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.
Just because your brand may not be as awesome as charity: water's, and it potentially never will be, that doesn't mean you can't start making some progress in these areas to improve your own brand. Remember, a brand is about the experience one has when they interact with an organization. And that's largely in your control. Start today and keep going tomorrow. And good luck.