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The Critical Role of the Strategic Brand

While branding has been traditionally perceived as a tool for fundraising and public relations, nonprofits can take a new approach to brand management that effectively drives their mission and maximizes impact. In this audio lecture from Stanford Social Innovation Review’s Nonprofit Management Institute, Harvard researcher Nathalie Kylander challenges traditional branding principles and proposes a new framework for developing a more strategic brand.

Project Overview

Overview of the research and summaries of the case studies.

The Role of Brand in the Nonprofit Sector

Stanford Social Innovation Review

By Nathalie Kylander & Christopher Stone

Amnesty International: Case Study

Branding an Organization That’s Also a Movement

Christopher Stone - December 2011

The Girl Effect Brand: Case Study

Using Brand Democracy to Strengthen Brand Affinity

Nathalie Kylander - December 2011

WWF: Case Study

Embracing DNA, Expanding Horizons: The Panda Turns Fifty

Sherine Jayawickrama - December 2011

Publish What You Pay: Case Study

Tackling the “Resource Curse:” The Role of Brand in a Global Campaigning Network

Johanna Chao Kreilick - December 2011

Conference Summary

Summary of discussions at the Role of Brand Conference on December 8, 2011

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People are saying

David Fenton

CEO and Founder, Fenton

This report is a sign of a great deal of progress. 30 years ago I could barely convince nonprofit groups to hire press secretaries or focus on communications. Even today many groups and philanthropists are uncomfortable with the concepts of marketing and branding. They understandably fear that simplifying messages means distorting them – but this need not, and should never be true. In the modern world, being opposed to branding is being opposed to contemporary forms of effective action. In the public interest world, we want everything to be so detailed, literal and specific. This is a big problem, as people do not learn from facts alone. Until we understand that facts, if not embedded in moral frames and narratives, have little impact and almost no “stickiness,” we are not going to succeed. I applaud this effort to help the public interest world be more effective.

Emily Brew

Brand Creative Director, The Nike Foundation

This Hauser Center work and the ideas it contains are rebranding ‘brand’ for nonprofits. It shows that brand thinking can drive a theory of change, rather than just support fundraising. No one will argue against the power of a simple shorthand -- ‘99%’, ‘Arab Spring’ -- to capture emotions, spread ideas and inspire participation. That’s what a democratic brand can do. It can coalesce supporters and give them an avenue to make the movement their own. There are real tensions in that, but also real opportunity. This work delves into both, and has started a dialogue that I believe will make positive change in the world happen faster.

Ingrid Srinath

Secretary General, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation

The truth consistently well told has always seemed to me to be the secret of powerful, durable brands. Achieving that has never been easy. Today, when trust is in short supply, negative news travels at the speed of light, and brands are required to be present across more platforms than ever before even as resources dry up, the challenges are greater than ever before. The brand whose purpose and values are inspiring to, and shared and championed by, all its stakeholders in a world where norms of legitimacy, transparency, accountability and collaboration are being radically redefined, is now the holy grail of marketers and communicators in business and government as much as in civil society. The IDEA framework could not be more relevant or timely in this context.

Marinke van Riet

International Director, Publish What You Pay

For Publish What You Pay (PWYP), this study could not have come at a more opportune time.  It coincided with the launch of a global strategy development process and provided a clear and thorough external analysis of brand issues related to our mission and identity which internally we already suspected but wanted to see confirmed.  The IDEA framework provides a great framework against which PWYP will be able to design our brand management to take the coalition to the next phase of growth and evolution.  I strongly encourage the team at the Hauser Center to come back to PWYP in two to three years to assess how the IDEA has moved beyond an idea and theory to a true practical framework for brand governance and wider accountability.

Kate Roberts

Vice President of Corporate Marketing and Communications, PSI

In bringing together this multi-focused group of branding agencies, academics and non-profits, the Hauser Center has helped us place the power of brands back on the agenda. We need to sustain the momentum of our time together, share our brand promises, visions and plans with each other, maybe even visit each other and tell our stories to our internal teams so we all feel less alone! The truth in brands has always been straightforward - they must be real, evolve with their audience, yet remain strong. Just like them, our organizations’ view of brands needs to be realistic, evolve thorough insight and knowledge, yet stand steadfast. Whether you work at a ‘for profit’ or a ‘not for profit’, the same issues and concerns are raised time and time again: we need coherent brands understood by our people internally and our customers externally. We must define tangible brand visions that enable our people to do their jobs smarter and more effectively. Global organizations require simple brand packages that allow for freedom of local expression but ensure consistency of voice wherever their brand may reach.

Asif Saleh

Director of Communications and Head of the Social Innovation Lab at BRAC and BRAC International

I found the conference very timely and relevant.  As the director of communication for the largest development organization in the word, I often have to struggle internally to articulate the need for “branding”.  However, I found from the conference that I was not the only one.  It was refreshing to see that there is a fresh approach with a framework shift towards highlighting values, theory of change and mission impact in the field of nonprofit branding.  While setting this year’s communication strategy – both internal and external – I kept that heavily in mind. 

Terry Macko

Senior Vice President for Communications and Marketing, WWF

With an iconic logo like the WWF panda, World Wildlife Fund shoulders enormous responsibility for reinforcing the trust and values built over its 50 years of operating each time we communicate. People around the world "love the panda" and they hold us to the highest standards. Working with the Hauser Center, WWF learned important lessons in how critical authenticity is for all NGOs who rely on the power of their brands to amplify their message and aim for it to resonate with key constituencies. Working collaboratively on this case study was an extremely helpful exercise for all of us at WWF as it helped us to crystallize our own thinking on how we should manage our brand going forward as we strive to engage hundreds of millions of people in the cause of conservation of the planet. 

Bradford K. Smith

President, The Foundation Center

If nonprofits are still in the 20th century, nonprofit accounting is in the 19thcentury.  The way nonprofits are audited keeps them in a straightjacket, forced to categorize branding expenses as non-program, which is on a collision course with a lot of the metrics being developed for online giving. The IDEA principles could be particularly useful in re-conceptualizing nonprofit accounting, to find a creative way for nonprofits to stop being so limited by their percentage of overhead, so they can put effort toward branding in a way that ultimately furthers their mission.

This project has been made possible through the generous support and vision of the Rockefeller Foundation.

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