you’re doing at delivering on those promises?


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