Strong Branding

The non-profit sector recently has grown at an extraordinary rate. Approximately 25% of the thirteen thousand international NGOs in existence today were created after 1990, and between 1990 and 2000, the number of international NGOs increased by 19.3 %.(1) Many NGOs are responding to this increase in competition by using branding techniques developed in the corporate context. (2) Branding is defined as “a name, term, sign, symbol, or design, or a combination of them, intended to identify the goods or services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of competitors.”(3) Legally, branding includes trademarking the name and/or logo of the organization or organization's programs. Though branding was originally used in the for-profit context, branding is now widely being used in the non-for-profit context to create a visual identity, to achieve global reach and reputation, as well as to foster trust in an organization.  “Facing continuing pressure to assure revenues – the contention behind much of the literature is that as the non-profit environment becomes increasingly over-crowded, branding is needed to build trust and help facilitate donor choice.”(4) Thus, brands are now developed deliberately by non-profit managers because of the increasing numbers of non-profit organizations, the decrease in funding and donations, and competition for supporters and volunteers.  In the non-profit sector, brands are a way to show the public that an organization possesses quality features or has certain values.(5)  Branding is also considered to be a remedy for low public awareness about an organization and is critical to the development of a coherent communications program. In addition, some organizations, especially those that are decentralized, such as Doctors Without Borders, depend on their brand to provide cohesion.(6) For many non-profit organizations, their brand is one of the most important assets that they have. Understanding what activities increase or decrease the asset value of their brand is key to effectively managing an organization.

Protecting a Brand

Strong brands are built slowly, with great investments in time, money and energy. A a brand can easily be weakened or destroyed by scandals, low-quality programs, or criticisms. Therefore, protecting a brand is a critical part of brand management.  For example, the organization Susan G. Komen for the Cure has recently taken legal action to protect their brand. The group’s trademark term, “for the cure”, and their pink logo became almost universal and known for raising money and awareness about breast cancer. Recently other organizations have used the term “for the cure” in their events to also raise money for breast cancer. For instance, there are now groups such as blondes for the cure, kayaks for the cure, and barks for the cure, which have used the popular phrase to aid them in their breast cancer fundraising efforts. Komen has sued these other organizations in order to protect their organization and ensure proper financial management of donations. Perhaps part of Komen’s reason for the lawsuit is their unspoken belief that “these younger, less experienced organizations, while well-intentioned, might not be able to deliver the same kinds of financial returns to the cause.”(7) In addition, they worry that they may lose sizeable donations to donors who mistakenly write checks to a charity with a similar name.

Footnotes

(1) Laidler-Kylander, N., Quelch, J., and Simonin, B. “Building and Valuing Global Brands in the Non-profit Sector.” Non-profit Management and Leadership. 17.3 (2007): 253-277. Accessed on 22 September 2010.

(2) Stride, H., and Lee, S. “No Logo? No Way. Branding in the Non-Profit Sector.” Journal of Marketing Management. 23. 1/2 (2007): 107-122. Accessed on 22 September 2010. <http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/content~db=all~content=a919008038>

(3) Ibid.

(4) Ibid.

(5) Helmig, B. “The Non-profit Brand Value Chain – Just black boxes or real insights?” Accessed on 21 September 2010.

(6) Salls, M. “The Tricky Business of Non-profit Brands.” Accessed on 22 September 2010. <http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/4686.html>

(7) Lynch, L. “Suing for the Cure?” Accessed on 22 September 2010. <http://www.ssireview.org/opinion/entry/suing_for_the_cure/>