Best Practices for Nonprofit Branding and Design
In this episode of Bloomerang TV, Lara Brainer-Banker, Creative Director at Achieve, sits down with us to chat about nonprofit branding and design. You can watch the full episode here:
Steven: All right, hello. Welcome. Thanks for tuning in to this week’s episode of Boomerang TV. I’m Steven Shattuck. I’m the VP in Marketing here at Boomerang, and I’m really excited this morning to be joined by our guest, Lara Brainer-Banker. She is the Creative Director over at Achieve. Hey there. How you doing, Lara?
Lara: Hey, how are you?
Steven: Good, thanks for being here. This is a real treat to have you. Obviously, Boomerang’s real good friends with Achieve and we’ve worked together on some things. But you’re just one of the best graphic designers I think in Indianapolis. I’ve seen a lot of your work, and I’ve followed you online for a while, definitely really talented. Maybe you can tell folks a little bit about the things you do at Achieve and some of the other projects that you work on.
Lara: Absolutely. I am currently the Creative Director at Achieve, and that has been kind of a process to get there. I was a Finance major in undergrad, and once I graduated with that,I thought to myself, what do you do with a fine arts degree. So I pretty quickly got into graphic design and marketing and did that for a few years before I started my own graphic design business. And at that time, I kind of went back and started getting interested in business, got my MBA, and eventually, after doing designs for six or seven years, I joined Achieve as Creative Director. So I love design, I still am super passionate about high-quality design and the power of design, but I am more on the strategy side in my current role now.
Steven:Cool. Yeah, I definitely understand that process. I was an English major and I kind of went through that whole trying to figure things out as well. So what does Achieve do? What are you guys doing over at Achieve? What kind of agency is that?
Lara: We are a creative agency and focus on fundraising, and most of our clients are non-profits, but we really say that we’re in the cause base. So any organization or company interested in causes or some sort of overarching mission or goal that’s doing good in the world is really who you want to work with. So we create a lot of design pieces. We create awareness campaigns, solicitation campaigns. We do corporate presentations, pretty much anything that’s going to help that cause, raise awareness, and funding for their organization.
Steven: Great. Yeah, definitely check out Achieve after you watch this video, because they do a lot of really great work. So we were chatting via email before the recording here about this idea of branding for non-profits and for causes. And since our viewers are probably going to be primarily non-profits, maybe you could talk about the role that branding and design sort of plays for non-profits, because I would imagine it’s a little different than maybe for profit businesses or other organizations. Maybe you can talk a little bit about the role of brands. It’s not just your logo, right?
Lara: Yes, it’s a really good question and it’s something that I talk a lot about with our clients. Brand is really that essence of who you are; it’s so much more than just your logo and colors. When we do a brand strategy with our clients, we’re getting really in depth with research on who do people think you are, what have they seen, are they confused about who you are? Do they think you have nine programs that you don’t actually have, or are they focused on one program that’s not that useful and it’s not your main focus as an organization. So it’s really getting down to the essence of the entire space in the industry and who your constituents think you are, but I think what makes non-profits unique as we also look at who donors think you are. So you have these two kind of different sets of target markets in terms of your brand and how you’re presenting yourself. And it’s very different than a company.
You have to think a lot about messaging to donors, and how to resonate that company mission, and vision to donors, which is unique compared to who you are actually serving. So branding can be tricky and that messaging side can be really hard to take all of your programs and make them really concise when you’re talking to both those donors and your constituents. So it’s a long process. We usually spend four to six months kind of flushing out that messaging and voice, and all of the stuff that really comes even before your logo and colors and all of that stuff.
Steven: Yes, you’re doing a lot of work before you probably even think about opening Photoshop or taking pen to paper. And I hear a lot of people say, “Oh, we’re going through a re-brand,” and all they’re doing is just changing up their logo. Probably, you hear that as well? What are kind of the things you do to prepare and craft all the things you just talked about? Is it a lot of interviews? Is it a lot of just sitting down with the non-profit and kind of flushing out what that messaging is? What’s that process like?
Lara: Yes, it’s actually super fun because we get to talk to so many different kinds of people. We spend a lot of time with the non-profit staff and hearing from them on who they think they are and where they think they want to go, which is really a baseline for us. But then we just get out there; we’re talking to constituents, we’re talking to donors. We’ll take the staff and go out and just ask questions in the community and say, “Hey, what do you know about this organization, and what do you think that they do?” to kind of get a general consensus on just the community and the average person and what they’re thinking about this organization. It’s really fun. We, as much as possible, just try to get our hands into any person who is connected to the organization pretty much across the board.
Steven: Great. So you’ve worked with a lot of brands and obviously, you probably see a lot of the brands out in the marketplace that maybe you didn’t even work with but you understand what they’re doing. What are the characteristics of a really strong brand? Maybe, you could share a few examples of non-profits that have really strong brands and kind of what they actually have that makes that come to life?
Lara: Sure. I know that people hate this, but I always use this example of Charity Water.
Lara: People hate it but of course they have everything together and they’re doing so well. But they really are a good inspiration and that’s really, I think, what they are meant to be in this space. But Charity Water is great because when you think of Charity Water you think of yellow, but you also think of their logo, and then you also think of these really big images of a face, you know, a kid who wants water and needs water. And so their brand is a lot more than just their logo, you know. You’re thinking of all these different components with their brand, and I think even getting that watering can in there and all those imagery. It’s all tied to their brand and they’ve done a really good job at making a consistent cohesive brand, but also pulling in these other elements to kind of balance and supplement their logo.
Steven: That’s great. When you think about what they do right, it seems like their brand is very consistent, right, so they’re doing things across all channels. They don’t kind of meander away from what they want to do despite where their communicating and kind of who they’re communicating to. What about this idea of consistency? Why is that so important when you’re considering a brand or a branding initiative?
Lara: Yes. It’s a great question and I think it’s something that is hard for any company or organization to think about because you get tired of using the same color, or you want to switch up the design, and it’s really tempting to do that. And I think sometimes, consistency can seem really boring, the quality. You know, you think of brands like Coca Cola and they’ve been so consistent over so long, and when they tried to rebrand, there was basically a revolt against it.
Lara: So when you think of Coca Cola, you’re thinking of red, you’re thinking of the script font, you’re thinking of polar bears. You know, it’s the kind of thing where you are developing something so strong by being somewhat boring, but consistent across the board. And it feels daunting to the people actually in the organization, but you are able to communicate a really powerful message to your constituents by keeping with that consistency over decades.
Steven: You used the Coke example and you also talked about asking what other people think the brand is. It seems like the organization can do a lot to define their own brand, but for an existing organization, it’s sort of externally defined and you kind of have to go with it. Is that kind of a fair statement, or how do you walk that line between defining what you want your brand to be versus what it’s already perceived as externally, which is probably pretty hard to change I would imagine?
Lara: Yes, it’s tough, it’s tricky. We’re actually dealing with that with one of our clients right now where people view them as sort of an education resource, and really, what they’re providing is more of kind of life skills. And switching that perception in the community is tricky. It takes a long time. So I think the point of the rebrand and a brand strategy if you’re already an existing organization is to change that perception and it takes years, if not longer, to actually get that new brand in front of people and get them thinking and talking with the new messaging. But it’s possible; it’s definitely possible, and I think a lot of organizations have done it successfully. But getting that clear vision, to begin with, is really how you’re going to set yourself up for success with a rebrand.
Steven: That makes a lot of sense. Well, last question for you and then we’ll let you go. And I’m interested in what advice you have for non-profits who-, you know, it’s an existing organization, they’ve been around for a while, but maybe they’re starting to feel that the brand is getting a little stale. Maybe they’ve been using the same kind of design for years and years and it doesn’t really lend itself to what they actually do now. What are maybe two or three pieces of advice you would give to those folks, besides, of course, working with Achieve, which I hope they would do? But what kind of exercises or things should they go through to maybe start that process of a re-brand?
Lara: You know, sitting down with your team and really making time for it sometimes is the best thing you can do. Branding is tough; marketing is tough, especially with non-profits where you might not have a marketing person. You might have a marketing flash development person, everyone is wearing a lot of different hats, and we understand that better than anybody. So having the team actually, sit down and focus on it and talk through it and say, what do we want our brand to be? What kind of messaging, what kind of stories, what do we want people to think about when they think of our brand? What kind of words come to mind when they think of our brand? We do things like mood boards, you know, kind of showing the essence and the feeling that you want the brand and logo to evoke. Things like that, you know, pulling images, pulling colors, pulling feel and style, and having everyone bring something to the table. Sometimes, it’s the best thing you can do just to get the conversation going.
Steven: I love it, that’s great advice. Well cool. This was really fun. This is a topic I love to talk about and I’m sure we could talk about this for hours, but we do want to keep these a little short. But I’m going to give you the last word to tell folks where they can find out more about you, where they can follow you online, and learn about all the great work you’re doing.
Lara: Yes, feel free to follow me on Twitter. It’s @larainindy, and you can find Achieve at achieveguidance.com. We also have a Twitter handle, achieve_consults. We love interaction on social media and hearing feedback and what non-profit issues and problems there are. We’re definitely open to those conversations. You can feel free to shoot me an emaill. [email protected] And if you’re interested in Achieve and just want to hear a little bit more about us, I love grabbing coffee and talking about it. I’m sort of the mini-brand advocate for Achieve, so I’m definitely willing to do that for anyone interested.
Steven: Great. Do take advantage of that and check these guys out. They do a lot of great work. Well, Lara, this is a lot of fun. Thanks for joining us; thanks for taking some time out of your day. And for everyone watching or listening, thanks for hanging out with us for a little while and we’ll catch you next week. Bye now.