Branding and Marketing Basics for Nonprofit and Community Organizations

Every piece you write—whatever its own individual purpose—should have one overarching goal: to help promote your organization’s brand.

What do I mean by “brand”?

Your “brand” is your essence: your identity, your personality, your promise, your reputation. It is what your organization stands for.

Ask yourself: When someone hears about your organization, what set of images, attributes, feelings, and ideas do you want them to associate with it?

The answer is your brand.

Even if unintentionally, you are always building and reinforcing your brand. With time, if you are consistent enough, you can and should earn the familiarity and loyalty of your stakeholders. They will begin to relate to you, identify with you, and—yes—support you. As your brand becomes more known and liked, you will attract the people and organizations that can help your organization—and your community—succeed even more.


What do you imagine, think, or feel when you hear these organizations’ names?

_ National Parent Teacher Association

_ Working Assets

_ Amnesty International

_ U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

_ National Geographic Society

_ Whole Foods Market

_ Newman’s Own

_ Ben & Jerry’s

_ American Red Cross



_ Lions Club

All have built their brands over time, and unless one of them has somehow escaped your notice, you probably have opinions or gut reactions to all their names. You may envision a logo or tagline, or remember being exposed to and relating to their messages.

Whatever your organization’s brand, your documents have to uphold it. That is, as a marketing writer (copywriter) at your organization, your job is to advance your brand. Here is an overview of how to do that.


You probably know more than most people do about the many outstanding public-benefit organizations improving your community. In this way, you are truly blessed and inspired. However, all of those organizations inevitably encounter competition for all kinds of resources. Everyone needs financial backing, people-power, public attention, market share, etc.

To make your organization stand out, you need to highlight what distinguishes it from similar groups. You must show how your organization is uniquely positioned to address a specific need that your community has expressed.

Ask yourself: What is amazing, special, inspiring, stimulating, and unique about your organization’s work?

For instance: Does your organization deal with a particular aspect of an issue that no one else focuses on? Do you have a breakthrough approach or method? Do you work with a severely underserved community? Do you offer a product or service that solves a compelling social problem but is not readily available anywhere else? Do you have a history that has positioned you as the “go-to” organization in your community for years?

Those distinguishing characteristics are key parts of your brand and bear repeating (over and over again).


“‘When ‘Get Well Soon’ seems a bit out of place, Kimo KardsT are cancer recovery greeting cards that have just the right words to help a friend or loved one through the difficult journey of chemotherapy and other cancer treatments. Our messages are positive: designed to encourage and inspire men, women and children in different ways, including humor, scripture, and empowering words. Every card is ‘Created by Survivors for Survivors.'” (

Your uniqueness must be so clear—and so relevant to your readers’ individual or community lives—that it gets noticed and gets people talking about you. This defining quality of your organization makes you the best choice for your readers to support or work with.

Ask yourself: What is the [insert your organization’s name here] difference?


International Development Exchange (IDEX) answers the Frequently Asked Question, “How is IDEX different from other international organizations?”:

“Since its inception in 1985, IDEX has made it a priority to support economic development initiatives in a way that is quite different from traditional large-scale philanthropy and prevailing models of global aid that are often top-down, paternalistic, and money-centered. IDEX’s grantmaking model has evolved over the years, but remains focused on:

* The value of community-based solutions and the wisdom of local leaders who are grounded in their communities.

* Providing multi-year unrestricted grants so that local partner organizations can apply funds where most needed and can plan for the future.

* Providing additional resources as opportunities arise. This may include participation in conferences in the U.S. or elsewhere or facilitating connections to fair trade organizations.” (

Some ways organizations have traditionally set themselves apart from the pack include:

_ Outstanding credentials or experience

_ Personal service and attention to detail

_ High quality and value

_ Superior effectiveness

_ Speed or convenience

_ Unusual ease of use

_ Continuous innovation

_ Widespread familiarity

And as a public-benefit organization, you can also talk about qualities such as:

_ Community accountability

_ Values-driven decisions

_ Socially responsible sourcing and trading

_ Environmental sensitivity and stewardship

_ Community participation and collaboration

_ A leading-edge point of view or approach

Your uniqueness is whatever your ideal readers want and are concerned about but cannot easily get elsewhere. Once you identify those unique selling points, you can begin to incorporate them into your copywriting.

You might even take this idea one step further by showing how your work in conjunction with others in your field sets your network of partners and allies apart from the rest.


People are reading your material because they feel that your organization’s core beliefs and aims are aligned with theirs. Your job is to consistently show them that they are right. Connecting with your readers on this plane—appealing to both their hearts and their heads—gets the best results.

Ask yourself: What is the very soul of your message?

Your organization’s mission embodies its passion, sincerity, and spirit. It energizes your brand and should shine through in every piece of writing you create. You are conveying not only literal subject matter, but also your organization’s attitude and stance. By the words and methods you choose, you are saying a lot about who you are and why you do what you do.


When you are writing to make a difference, your two-fold goal is both to promote your organization as a part of a socially responsible solution and to educate your readers about key things they need to know in your issue area.

Constituent education is often the first step in marketing, especially if you are tackling a complex, often misunderstood problem that involves many variables, processes, or actors. Most of your readers are not specialists in your area, but their interests make them want to know more. You would be wise, then, to build an educational component into your organization’s branding.


Let’s imagine that, as a socially responsible business, you offer environmentally friendly laundry services to people in your neighborhood. While your customers surely know about their need for clean clothes, many of them may not be aware of the hazards of chemicals often used in the dry cleaning process. Your marketing, then, would need to include information about why you offer green services (as well as how you do so). Your branding should embody both of these aspects.

In this world of information overload, we all could use a guide to the most critical aspects of the issues important to us. We also want to hear about how we can personally get involved in solutions, presented in a way that we can relate to. And that information is precisely what you and your organization excel at providing! Give it to your readers—repeatedly and consistently. The more value you can deliver, the more they will see your organization as worthy of their support, investment, or patronage.

Promoting your brand and appropriately educating your community work hand in hand.


Errors of fact or clumsiness of style can stop your readers in their tracks. You don’t want to undermine the work you have invested in developing and promoting your brand, so make sure that you don’t give your readers reasons to question your credibility. It pays to be mindful of the details—and to apologize for that rare mistake. It is often much easier to fix a slip of the tongue than a slip of the pen.

Dalya F. Massachi draws on nearly 20 years of professional writing and editing for hundreds of socially responsible organizations and individuals. As founder of Writing for Community Success, she has served as a highly successful grantwriter, editor, journalist, trainer, and writing coach. Get her free newsletter and tip sheets at:

Excerpted with permission from Writing to Make a Difference: 25 Powerful Techniques to Boost Your Community Impact, By Dalya F. Massachi ©2011. Silver Medalist, Independent Publisher Book Award (“IPPY”); Finalist, Foreword Magazine’s Book of the Year Award; Gold Medalist, Elit Electronic Book Award.

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