We are honored to have the VP of creative at charity: water, Vik Harrison (who also happens to be speaking at Yellow!), as our guest blogger today. She is responsible for changing the game in the non-profit world when it comes to branding. Her post is full of great advice for companies from someone who has done it best. Read on!
Recently, a thought leader I admire came to speak to a small group at charity: water about marketing. I’ve always been a fan of him for speaking his mind, even when his opinion was unpopular. Fortunately that day, he did not disappoint. His opening line to a room full of charity folks was: “People don’t like giving to charity.”
He wasn’t talking about people like me who work for a charity. And he wasn’t talking about people like you who are reading this post right now, which likely means you’re pretty familiar with the social good scene. He was talking about the masses. And what he meant was this: People don’t like giving to charity because it’s much more fun to go out for dinner with your friends, buy a new pair of shoes or do just about 1,500 other things that satisfy your earthly desires instead of giving your hard-earned cash to help solve the world’s complex and often overwhelming problems.
His statement reminded me why, almost ten years ago, we started a charity that approached giving in a new way. We wanted to transform it into an exciting, fun and rewarding experience — similar to buying a pair of sneakers or getting a new iPhone. We knew that if we could get more people to like…even love giving to charity, we’d not only have a shot at solving the global water crisis, we’d also change our generation’s attitude towards giving forever. That’s why, to this day, branding is not a nice-to-have or an afterthought at charity: water — it is a very real and essential part of our fundraising strategy.
What is brand exactly?
A brand is a collection of perceptions — it’s the unique set of experiences the consumer has with your product or company. Brand is not just the words you write on your website or the colors in your logo. It’s how your staff answer the phone, what your office looks and feels like when people come to visit, and what your employees say about your organization to their friends after work.
Every interaction a person has with your organization, no matter how big or small, either builds up brand loyalty or tears it down one bit at a time.
We knew that if we could get more people to like…even love giving to charity, we’d not only have a shot at solving the global water crisis, we’d also change our generation’s attitude towards giving forever. That’s why, to this day, branding is not a nice-to-have or an afterthought at charity: water — it is a very real and essential part of our fundraising strategy.
Branding is an incredibly powerful tool that can take your mission to the next level. Unfortunately, too many charities fail to pay attention to it and neglect their brand and alienate their supporters. If you are ready to get serious about branding your non-profit, here are a few steps to get you started:
Four key components of building a brand:
1. Make sure your message is compelling and consistent
I know that charity: water has a consistent message because this happens often: I’m at a event and I overhear someone describing what we do in their own words. People often say things like “They give away 100%,” “They prove every project with GPS on a map” and “They make it cool to give”. They’re hitting all our core messages and they’re doing it all on their own. This means we’ve done our job well. The messages we’ve put out resonate so much with our audience that they repeat them all on their own. Sometimes it can feel like you’re repeating the same things over and over on your website, and it’s tempting to mix up your messaging because you’re bored of it. That’s a big mistake. Repetition is your best friend when it comes to getting your message to spread. Find the unique points that make your organization different, and be consistent about your message every time you say it.
2. Value good visual design
People often say things like “They give away 100%,” “They prove every project with GPS on a map” and “They make it cool to give”. They’re hitting all our core messages and they’re doing it all on their own. This means we’ve done our job well.
The expectation for good visual design is at an all-time high. Everywhere we look today, we see things that are beautifully designed. Simple apps that help you order lunch, pick up your dry-cleaning and hail a taxi all work well and look great. In today’s world, bad design (or lack of good design) sticks out like a sore thumb. It can even create a sense of unease or distrust in your product. Good design is not hard, and it is not expensive. It just takes a few talented, committed individuals with good taste. And yes, it takes a small budget but it is well worth the money. I often hear non-profits talk themselves out of spending money on visual communication because they’d rather spend it on programs. Unfortunately, this approach is counter-intuitive because what they’re really doing is losing a large portion of their audience who simply don’t have the patience to suffer through a poorly designed donation flow or product experience.
3. Tell Inspiring stories
Good stories connect people to your brand on a human level and create rich emotional ties to your work. Yes, your financials and statistics are important, but they speak to the head, not to the heart. Stories are human, personal and memorable. They can create more trust in five minutes than an entire excel spreadsheet filled with numbers and data. They’re also much more shareable in a conversation at the dinner table, which ensures that people will talk about you to their friends. What’s your story and are you being intentional about telling it every chance you get?
4. Have the goods to back it up
Great branding can bring more attention to your cause, but it won’t solve all your problems. If you have a confusing mission, a bad business model or a dysfunctional team, no amount of beautiful branding can cover it up. You’ll need to work on that first. At charity: water, we work hard to build an exciting brand, but we never to take our eyes off of the quality of our work on the ground, the health of our team, the integrity of our 100% model and the transparency we deliver to our donors here at home. As important as branding is to us, those issues have often taken priority over the brand when they needed attention. A great brand is only as strong as what’s under the hood.
Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times once said “Toothpaste is peddled with far more sophistication than all of the world’s life-saving causes.” That is incredibly unfortunate and broken, and it’s time it changed for good. Ages ago, big companies figured out that they could sell more stuff by using effective branding. Isn’t it time for us charities to do the same?
Want to hear more of Vik’s creative wisdom? She’ll be speaking at the Yellow Conference in August!
Photos via charity: water