Why Funders Need a Strong Brand to Maximize Social Impact

Like social impact organizations, funders typically skimp on branding and communications. But this limits your ability to magnify and advance causes.

December 10th Articles 5 min read
Funders Website

By Eric Ressler

As a funder, you already know how important it is for social impact organizations to invest in their branding and communications programs. Doing so is crucial to their ability to maximize impact. It’s what empowers social impact organizations to effectively engage their core audiences, share their impact stories, inspire action, and enlist support. If this all sounds like table stakes, then you may be among the most progressive funders who are taking the lead in funding communications.

But here’s something you may not already know: Your own brand matters, too. In fact, it matters as much — or even more — than that of the organizations you fund.

Funders, like social impact organizations, have historically skimped on branding and communications. Social impact organizations have underinvested in branding and communications because of a shortage of resources. Funders, on the other hand, have neglected their brands because they haven’t properly understood their value. After all, funders aren’t the ones competing for money. Because of that, you may be wondering if there's really any point in funneling resources toward a more sophisticated branding and communications strategy. Isn’t that money better spent funding the actual organizations that are making a difference?

The answer is no. You should be investing in your own branding and communications. Do it well, and you’ll multiply your impact — and, subsequently, that of the organizations you support.

The High Return on Investing in Funders’ Branding and Communications

When you as a funder focus on enhancing your own brand, you effectively multiply impact in several ways. You clarify your brand and mission to attract the right partners, advance the work of the organizations in your portfolio, and lead the way in defining branding and communications best practices for the impact space.

Clarify Your Brand and Mission to Attract the Right Social Impact Partners

When you invest in your brand, you have the opportunity to provide clarity about what matters to you as a funder, including the issues you invest in and the approaches you believe to be most effective.

The truth is that nonprofits vet funders just as much as funders vet nonprofits. When your positioning is crystal clear in your branding, it’s much easier for social impact organizations to discern whether a partnership might be suitable. On top of that, you’re more likely to find organizations to fund that fit your vision and are capable of moving forward with speed and know-how.

Finally, if you communicate a clear vision of your philanthropic values and approach, you are more likely to attract the attention of the press and other synergistic partners with whom to further your mission.

Advance the Work of Social Impact Organizations in Your Funder Portfolio

By investing in your own brand, you have the opportunity to meaningfully advance the work of the organizations you support. At the most basic level, you can do this by using your brand to tell a compelling story about your issues and the organizations you fund that are working to address them.

In addition, when funders have a clearly defined brand, they are better able to act as connectors for the organizations working within their areas of interest, whether that’s wetlands preservation or campaign finance reform. The first step is to share your portfolio of organizations and explain how they interact with each other as they collectively work to solve a larger systemic issue.

Funders should have a theory of change (TOC) that includes the work being done by the nonprofits and organizations they fund. And funders should also make clear that this theory of change is part of their brand strategy.

One last thing: Nonprofits that receive support from well-known and well-regarded funders automatically gain more credibility and cache by extension. By raising your own brand’s profile, you can make it easier for the organizations you support to garner additional funding and extend their impact. This advice is especially important if, as a funder, you are a newcomer or are relatively unknown.

Model Best Practices for Social Impact Organizations

Funders should provide more than just money to the organizations they support. Just as venture capitalists nurture and guide their startup companies, funders should mentor their organizations to foster their ongoing growth and development.

By investing in your own brand, you can model best practices pertaining to branding and communications for your organizations. The more you can speak from experience, the more authoritatively you can guide your organizations as they navigate their own branding and communications challenges.

Demonstrate Transparency and Impact to Instill Trust

The role of philanthropists and their impact are currently being reassessed by those in the impact space — and in the broader culture, too. In many ways, there’s a higher degree of scrutiny and even cynicism about funders than ever before. In this context, it is imperative that you have a clear story of who you are, where your money comes from, what problems you are trying to solve, and how you go about supporting that change through your funding choices.

You must also harness your brand and communications to tell a clear story about who you have funded in the past. This should include transparent reflection on what has and hasn’t produced results.

The Core Components of Funders’ Brand and Communications Programs

Ready to get started? Here’s a quick checklist of the core components funders must develop in order to build an effective brand and communications program.

  • An overarching brand strategy, including your distinct positioning and messaging.
  • History and mission statements, including an explanation of your funding lineage. (How did you earn the money you are investing?)
  • A well-defined visual identity that is consistently deployed across all marketing and communications materials.
  • A website that clearly communicates your values, areas of focus, and your unique theory of change (yes, funders need one, too). Your website should also be used to regularly publish your own thought leadership that expresses your perspective on the issues in which you engage.
  • Resources for organizations working in your area of interest, including training materials, webinars, and research findings.
  • A newsletter and email marketing program to share your insights and updates from your organizations.
  • Success stories and metrics that demonstrate your impact as a funder.
  • Promotional materials for the organizations you support, including regular updates about their initiatives and impact.

Many funders are tempted to skip the work of building a truly strong brand of their own. Those funders often rationalize that decision by telling themselves the time and money are better spent on the organizations they support. But building up your brand is a necessary precursor to maximizing your impact. And that impact is sure to ripple out through your organizations, too.

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