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The #1 Nonprofit Branding Issue Impacting Organizations Today

The Plenty Team
May 14, 2015

Over the years we have helped many nonprofits think through, plan, and launch new peer-to-peer fundraising events and programs. Each conversation is exciting, creative, and challenging in its own way. And as we brainstorm, strategize, and help breathe life into a newly formed concept, one thing inevitably happens - the dialogue turns to branding.

The critical questions surrounding nonprofit branding have evolved over time as the industry, players, and tools have changed. Yet there are always commonalities among the questions and concerns we hear from organizations. Currently, one specific dilemma seems to have a majority of groups stumped, and unsure of how to move forward in a strategic way.

That nonprofit branding question du jour is: to sub-brand or not to sub-brand?

Unfortunately, the answer is neither universal nor straightforward. In order to surface the right answer for your organization, you must assess your master brand and other current assets, and consider the following questions:

  • How strong and powerful is your existing brand and identity?

  • Does it need a boost or is it strong enough on its own?

  • Do your other existing assets have more brand recognition than your master brand?

  • Who are you trying to reach with this new event or program and what would appeal to them most?

As you determine your brand architecture – the structure of brands within your organizational entity – you’ll need to determine where affinity exists and where it needs to be created. Rather than developing architecture from scratch, there are a variety of existing models that you can use as a starting point. Consider the following spectrum of branding architecture from Hanover Research:

House of Brands: A master brand oversees a series of stand-alone brands.

  • For-profit example: Proctor & Gamble (Pampers and Folgers)

  • Nonprofit example: Arthritis Foundation (the Jingle Bell Run/Walk, the Bone Bash, and the Joints in Motion Training Team)

Endorsed Brands: A master brand endorses a variety of brands and products.

  • For-profit example: Marriott (Courtyard, Residence Inn and Springhill Suites)

  • Not commonly seen in the nonprofit space

Sub-Brands: Brands augment and connect to the master brand.

  • For-profit example: Apple (the iPhone, iPad, iPod, etc.)

  • Nonprofit example: National Multiple Sclerosis Society (Walk MS, Bike MS, and Muckfest MS)

Branded House: Different products are organized around the corporate umbrella brand.

  • For-profit example: Virgin, Virgin Mobile, Virgin Atlantic, and Virgin Money

  • Not commonly seen in the nonprofit space

As mentioned above, the two architectures most commonly seen in the nonprofit space are House of Brands and Sub-Brands, both of which have pros and cons.

1. A House of Brands structure affords the opportunity to focus on niche markets. The upside of this model, in addition to its ability to impact specific targets, is that the scope of the master brand mitigates negative image spillover should one program not perform well. 

The first potential downside of this structure is that, should one of the stand-alone brands outshine and generate more recognition than the master, the master brand identity can be weakened. Take the Team in Training endurance event, for example. The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) has worked hard to rebrand that program. In doing so, they have not just brought it in line with the visual branding of the organization and its other programs – they have catapulted it to more popularity than the parent organization itself.

The other downside of creating a House of Brands is the cost and inefficiencies of building, marketing, and maintaining multiple brands across all advertising, digital, and communication channels. For these reasons, creating a house of brands is not typically a recommendation we would make for a client whose resources should be spent conservatively.

2. Sub-brands are the other architecture most commonly seen in the for-purpose space. If your organization already has a highly visible parent brand, it makes sense to use this structure. It facilitates streamlined marketing campaigns and, if positioned properly, the sub-brand may add value to the master brand.

The potential downside of this structure is similar to the downside of a House of Brands – the master brand may become vulnerable if the sub-brand starts to overshadow it. The sub-brand may also create conflicting brand association within the target audience and further disconnect them from the master brand.

While this brand architecture spectrum is a helpful framework, and while both previous structures are viable options for nonprofits to consider for many programs, there is yet another structure that we would put on the table.

Leverage the master brand. How? Simple and strong calls to action.

Charity: water does this beautifully on their website. They have a very strong master brand and a clear mission, so offering development programs is as easy as stating a call to action. Pledge your birthday. Start a campaign. Very limited explanation needed. Yes, their program has a name – The Birthday Project – but it’s not the focus of the copy or the pathway. Making your birthday count is. This master brand leveraged by a clear CTA works very well for harnessing independent fundraising because it speaks directly to constituents’ motivations and presents a clear pathway to action.

It is worth studying your audience to understand what their personal reasons for participation are, and what are the most common things they are looking to do. Then build a site of brands or calls to action that will draw them down the most concise pathway to action.

Some organizations already have an internal branding style guide that makes these decisions for them. If yours is not one of them, consider these questions as you decide which is right for your organization:

  • Where do we want to create affinity?

  • What resources do we as an organization have to promote a sub-brand?

  • Do we feel confident that we can transfer affinity once the sub-brand is built?

  • How will the different brand promotions co-exist – names, icons, calls-to-actions?

In the end, shoot for a sustainable model that excites your organization. When considering your brand architecture, aim for enthusiasm and buy-in across all of your departments. If everyone in your development program gets behind the new brand, it will be successful.

Your program branding decisions should fit into your larger organizational strategy. Download the Seven Success Factors of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising e-book today, and begin constructing a cohesive and effective strategy amongst your P2P events.

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