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Telling Your Story: Simple Steps to Build Your Nonprofit's Brand

What do Nike, Apple, Disney, and the Red Cross have in common? These organizations successfully use various elements of storytelling to create an emotional connection while sharing their mission and values through relatable characters, visual appeal, and consistent messaging. Building a strong brand and mastering storytelling skills is crucial for a nonprofit for three key reasons:

  1. Increased Visibility and Engagement: A well-defined brand helps the nonprofit stand out, while compelling storytelling creates emotional connections, driving support and engagement.
  2. Trust and Credibility: Consistent and authentic storytelling builds trust and credibility, making people more likely to support the organization.
  3. Effective Fundraising and Community Building: Strong branding and storytelling clarify the mission, inspire action, and foster a loyal community of advocates and donors.

In this blog, we’ll explore how to build your nonprofit's brand to increase visibility, foster trust, and inspire action through effective storytelling techniques.

Branding 101 for Nonprofits

What is Branding?

In the nonprofit context, branding encompasses the mission, vision, values, and unique characteristics that define an organization. It's more than just a logo or a tagline — it's about creating a cohesive and compelling identity that resonates with your audience.

Components of a Strong Brand

  1. Mission and Values: Your mission and values are the foundation of your brand. They articulate why your organization exists and what it aims to achieve. This clarity helps stakeholders understand and support your cause.
  2. Audience and Stakeholders: Identify and understand your target audience and stakeholders. Knowing who they are, what they care about, and how they interact with your organization allows you to tailor your messaging and engagement strategies effectively.
  3. Brand Identity: Your brand identity encompasses all the visual and verbal elements that represent your organization. This includes your logo, color scheme, typography, and tone of voice. A strong brand identity is recognizable and resonates with your audience.
  4. Logo and Visual Elements: Your logo and visual elements should be simple, memorable, and reflective of your organization's mission and values. Consistent use of these elements across all platforms strengthens brand recognition.
  5. Brand Experience: Every interaction with your organization contributes to the overall brand experience. Ensure that your communications, events, and services align with your brand values and provide a positive, consistent experience.
  6. Engagement and Communication: Effective engagement and communication strategies are crucial for building relationships with your audience. Use storytelling to share your impact, successes, and challenges in a way that resonates emotionally with your supporters.
  7. Evaluation and Adaptation: Regularly evaluate your branding efforts and adapt as necessary. Collect feedback from your audience, track your engagement metrics, and be willing to make changes to stay relevant and effective.

Steps to Successfully Design a Brand

Now that we understand the importance of branding and its components let’s outline the essential steps you and your team need to design and maintain your nonprofit’s brand. From defining your mission and values to creating a cohesive visual identity and consistent messaging, these steps will help you build a brand that resonates with your audience and drives your organization’s goals forward:

  1. Understand the Brand
    • Define your mission, vision, and values. Understand what sets your nonprofit apart from others with similar missions.
  2. Research
    • Research your target audience and competitive landscape to inform your branding strategy. What are other nonprofits doing? What are current trends on various platforms?
  3. Create a Brand Strategy
    • Develop a comprehensive brand strategy that includes your visual identity, messaging, and engagement plans.
  4. Design the Logo
    • Create a logo that is simple, memorable, and reflective of your brand values. It should also be built in mind with how it will look in digital formats and print materials, like merchandise.
  5. Develop Visual Elements
    • Establish a cohesive visual identity with consistent colors, fonts, and imagery.
  6. Apply Consistently
    • Ensure all branding elements are applied consistently across all platforms and communications. Do not stray from your identified key visual elements once they are established.
  7. Seek Feedback
    • Gather feedback from stakeholders and adjust your branding strategy as needed.
  8. Iterate and Evolve
    • Be prepared to refine and evolve your brand over time to stay relevant and effective.
  9. Protect the Brand
    • Protect your brand identity and ensure it is used correctly and consistently, especially when collaborating with other brands.

Brand Storytelling

In today's crowded nonprofit landscape, standing out and connecting with your audience is more important than ever. One of the most effective ways to achieve this is through brand storytelling. This powerful technique involves creating and sharing compelling narratives that convey your organization's mission, values, and impact in a way that resonates deeply with your audience. By weaving together the experiences of those you help, the dedication of your team, and the transformative outcomes of your work, brand storytelling not only engages and inspires but also builds trust and fosters a strong sense of community.

Key Aspects of an Effective Brand Story

  1. Purpose
    • This goes beyond the mission statement to explain why the organization exists. A strong purpose serves as the cornerstone of the brand story, illustrating the broader impact of the nonprofit and its ultimate goals. It answers the "why" behind every action and initiative.
  2. Vision
    • While closely tied to purpose, the vision focuses on the future and what the organization aims to achieve long term. It's about painting a picture of the world as it should be, inspired by the nonprofit's efforts. This can be a powerful motivator for both internal stakeholders and external supporters.
  3. Character
    • Every good story needs a protagonist. For nonprofits, this could be the founder, the community served, or an embodiment of the values that drive the organization. Humanizing the story by focusing on characters with whom the audience can empathize makes the narrative more engaging and relatable.
  4. Conflict
    • Introducing a challenge or problem that the nonprofit is addressing adds tension and interest to the story. This could be a societal issue, environmental challenge, or specific adversity faced by the community you serve. Showing how the nonprofit is working to overcome this conflict can drive engagement and support.
  5. Resolution
    • Describe how the organization resolves or aims to resolve the conflicts introduced. This includes the strategies employed, the successes achieved, and the ongoing efforts to create change. It’s about showing the effectiveness of the nonprofit's approach and the tangible results of its work.
  6. Values
    • Clearly articulated values that resonate through every story the organization tells can deepen the connection with the audience. These values should align with those of your target audience, reinforcing the sense of shared purpose and community.
  7. Unique Selling Proposition (USP)
    • This is what sets your nonprofit apart from others in the same field. It could be a unique method of addressing issues, a specific demographic served, or an innovative service model. Highlighting your USP can make your story stand out.

Learn More

Building a strong brand and mastering the art of storytelling are essential steps for any nonprofit looking to increase visibility, foster trust, and inspire action. By clearly defining your mission, values, and unique selling proposition and by crafting compelling, authentic narratives, you can create an emotional connection with your audience that drives engagement and support. 

Want to learn more about the different models of brand stories and try your hand at evaluating current brands? Watch our recent webinar, “Telling Your Story: Simple Steps to Build Your Nonprofit's Brand” with Tapp Network’s Director of Account Strategy, Lisa Quigley, and Senior Art Director Ryan Tatum.

Want to chat with us for a consultation? Reach out to us here.


Lauren Van Hise

Written by Lauren Van Hise

Lauren Van Hise is a Content Strategist with a background in Health Education, Hospitality, and Content Marketing. She is passionate about creating engaging and impactful content that helps support her client's goals and brand. Lauren lives in Wilmington, Delaware but loves to travel! Her life goal is to travel the U.S. in an RV with her pup, Ruger.