Credibility Authenticity Differentiation

It’s a competitive world and nonprofits need to stand out in order to attract donors. Smart nonprofits realize that developing their brand can be a strategic tool to give them an edge.

What are the benefits of having a strong brand?

  • Clarify your message.
  • Make it easier for other people (including your board), to explain what your organization does.
  • Help your organization stand out from other organizations doing similar work.
  • Build the case for giving and inspire people to support your organization.
  • Create consistency in all your communications.
  • Make it easier to develop your marketing materials.

Over the long term, organizations with strong brands become well known and tend to raise more money. In today’s environment, with more nonprofits than ever competing for funding, an organization can’t afford not to have a strong brand. This article explains three components of a strong nonprofit brand: Differentiation, Credibility, and Authenticity. By assessing your organization’s strengths in each area, you’ll begin to understand how your brand value can be built, communicated, and delivered.


While it is tempting to turn your passion into action immediately, with 1 million nonprofit organizations in the United States, first you need to distinguish your nonprofit from other organizations doing similar work. The average person is deluged with solicitations and is easily confused about what organization does what, so to stand out, you have to be very clear.

Start with your mission—is it easy for people to understand what you do? Is your mission inspiring to enough people to attract a broad base of support to be sustainable for the long term? Do you have an achievable goal for success that will captivate people’s imagination?

For example, the laudable ambition of solving literacy provides little means to measure success. On the other hand, “a computer in every classroom” is a compelling promise that captivates people’s imagination and allows them to envision the mission being fulfilled.

To read about the missions of other nonprofits, you can look them up on GuideStar or Charity Navigator.


Before someone makes that online donation or steps up to volunteer their time, they have to believe that your organization has the ability to deliver on its promise. Whether your organization is rooted in a rich tradition or fresh ideas, or was created in response to grass-roots needs or global demand, your members and donors will want to know that you can be trusted and have solid management practices so that their money is put to good use. Having a strong board of directors that sets the direction for your organization and is accountable for results is one step in giving your nonprofit the credibility to substantiate its promise.

For information on the role that boards play, visit


The third ingredient of an effective brand is getting people to identify and care about your cause. Successful organizations know that they need to go beyond the support from people who are directly affected by the issue they are working on to attract a wider audience. By speaking authentically about the challenges you face as well as the expertise you bring to solving the problem, you make it easier for people to trust your organization and ultimately to volunteer their time and donate their money. The best brands elicit positive emotional responses because people understand and identify with each one’s mission and know that the organization is consistently true to it.

Every Organization Has a Story. What’s Yours?

Organizations with strong brands are able to distinguish themselves, establish credibility, and speak authentically. How do they do this? By telling good stories. Stories are the foundation of a strong brand—they give a deeper meaning to your mission and help people connect to what you do. Your organization’s story may revolve around the personality of your founder, a galvanizing moment in your organization’s history, or a natural affinity to your audience. Good stories, like good deeds, give your brand life, excite your donor base, and instill confidence in others that your organization is what it claims to be.

Author: Howard Adam Levy is principal of Red Rooster Group, a branding agency that creates effective brands and marketing campaigns. 212-673-9353.