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Does Your Nonprofit Brand Have Head and Heart?

Posted by on May 23rd, 2012
Posted in Blog, Nonprofit Branding   

We’ve worked recently with several clients whose organizations were going strong, but that nevertheless knew that it was time to make their brand even stronger. With time and money at a premium, why would they decide this?

Because brands that are “just fine” won’t hold up if the going gets rough.

Your organization needs a brand so strong that people want to support it no matter what.

That means you have a brand that people love (heart) and can easily rationalize supporting (head) no matter what other “competing” organizations come along (and they will) that look newer, sexier, better.

A brand with head and heart means that the promise you make to your constituents resonates with their intellect as well as meeting their emotional needs. One or the other just isn’t enough.

No one understands this better than car marketers. What they understand about brands that capture the head and the heart offers valuable guidance for nonprofit organizations.

Take BMW. If a BMW was perceived ONLY as highly functional (as in “German engineering”) there would be no emotional pull toward purchase for most people. But because luxury, status, sexiness and a whole host of other emotional attributes are associated with the car, buyers (maybe even a few of you reading this now) choose BMW over others car options.

They fall in love with the car for the heart reasons and then justify its price and any other deficiencies with their rational minds.

Naturally if a car is the Ultimate Driving Machine because of its highly functional German engineering, the price must be worth it. And that’s how the buyer makes herself feel good about the decision to buy a super sexy luxurious car – it’s a top-of-the line automotive engineering product, so she has all the head reasons she needs to make BMW her choice.

Now look at Volvo. The brand of this car is safety. Is safety a head or a heart idea? It’s both and here’s why: Safety on the surface sounds rational and logical — and it is. Everyone wants a safe car, don’t we?

But safety is linked with love and caring. Love of one’s self and one’s family. If I want a car to help me feel secure, like a good provider, and like a Mama Grizzly doing whatever is necessary to protect her cubs — I choose the Volvo.

Volvo has been perfectly explicit that the people who drive their cars love their families and will do anything for them. As the buyer, I have an emotional (heart) need to feel like a protector and Volvo is my choice because it gives me all sorts of rational detail (the latest in air bags and anti-lock breaks as examples) about why this is the safest car. Most cars are pretty safe, right? But Volvo makes one feel like being safe equals being a loving nurturer.

If your supporters love you but can’t really rationalize supporting you, then your organization’s brand needs to back up that emotion with the logical reasons for that love (extreme financial efficiency, strategic innovation, and prestigious leadership are examples.)

On the other hand, if people feel rationally that your services and programs are good, but aren’t in love with you – your brand needs an infusion of emotion.

The way to determine what that infusion ought to be is to get into the mind of your average supporter. Ask yourself what matters most to him or her. And ask this question not about their lives in relation to your nonprofit. Remember that their lives don’t revolve around your organization, as much as you might wish that they did.

What matters to them? What worries them? What makes them proud or enthusiastic? After understanding this, you can begin to think about how to add value for them. How can your nonprofit make a donor feel better about herself?

That’s right: it’s not just about your organization. It’s about how people feel about being aligned with your mission.

We worked with a client recently who smartly recognized that their ideal donor was so busy and businesslike that what their organization could offer her was peace of mind and a way to simplify her life. They positioned a donation to their organization as a way for the donor to show her love of those this organization helps, in a way that would be quick, efficient and effective. They made it easy for her to act on her desires to make a big impact with her money (heart) without a lot of time and hard work on her part (head.)

Give your donors, volunteers, collaborators and staff reasons to both love and respect you and you’ve got a nonprofit brand to weather any storm.

Please let us know if your nonprofit has looked at your brand in this way, and how that did or didn’t help you.


Jennie Winton is a Founding Partner of Mission Minded, a 25-year marketing veteran sought for her expertise in branding nonprofit organizations, and a one-on-one leadership coach.

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