Superstar branding: 7 secrets to let your nonprofit’s image shine

Like fans flock to a superstar on stage, donors can flock to you. Can you imagine not chasing after donors every day and instead having interested potential donors find you? It can be the reality. Here’s how.

1. Design your dream donor

Superstars know their audiences. Pop stars market to younger audiences. Older stars appeal to older audiences. They know who they love and who loves them, and they speak to those audiences. You can do the same.

To create a brand that attracts, the first thing you must do is get clear on who you want to attract. Who is your favorite donor? The person you love to work with because their energy and ideas flow easily? The person who consistently sees your organization at its best? Imagine an organization full of people like that.

Now develop a profile of what your dream donor is like: what they watch, listen to and read, and where they spend their social media time. Think of that dream donor’s pains and gains. Pains are what their challenges are, what keeps them up at night. Gains are the change they want to see in the world. Get detailed. This avatar will drive your marketing and donor development process. Everything improves when you get clear on your avatar and find and present messages that move them to action.

Nonprofits tend to want to appeal to as many people as possible. Resist this temptation. Focus on speaking to your avatar. If you have a different product, say a program or volunteer opportunity, create a new avatar for each one.

2. Assess your current effectiveness

A brand assessment looks at your current strategies and how effective they are in communicating your brand to your avatar. Gather everything you can find about your organization in print or online: your website, emails, print news, brochures, display, video, promotional items—everything. Ask these questions for each item:

  •   Does the material visually represent your organization’s personality?
  •   Are the messages compelling and interesting, and do they move your avatar to action?
  •   Do they tell your story in a way that makes you excited to share your story and your avatar excited to hear it?

Now you will understand what resonates, what’s missing the mark and how to create more cohesive and compelling look and story.

3. Establish an emotional connection

Superstars make a promise that they will give their audience a great performance. Audiences believe in that promise and buy a ticket. Ever been to a concert for an artist you love and they didn’t deliver? It’s a huge disappointment. Or attend a show and the artist blows you away with their performance? One met and exceeded a promise, one didn’t deliver.

Your organization makes a promise to everyone it interacts with: a brand promise. This is the emotional connection that your organization makes that says, “You can trust us to deliver.” You start with this connection and then build from there. Brand promises aren’t said, they are understood. Look at companies you know. Target’s brand promise is for you to have a good experience in the store, and they deliver on that. They never explicitly state that, yet you feel it when you shop there.

How do you develop a brand promise? You ask the same questions of people who resemble your avatar and look for the strongest, deepest emotional connection.

  •    What first attracted you to this organization?
  •    Why do you love us?
  •    What do you tell your friends or colleagues about us?

The benefit of a solid brand promise is that the whole organization and all your communications can be built on that connection. It allows your message to be focused and relevant to your avatar because it taps into their personal pains and gains.

4. Tell your audiences why they should care

Once you understand the promise you make, you can create a main message to share that promise to your avatar. Superstar branding means you speak to your avatar and tell them why your organization benefits them. This is not a mission statement, which is an internal statement that gives an organization direction. A main message answers the question, Why should your avatar care about your organization?

Oasis Institute, a national organization with chapters across the U.S. provides educational, wellness and volunteer opportunities to older adults. The issue is that “oasis” is the name for a lot of things—a British rock band, a pool cleaning company, a spa. They needed a main message that clarified the purpose of the organization and reflected its brand promise of being active, engaged and interested throughout life.

Oasis: Lifelong Adventure

This short message addressed the pain of wanting to stay engaged in life after retirement and the gain of life being a continual adventure.

5. Share your message with power and ease

Superstars take the stage and love the spotlight. They aren’t shy or evasive about putting themselves out there. Superstar branding is the same way. When you understand your avatar, have a promise and a main message, you have the confidence to get in the spotlight. The most common way audiences interact with our brand is in person, and talking points like the ones below allow you share your organization’s story with confidence and ease.

Who we are: This is your agency description. The description remains constant and is not tailored to any avatar because who you are as an organization doesn’t change, no matter who you’re talking to.

How we do it: This speaks to your processes, such as the programs and services you offer that achieve what you stated in your agency description. This also remains constant.

Why you should care: This is avatar-directed. Your talking points will be tailored to each avatar because each has different reasons to care about what you do. Corporations may care about sales, and donors may care about recognition. Your talking points to these diverse avatars adjust to fit their needs.

What to do about it: This is a call to action that’s tailored to each of your avatars.

Put the talking points on paper and share them with key stakeholders in your organization so all are comfortable sharing your story in person.

6. Adjust the brand to meet your avatar’s needs

Now that you know your avatar, your brand promise, main message and talking points, grab that assessment and see where adjustments, changes or updates are needed. Do you need new photos to better share the brand story? Or update brochure copy or web content? What about social media pages or posts? Don’t get overwhelmed and think you need to start over. Update what you can and then make a plan to implement changes over time.

7. Go where your avatar is

Superstars want to be seen and actively seek out ways to stay in front of their audiences. Now that you’ve got your superstar brand to attract that dream donor, you have to go where they are. Look back at your avatar’s profile. What social media channels do they use? What hobbies and interests do they have? What are they reading or watching? Be in those places. Content for your website and blog is good; finding other websites or blogs to contribute content to is better. Is your avatar a mom? Find parenting websites where you can contribute information. These websites and blogs need content. If your nonprofit can provide helpful information, then share it. Let your avatar’s needs drive where you are.

These seven steps will give you a brand that shines to your avatars, making your nonprofit a superstar in their eyes. You will attract the long-term, loyal donors you crave who will bring energy and excitement to your nonprofit.


Written by Maryanne Dersch for CW Observer