How NGOs Teach Us Wider Benefits of Having Strong Brand

Svitlana Titus
7 min readApr 17, 2018


The times when nonprofit brands looked like teachers at a school kids’ party are way in the past. The largest international organizations have their own brand managers or turn to the same branding agencies as the for-profit sector does.

Such organizations have a wider spectrum of needs for the branding to satisfy. They also have a stronger distrust to how being a brand can help them.

The successful examples of nonprofit brands show us how to overcome additional difficulties and get more results.

The Gap: Why NGOs mistrust the concept of a brand

The main question that any NGO faces when thinking about the justification for working on its brand is how it’ll help its cause. Most organizations still view the branding as a tool for attracting funds, which is far from being a limit.

Their leaders ask questions like: Can a brand help us make a stronger impact? Can it speed up the waiting or loose the constraints?

Although boosting the name recognition and raising the revenue remain the fundamental goals, NGOs set additional tasks for the branding teams. They want to incorporate in their strategies things like making an impact, following the mission, and staying true to the values.

The first pioneers in the nonprofit branding stopped their work at the level of making the organizations more visible. What’s needed now is to convey the principles of their activities and explain how the organization will move towards its goal once it gets the money from the supporters.

The branding for NGOs saves them time and shortens their path in the communication with investors, partners, social activists, and the audience they want to reach.

The nonprofits have grown in their needs from the level where they wanted to launch a program or host a one-time fundraising event. We are talking here about the long-lasting impact.

A strong brand not only helps to acquire the social and financial resources but also gives more freedom in using them. At that, an NGO must understand its brand’s value.

Did you know, that Habitat for Humanity has the same brand value as Starbucks?

When nonprofits don’t know the full value of their brand, they risk missing the full financial value, the partnerships and co-branding opportunities that they deserve.

The biggest challenge for the branding agencies is the skepticism, which the representatives from NGOs often express about branding. The first reason why the NGOs would retain from using the branding services are the prices charged. Furthermore, they have doubts about the bright brand taking attention away from their cause.

They also worry that the organizations will be “selling ideas the way you sell cereal,” as said by the leader of the Women’s Learning Partnership for Rights.

It’s worth mentioning that branding for NGOs shouldn’t lack what the for-profit sector gets.

Although the idea of earning money has to be even more implicit, the brand identity shouldn’t look as if a customer tried to save the money.

The last but not least is the two-sided nature of brand awareness. It has two vectors: bringing awareness to the cause and bringing awareness to the certain organization.

Awareness of the cause is about directing the attention of a general public to a specific issue. Raising awareness regarding organization equals giving an answer to how this organization will address a given issue.

You can understand this aspect by the example of the Hair for Hope campaign from the Children’s Cancer Foundation.

The volunteers shaved off their heads — the act, which is not only a display of their solidarity, but also a reason to talk on the issue when others see them with their heads shaved.

Once these challenges are clarified, one can eliminate them.

The Bridge: Branding as a catalyst to the communication

The NGOs who are now enjoying the benefits of a having a strong brand include Amnesty International, Habitat for Humanity, Oxfam, Red Cross, UNICEF, WWF, and many others. The American Cancer Society and the American Red Cross have thedetailed policies as to their names and logos, and smaller organization are moving along the same way.

What does a strong brand give any NGO?

The first and most important thing is the trust.

A great credibility acts as a catalyst to the regular process of creating the associations and building the partnerships.

It has both the internal and external roles in building the ties. The internal part is about bringing the believers together and motivating the staff. The external part of the branded communication is aimed at various beneficiaries and general public. NGOs have a clear goal of attracting donations and inviting partners to collaborations.

These two sides differ by their needs. Donors mostly care for transparency and good management, they want to be sure their money will be spent efficiently. Volunteers want to see the end result to know their actions matter.

A strong brand plays the role of a bridge between the brand’s program and how it’s communicated to people. An organization may work on gathering other companies in partnerships and changing how they run things. It’s much likely and easier to do that with a strong brand.

Due to the fact that a nonprofit brand also has additional goals, it’ll have the additional metrics to evaluate the brand’s success.

An NGO should not only attract the donations but also increase the commitment among the staff, the pride of directors, and the openness of partners.

The democracy the the organizations have as the their operational principle isn’t the anarchy. Nonprofit brands have the strict guidelines to follow. The larger a brand, the more rules it covers in its brand book. Amnesty International, for example, has the guidelines on illustrations and photos, used for conveying their cause.

Amnesty International and Empowerment in Human Pride

When NGOs face such problems as the oversaturated scene of competitors with the lack of a governmental support, the branding becomes their tool to get the attention through the positive image.

With that, NGOs may be pulled back by the conservative minds who’d like to have a consistent focus on the human problems. A good argument against them is a compassion fatigue.

As we get increasingly exposed to more gore and violence in media, we become numb. This is natural, it saves our nervous systems. Such numbness makes us blind to the sufferings, that the NGOs would like to highlight.

That’s why Amnesty International, with their focus on the human rights support, moves towards removing the suffering from their brand strategy and showing the positive actions.

In 2004, they launched a TV commercial with the bright flashing messages of what a person can do to support the organization. In 2011, they released a video game about abolishing the death penalty.

The user takes the role of a special Amnesty International agent that must convince the public opinion and the government of each country to abolish the death penalty.

Although there were the dissatisfaction among the ranks of its members, the organization didn’t refuse to use the video game as one of the channels for spreading their ideas.

Red Cross and Banner for Joint Forces

The rebranding process for the American Red Cross has been performed by the BBDO NY agency. At that time, the Red Cross needed to gather the donations for people who’ve suffered from the earthquakes, tsunamis, and tornadoes. A strong brand continues giving them an additional advantage: people know where to bring their money when there is a trouble in the world and someone needs help.

Red Cross is devoted to having an emotional message, yet without a focus on disasters and destructions.

Their button logo is a symbol of the power they want to give their participants. Everyone is invited to join and assist. As they say in their brand guidelines, ‘we are not yelling our message from the rooftops’.

The nonprofit organizations have the same basic needs to become more visible among the competitors and attract funds. They also present the specific challenges for the brand management, including the need to convey the cause.

At the end of the day, these new clients that increasingly turn to the branding agencies help shift the paradigm of understanding the concept of a brand.

Creating a brand is way more than creating graphic elements to know it by. It’s nothing close to a new haircut.

A brand is a psychological concept that requires integrity and nurturing. The money and energy put into the brand management determine the brand’s success in achieving its goal. These goals can reach way further from selling something now and here and create a long-lasting impact that shapes the minds of people.



Svitlana Titus

an NPC who got too many phrases