Building a Business Case for Investing in Nonprofit Branding

How to secure support from your executive team and board to fuel a rebrand.

By Deroy Peraza, Partner at Hyperakt

As a communications leader, you understand the critical role of branding in shaping perceptions and inspiring trust. Nonprofits are purveyors of emotions rather than things, so trust is everything. Many nonprofits, however, fail to reflect their organizations authentically or assert their place in the world. Our evaluation tool shows that the average Nonprofit Brand Score is just 66 out of 100, and that average is lower for older and larger organizations.

A person in a lab coat holds a blueprint of a rocket. The image transitions to show the rocket launching with an astronaut inside, suggesting the blueprint has come to life. The scene is colorful with blue, purple, yellow, and orange hues.

Illustration by Merit Myers

Branding is undeniably a significant investment. Your organization might be caught in the Nonprofit Starvation Cycle, where unrealistic funding expectations lead to underinvestment in overhead, perpetuating the cycle. Leadership might question the value of investing in branding over direct service work.

To secure investment in a rebrand, you’ll need to make sure your team understands the value of branding, and you’ll need to find advocates on your board who will support your business case. Here are some strategies, along with insights from four fundraising experts who have navigated this process.

Navigating Stages of Awareness

Let’s presume that the challenges before you are rooted in branding and not in broader organizational strategy or culture issues. Before making a case for a rebrand, assess your team's readiness. Rhea Wong, a fundraising consultant for nonprofit leaders and former executive director of Breakthrough NY, introduced us to the Stages of Awareness as a helpful framework for assessing this:

  1. Unaware — No recognition of a problem.

  2. Symptom Aware — Awareness of issues without understanding the cause.

  3. Problem Aware — Identifying the cause of issues.

  4. Solution Aware — Recognizing what needs to be done.

If your team is Unaware, they may deny the need for change. At the Symptom Aware stage, your nonprofit might struggle with donor attraction, grantee trust, or consistent communication.

How do you describe your organization at a cocktail party or protest? When the answer is different for every staff and board member, that's a red flag.
Kevin Keenan
Former Executive Vice President and Special Counsel at the Vera Institute of Justice, founder of GROW Strategies, a leadership, fundraising, and strategy consultancy

To move your team to the Problem Aware stage, your team would benefit from a diagnostic tool like our Nonprofit Brand Score to assess your brand's effectiveness. This gives everyone visibility into how your brand is currently perceived, and provides helpful language to discuss what needs to be addressed. Once your team reaches the Solution Aware stage, they will be more willing to invest in branding to address identified issues.

The Language of Branding

For colleagues in the Symptom Aware stage, it’s essential to build language around branding’s role and value. We talk about branding as an exercise in capacity building. To build capacity is to create possibilities that would previously not have existed.

Branding builds capacity for fundraising, for attracting employees and partners, for influence. It’s capacity building for your organization’s ability to communicate, earn trust, and inspire pride.

The opportunity cost of not investing in branding boils down to missed funds, talent, and partnerships.

Christopher Pearsall, formerly VP of Brand & Communication at DonorsChoose, emphasizes, “We knew that, before we launched large-scale efforts to reach new audiences, we needed to be ‘ready for primetime’ with a consistent brand look and feel.” Laura Meli, Chief Development Officer at Girls Who Code adds, “We are able to do high profile partnerships and collaborations and money sometimes comes in just because folks have seen our brand and know who we are.”

Enlist the Board

Once you and your team have compelling language to make a business case for branding, connect with people on your board.

Alex Villari of Grand Army Advisors suggests, “Facilitate a conversation with your board and donors about your nonprofit brand. Is there an interest, appetite, and need to make a brand change? Can it be financed as part of a larger fundraising or capital campaign? Get the feedback loop flowing and good things tend to happen.”

Board members, who put their reputation on the line, have a vested interest in your brand’s effectiveness. Kevin Keenan, reminds us: “These people, who love your organization, want the world to know about it, and they are frustrated that more people–especially in their peer group–don’t.” Rhea Wong, who is also a board member of SparkYouth NYC, notes, “Without the tools, it’s impossible for the board to raise money. They need a brand they can feel good about introducing to their networks.”

Find your board advocates and invite their help building a case with board peers and leadership for a rebrand. Have them carry the water for you. It’s more powerful when peers talk to each other on the same level.

From Strategic Plan to Strategic Brand

Sometimes, the best way to make the case for rebranding comes down to timing.

Most nonprofits develop strategic plans every three to five years, and branding is a natural outgrowth of that process. Strategic plans are commonly written from an operational, internal-facing lens. Branding is crucial for communicating and realizing strategic plan goals. It’s the bridge from within your organization to the great big world beyond.

If your organization is planning or in the midst of a strategic process, position a rebrand as an essential part of the process for your leadership team and board.

In an increasingly noisy world, a strong brand and the courage to claim an edge is the only way to compete in an attention economy.
Rhea Wong
Fundraising Consultant for Nonprofit Leaders

Ready to Find Solutions for Your Brand?

If you suspect your nonprofit’s brand isn’t fully supporting your mission (Symptom Aware), start by taking Hyperakt’s Nonprofit Brand Score. In five minutes, you’ll receive a score and analysis showing where your brand falls short. Share results with colleagues to establish a collective understanding and move to the Problem Aware phase. Then, it’s time to discuss whether you need a Brand Refresh or a Brand Transformation.

Reach out to discuss building a business case for a rebrand at your organization.

Ready to unlock the potential of your nonprofit's brand?
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