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Should Each of Your Programs Have its Own Brand?

Posted by on September 20th, 2019
Posted in Blog, Nonprofit Branding, Nonprofit Messaging   

We hear this question often: Should we be branding each of our individual programs, or creating one umbrella brand under which all our programs can live?

Many nonprofits have named programs that are better known than the organization that runs them. If a program is popular, why shouldn’t it stand alone in all its glory?

There are two main reasons:

  1. Volunteers, staff, and other internal stakeholders will feel that they work only for that program instead of for the organization, or on behalf of its wider mission. That leads to programs neither sharing in nor benefitting from the inspiration and resources from their sister programs.
  2. External stakeholders won’t connect the dots between the program they love and your mission, so the organization misses the opportunity to build deeper relationships with their work. Nonprofits could well find that supporters know and love just one or two programs, but have no relationship with others or the organization as a whole.

How effectively you communicate the relationship of your programs to one another is the difference between having a powerful, unified master brand and a disorganized, confusing set of programs.

Strong brands prosper; weak brands flail.

Branding Done Right

As an example of branding done right, consider Kaiser-Permanente. Their brand is about the commitment to healthy living that leads to a full, happy life. Their tagline, Thrive, says it all.

Kaiser-Permanente doesn’t run ads promoting their primary care physicians, exercise classes, or support groups. Instead they focus on inspiring people to thrive through the full package of Kaiser-Permanente programs.

If they told us about their exercise classes, we might mistake them for a gym — instead of seeing them as a healthcare organization and remembering them when medical issues arise.

The same dynamic holds true for your nonprofit. When you promote your programs without communicating why you operate those programs, you miss the chance to get people excited about the big ideas you stand for.

One Brand — and One Brand Strategy

We advocate that our clients set an encompassing brand strategy and tie their programs to that master brand. The more cohesive that brand is, the more success you’ll have attracting people to all of your programs. Cohesive brands instill trust and trust builds engagement across the full range of your offerings.

The American Red Cross, for example, doesn’t scatter its resources by branding each of their major service lines. They promote the organization first and their specific line of services second. This means that when you see American Red Cross, you understand what the organization is about, even if you’re encountering a specific service of theirs for the first time.

How to Connect Programs and Organizations

You can connect programs to their parent organizations by including visual cues (such as logos and type treatments that feel part of a family), modifiers (“A program of X organization”), or by using a consistent naming structure for each program (repeating one word or the entire name in each program name).

Consider how Santa Rosa Community Health ties their nine health centers together under their unified brand. When Mission Minded first started working with them, each of their locations had its own name and distinct visual identity. We helped them tie everything together with a comprehensive brand strategy, so — while individual locations retain a personality that appeals to their local constituents —all nine health centers look and feel part of a recognizable whole.

To begin, ask yourself what the big idea is that unifies all of your nonprofit’s programs. (You can read about how to do that here). With that idea articulated, evaluate each of your programs to see how connected they feel. Having a unique name for a certain program may be okay, so long as you always link it back to the master brand.

For sustainability you need your stakeholders — and especially your donors — to fall in love with your whole organization. Even if they are partial to one program over another, you’ll have more success when people appreciate the entirety of your work rather than just a slice of it.


*Editor’s note: This post was originally published in March 2015 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.


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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