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Should Your Nonprofit’s Values Be the Same as Your Brand Values?

Posted by on August 7th, 2012
Posted in Blog, Nonprofit Branding, Nonprofit Communications   

If you have thought about the brand of your organization, you know that your organization’s values are a critical pillar in an overall brand architecture.

Brand architecture is just a fancy phrase for the ideas that drive the promise your organization makes to the world.  At Mission Minded we believe a good nonprofit brand promise is built upon four pillars: values, personality, value exchange and uniqueness.  If a building is the metaphor for your brand, the brand promise is the roof, and one of the four pillars that hold up the roof are your brand values.

Let’s take a closer look at values.

By their very nature, mission-driven organizations are values-oriented.  Food banks, for example, care about the well-being of the least fortunate in a given community, and uphold values of health, humanitarianism, and altruism.  Arts organizations embody the values of creativity and public spiritedness in their work.

Alas, nonprofits often fail to articulate their values consistently and clearly.  Sure, maybe there is a list of your values posted somewhere in your office or tucked away on a page of your website, but does everyone you work with understand the values and how they can help live them every day?  Does everyone understand how to convey to your public that these values drive your work – and that they matter?

Clarity about what values are embodied in your work leads to brand clarity. And when you’re clear on your brand, everything you say, everything you do and all the ways you act can powerfully reinforce your values – making them clear to your key audiences.

That clarity will help attract attention and loyalty.

But are the brand values the same as your mission-driven values? Absolutely yes. Values are the truth about what your organization believes about how to be and move in the world. They are the principles upon which your organization was founded.  They may be so embedded in how your nonprofit runs that you don’t even recognize them anymore, like a fish that doesn’t know it’s in water.

We recently helped a membership organization refresh its brand. When they generated for us the list of the values they believe they hold it was a good strong list.  It included the ideas of expertise, fairness, collaboration and inclusivity. But they failed to list one of the most important values they hold – service.

As a membership organization service to their members is truly at the heart of their work.  I’ve never seen a group so committed to the well being of its members. They live and breathe for their members, finding joy and professional satisfaction in serving members on their terms. So why didn’t they list it as a value for their brand?  They just didn’t see it. And as outside consultants we could see it clearly, and told them so.

You might ask why it would matter that they didn’t include it on their brand values list. If they were living it so strongly every day, why should it matter whether service made it onto a written list?

Because when they realized what they’d overlooked, the skies opened up for them. Suddenly they recognized service as an organizing principle for their brand and that service was a way for them to truly differentiate themselves from their competitors – the other organizations purporting to serve their members.

Now that they had recognized service as something real and different from others they could place greater emphasis not only on delivering service, but on effectively communicating in action and in words their commitment to it. And since we service matters to their members this makes them even more appealing.

Brand values are your organization’s values. You can’t claim something that isn’t true. (Well, you can, but your audiences will quickly know that you’re not being authentic.)

So take the time to work with your colleagues to clearly define what values you hold dear. Do this sincerely, not wishing you had certain values that might make you more appealing, but really drilling down into the authentic values you work from every day. You may uncover new insight into what you want to promote to your constituents to help make you even more appealing.

If you already have a clear list of values, consider it critically. Does it really reflect how people act and make decisions?  Or was the list written by a committee, each member of which got to jam in his favorite word? Does the list have meaning? Does it differentiate you from other organizations that do similar work? Or could the list be written by any number of nonprofits?

At Mission Minded our values are expertise, integrity, reliability, respect and fun. Tell us yours.


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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One response to “Should Your Nonprofit’s Values Be the Same as Your Brand Values?”

  1. I keep a copy of our values in my line of sight at work. They inspire me everyday:
    *That creative expression and critical thinking skills are key to a young person’s development;
    *That creativity is critical to a dynamic and just society;
    *In embracing and demanding excellence of ourselves and others;
    *In courageous innovation combined with purposeful reflection;
    *In bringing joy, passion, and celebration to all that we do.