5 Essentials for a Standout Nonprofit Brand

Below is the transcript for my first video in a series I’m calling The High-Five Nonprofit Marketing Ideas! The first topic I cover are the 5 essentials for building a standout nonprofit brand.

Hi! I’m Julia McDowell, marketing and advertising strategist with Five Ones. Thanks for watching The High-Five Nonprofit Marketing Ideas. This is the very first video in a series I’ll be doing for LinkedIn and I hope you like it. I’m not sure I ever wanted to be a vlogger, but I think watching a video is sometimes better than reading a blog post.

Today’s topic is pretty high-level, but if you know me that won’t come as a great surprise. I promise the rest of the videos will be much more tactical, so you can watch, leave, and go do!

With that said, today, I’d like to flesh out Five essentials for building a standout nonprofit brand. We all love a good tchotchke but—as you know—“branding” takes way more than putting a logo on free pens. Your “brand” is what people think of your organization, its character, and its efforts. It just doesn’t happen in the doing. You need to be intentional about it; dare I say strategic!

Done well, branding is valuable to all nonprofits regardless of size or mission. A standout nonprofit brand is a multiplier. It generates:

  • more awareness of your organization
  • more people who understand your cause and efforts
  • and potentially more love (or affinity) which leads to more funding and other support

So, here are my High-Five.

Brand Mission/Vision

(Skip to 1:10) First, your brand mission and vision set the tone for everything you do. A mission statement is how you’re going to fulfill your vision. It’s your present reality. Write one sentence (two short sentences, max) and share it! Here are some great examples that capture the mission of these organizations succinctly.

  • First Descents: “First Descents provides life-changing outdoor adventures for young adults (ages 18 – 39) impacted by cancer and other serious health conditions.”
  • Dress for Success: “The mission of Dress for Success is to empower women to achieve economic independence by providing a network of support, professional attire, and the development tools to help women thrive in work and in life.”
  • The Lost Dog & Cat Rescue Foundation: “The Lost Dog & Cat Rescue Foundation helps homeless pets find their way into loving homes through rescue and adoption.”

See, those give both understanding and inspiration quickly and succinctly!


Second, audience. You need to know exactly who you are talking to. While many nonprofits don’t have a budget for research, try these things: interviews or focus groups even if they are with your usual engagers, surveys, use data from Google Analytics or social media, cull through existing research on audience groups or preferences.


Third is leadership. This starts with creating a spotlight for your leaders. If your CEO, Chairperson, or donor is well-known, showcase them on your website, in e-news updates, on social platforms, in media pitches, etc. Their recognition boosts your nonprofit’s credibility. If they are not well-known, it’s your job as a marketer to raise their profile. Here are some ideas:

  • Speaking at nonprofit events
  • Submitting Op-Eds for publication
  • Creating content for your website or blog
  • Encouraging leadership to be active on social media so they can drive convos about nonprofits, your cause, and how current events impact the people you serve

You can also Position your nonprofit as unique from similar ones. Do you have a prestigious funding source or Received an industry distinction? Promote it like you would a person. It will create a halo effect.

And last, being a leader is often about being first. For example, “Giving Catalogs” weren’t always a thing! Heifer International Project was first, and boy did they set a precedent.

Brand Guidelines

(Skip to 4:21) Fourth is Brand Guidelines. Let’s save the deep dive for another episode of The High-Five. But here is the nutshell version: By creating guidelines that are clear and easily understood, you give no one an option to follow them. Proactively share Brand Guidelines across your nonprofit and with external agencies, partners, and vendors.  This will help create a consistent visual identity, key messages, and voice that will help solidify your brand narrative over time. To help keep this consistent, I suggest you create a brand school, or a series of webinars where you go over the rules and show examples of executions, or a brand council that approves all brand elements. Sure, this requires your staff to get things done far in advance so the council has time to review materials, but I’ve seen this implemented and it has made all the difference.


Last but not least, there is storytelling. Stories steal data’s lunch every day! They convey your nonprofit’s brand, efforts, and impact in a way that data alone can’t. Make sure your stories:

  • Persuade—Help audience(s) understand your beneficiaries’, members’ or organization’s challenges, and why your cause is worth supporting.
  • Prove—Numbers may lie, but stories never do. Authentic stories support your brand’s credibility.
  • And Evangelize—Well-told stories make your brand relatable to people. They resonate with existing supporters and help recruit new ones to your cause.

I am a complete inverted pyramid evangelist. When you go to tell stories, it’s important to put the information that the reader must need to know upfront, the helpful or supportive part of the story in the middle, and leave the nice to know stuff for the end. If you’re interested in tips on how to create engaging stories, It’s your lucky day. You can download my Storytelling Roadmap here.

Again, Thanks for watching The High-Five Nonprofit Marketing Ideas! If you need help creating a standout nonprofit brand or have an idea for a future episode of The High-Five, please let me know—leave a comment below, message me on LinkedIn, or email julia@fiveones.com. Thanks again and see you next time!