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I read a post from HubSpot earlier this week titled “7 Reasons Why Your Brand Will Never Be As Awesome As Apple” and there were some great points that relate to other organizations and a nonprofit’s brand. As far as cutting edge nonprofit brand goes, charity: water is the Apple of the nonprofit world (in my opinion) and thus, with a few minor adaptations from HubSpot’s article here are…

7 Reasons Why Your Nonprofit’s Brand Will Never Be As Awesome As charity: water

1. Your mission kind of sucks.

That’s a bit harsh. Your mission probably doesn’t suck but how you go about achieving that mission and the results you are producing might. Still harsh but probably more accurate. Wanting to eradicate poverty, working to eradicate poverty and actually eradicating poverty are significantly different. In the same vein, selling people on what you WANT to do is just the start, selling people on the WORK you are doing is better but if you want a great nonprofit brand you need to sell people on what you ARE ACTUALLY DOING.

2. You don’t care enough about your donors.

Are donors asking for an update or a report a nuisance? If donors lost their tax receipt and want another one is it a pain? Is the complaining from donors about too many (or too few) emails frustrating? You only exist and are able to do what you do because of donors. Period. It is a privilege and honor to have someone willingly part with their assets to support your cause. Period. This doesn’t mean you cater to every whim and request, but you constantly listen to what donors are saying, watch how they act and tailor your operations to better suit their needs. Period.

3. You’re not pretty enough.

If you think great design, looking cool and having beautiful marketing pieces is a waste of resources you are wrong. I know donors will sometimes complain that you should be spending less money on design and more money on your mission (don’t even get me started on how they are one and the same…) but the standards for design are going up and you need to keep pace. The value of design is only going to go up once Millennials begin to control more disposable income and we stop thinking that marketing isn’t a part of running a successful charity. Refuse to invest in “pretty” at your own peril.

4. You’re spread too thin.

This is the biggest one that I’ve seen. You want to do it all. Your desire, heart, passion and optimism are all admirable. If you didn’t have those you wouldn’t be involved this nonprofit in the first place but your burning desire, huge heart, great passion and vast optimism lead you down too many paths at once and hurts you in the long run. If you can focus all those things on your greatest strength and relentlessly improve in that area you will be successful. Bite off more than you can chew and you will not.

5. You need to grow a pair.

Group think. Scarcity mentality. Distant boards as the top of organizational charts. Hypersensitivity to people’s opinions. These things are killing nonprofits. My theory is the rise of social business and the whole impact investing movement was started because of these environments that are all to dominant in nonprofit organizations. How can you innovate in those situations? How can you take risks? How can you really eradicate poverty with those constraints? If you want to stand a chance you have to fight those chronic culture killers and it takes some boldness.

6. You break your promises.

The biggest example of this is in your donor reports. You’ll raise money using cows or kids or projects one December and come February there’s not a peep about it. If you say you’ll do something you damn well better do it because the only thing keeping your donors around is trust. Those who can build and keep it will succeed and those who can’t will (and should) fail. Keeping your word should be the lowest standard we set for ourselves not a distinguishing factor for the great organizations. If you can’t do it don’t say you can. If that hurts your ability to survive as an organization than you either need to figure out how to do it or get the heck out of the way so others who can actually can.

7. You don’t have a good reason why.

You should have a good reason why you exist (need) but you probably don’t have a good reason why people should give (solution). There are millions of people living on less than $1.25/day so make your donation today. Children who grow up in abusive homes are less likely to attend college so make your donation today. Many kids lost their parents and have to live at an orphanage so make your donation today. Sound familiar? Those are not reasons to give, those are needs. The solution is the reason to give. A good case for support answers the questions “Why Care” “Why Us” and “Why Now”. Most charities can’t get past Why Care. They just think you should care and then give. There are literally hundreds of organizations doing the same type of work that you are doing so what makes you better than them or more worthy of my donation and how do I know that? Because there is a need and because you exist is not a good case for support.

Well now that we’ve established some reasons why your nonprofit’s brand will never be as awesome as charity: water’s, check back, sign up for email updates or follow on Twitter as I’ll discuss some of the ways that your nonprofit’s brand can become a little bit more awesome.


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  • Renee McGivern

    #2 and #3 relate. Cheap annual reports and post cards directing donors to the nonprofit’s website to view a pdf is the wrong way to go. I encourage people to look at the annual report of Open Arms of Minnesota. They invest in “pretty” as a way to honor donors, volunteers, staff and their donors love it.  I did a radio show interview with the editor and designer – smart and talented. Great design and abundance go hand in hand. Poor design and scarcity go hand in hand.

  • bradyjosephson

    Thanks Renee. Great points (and a great annual report example as well). I like the great design and abundance compared to poor design and scarcity comment. I think there’s a misunderstanding of “great design” as well. Great design isn’t “more design” or even “expensive design” necessarily but simple, smart and focused. Anyways, thanks for giving a good example on #2 and #3.

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  • Jeff Brooks

    I wonder if there isn’t one big reason that causes all these other reasons:  You don’t want to be awesome. To really improve your brand would be to change a lot of things.  Change is hard. Change leads to unknown places. Staying the same is easy and comfortable.  Why risk being awesome?

  • bradyjosephson

    Great point Jeff and thanks for weighing in. I agree that to be awesome requires change in many areas and that scares away many organizations. But do you think they don’t want to be awesome? Maybe they don’t fully know what being awesome entails? Maybe they don’t have the buy in to work towards awesome?

    I realize these are the types of questions along your line of thinking but I believe that (some) organizations want to be awesome but simply don’t know enough awesomeness to start with. That’s why organizations like charity: water are so great for the sector. They give glimpses of what awesome looks like so other organizations can work towards it and donors can demand it from their charity. In theory anyways. Thanks again for the thought. 

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