Brand is as critical to your mission as your programs. Your brand is the fuel that powers your ability to scale your impact, increase awareness, be economically sustainable, and realize your vision over the long haul.
Think about well-known social impact organizations such as
Greenpeace, World Wildlife Fund, Doctors Without Borders, American Red
Cross, Goodwill, Toms Shoes, Patagonia, The Salvation Army, UNICEF,
ASPCA, Extinction Rebellion, or The Nature Conservancy.
Now think about how the organization makes you feel. What’s
your opinion of them? Do you think they are effective? Wasteful?
Trustworthy? Your opinion about them is brand perception.
Let’s look at TOMS from a brand perspective. In 2006, TOMS
defined what it looked like for a business to put people before profit.
With their “One for One” give-back model, a purchase of a pair of canvas
slip-on shoes sent a pair to someone in need.
In 2021, TOMS scrapped their model and replaced it with a “⅓ profit for grassroots good”
plan to give at least 30% of its profits to U.S. charities focused on
promoting mental health, increasing access to opportunity, and ending
When TOMS made this change, it affected the perception of their brand. Some people were upset by the change, or at least how it was communicated.
TOMS had a strong reputation for the initial model. During that shift,
they didn’t change their logo, but they had built their brand on one
impact model and changing that model altered how some people felt about
When a climate advocacy organization takes action that
causes property damage or gets someone hurt, they take a hit to their
brand. When an animal rights organization attracts attention for saving a
large habitat and gets press, their brand is elevated — both negatively
to some people and positively to others.
When you’re trying to grow your donor base, you are running a brand awareness campaign,
just like a for-profit company. When someone thinks about donating or
buying products in your issue area, whether or not they think of you
first may be determined by brand perception.
It’s been said that you only get one chance to make a first
impression. Bland communications and brand expressions often fail to get attention. Go bold and your advocates and funders are more likely to support your cause.
Protect your brand across every touch
point — at protests, events, on social media, through email and
newsletters, blog posts, or articles, or via press releases, or even
articles written about you — wherever your brand may be encountered.
Keep in mind that people may first interact with your brand at any touch
point. You may think that your brand lives on your business cards and
website, but it exists, and is important to maintain, across multiple
avenues of access.