Defining your brand and target audience as a nonprofit organization

Chris Esh


Updated May 1, 2023

Defining your brand is one of the key elements of running a successful nonprofit organization. Or any business/organization in general!

Your brand is what attracts like-minded individuals to support you. It’s what you want to convey to people first and foremost, before anything else. When you develop your brand, highlight it at every opportunity, you’ll attract more of the right people to join your nonprofit’s side.

Focus on audiences first

A brand’s main goal is to resonate with your target audience’s emotions. So before you can build a solid brand, you need to become deeply familiar with your audience. Otherwise you’ll be shooting in the dark.

First, who are our target audiences? Make sure to include everybody your marketing is intended to reach, such as program participants, donors, foundations, members, elected officials, etc.

For each target audience identified, ask yourself:

  • Who are they? Be very specific! For example, our primary donors are 50-70 year old Quakers from Philadelphia and the Main Line, about 70% female, upper-middle income, very active in social causes.
  • What are their passions, hopes, and fears? What drives them to your organization?
  • Where do they hang out online? Are they active on social media?
  • Why do they visit your website? What information are they seeking?
  • How do your ideal participants/supporters view your organization? What do they love about you? Why do they pick you over other competing organizations?

Note: You might be happy to take donations from almost anyone who has a pulse and a checkbook. That’s fine, but it’s a losing strategy to try to target everybody, because it will force you to be bland and forgettable. Instead focus on a smaller audience that absolutely loves what you do.

Creating personas can be helpful too! They’ll help you dive into specifics, and you can create a full narrative around that character as if it’s a real person.

Take this persona as an example and start creating some on your own:

Donna Donor

A 30-year-old professional who lives in Center City. She is very active on social media and cares a lot about environmental causes. She’s worried about global warming and makes a few donations each year to causes she feels connected to. She prefers small organizations with a personal touch over large national environmental organizations.

You’ll want to create at least one persona for your beneficiaries, donors and larger funders. The more the merrier though!

Learning your audiences and making your brand

Once you’ve begun to fully grasp what makes your audiences tick, you can start crafting your messaging to attract them like bees to pollen-rich daffodils.

You’ll want to start creating a clear and concise narrative across all of your platforms so that everything is congruent and gets the same message across.

I recommend creating brand guidelines that contain the core components of your brand, so that you can point any employee or volunteer to it when they are creating content or marketing for your nonprofit.

So what should be in these brand guidelines?

Well, in our previous article “What is a brand” we talked about how your brand is more of a gut-level feeling people have when they interact with your company/organization or products.

So your brand guidelines can contain quotes, images, or direct tellings of what you’ve envisioned your brand to be. And what you now know resonates with your target audiences.

If your nonprofits name is PETA, maybe you’ll have a picture of an abandoned, unhappy shelter pup contrasted with a happy, well-nourished and groomed puppy with a loving home. That imaging alone has made PETA extremely successful.

Maybe it’s a quote that inspires you. Or a testimonial from one of your outstanding supporters.

Whatever you decide to include, make sure that it invokes some kind of emotion. Because at the end of the day, emotion is what humans are driven by.

We’ve created our brand guidelines, now what?

Now that you’ve created your brand guidelines, you’ll want to start showing off your new brand!

Post things that align with your audiences and your brand on social media. Create blog content. Write adverts that contain subliminal branding behind them.

And always remember, your brand can constantly evolve. Your brand might not look the same in a few years as it does today. People are constantly changing, your audiences will change too.

Test new marketing angles, find out where people resonate the most with your brand and double down on that messaging. Study your competitors and see where their branding is outmatching yours.

In short, keep plugging away at tailoring your brand just like you do with your organization.

Til’ next time.


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