03/13/2013 04:28 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Nonprofit Brands in the Age of Supporter Shift (Part 3)

In the Supporter Shift series, Blackbaud CEO Marc Chardon and outcomes guide Hal Williams continued their discussion about nonprofit results, exploring the effects of generational shift -- and a related shift in expectations. In this series, the authors return with a focus on the nonprofit brand, an essential ingredient in supporters' search for meaning.

So, now that we've covered the evolution of branding and what a brand is, let's take a look at the importance of having a living brand.

Left alone, brands get stale. When a brand gets stale, it loses relevancy. So periodically, every organization, nonprofit or for-profit, needs to refresh its brand to make sure that the audience who cared about it yesterday still cares today. A general rule of thumb is that brands need to be looked at, seriously, every 5 to 7 years. Even as we write this, we realize that the frequency may even need to be increased, given the ever-accelerating speed of change we see around us.

Beyond a periodic review of the brand "just because," there are moments in any organization's life when a brand refresh is needed. A critical one for nonprofits is when an organization shifts from having a board of "doers," who pretty much did whatever was necessary to keep programs funded and delivered, to a board of governance. This shift is critical for a nonprofit attempting to achieve scale. Often, this moment coincides with the introduction of a beefed up staff infrastructure and a refined focus on the needs of not just program recipients, but also supporters. It's a time when the organization accepts that it has become - or needs to become - a more mature entity in every way.

From our observations, of both the business and nonprofit sectors, some organizations try to update parts of their operations and not others, leaving the brand issue behind. This can lead to an unbalanced, off-kilter situation that affects quality of service, ability to raise funding and the overall happiness of both those who are served and those doing the serving. The brand should be one of the first things nonprofits think about during such periods of change, not the last. They can and should serve as that "discipline for how an organization acts and communicates," which we referenced in our first post.

It's also important to understand that clarifying an organization's uniqueness isn't just about the outside world (existing and potential customers). Branding begins at home; having everyone in an organization think about it, own it, and be responsible for delivering on the promise. Everyone representing an organization must understand the signature programs and characteristics that truly make it different from the rest. If a nonprofit does this well, its staff will become brand ambassadors that make the brand promise come to life. In addition to proving the believability of the organization's brand to the world, staff members will get their own reward in the form of a heightened bond with the organization, their employer. They will find value in their part of delivering on the promise and will stay with the organization because of that uniqueness it has, because "the place simply can't be replicated."