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Non-profits Find Value in Upping Brand Recognition

The Michael Hoefflin Foundation is tackling an image crisis of sorts. It provides financial and emotional support to children and families dealing with cancer in the greater San Fernando Valley area but the foundation isn’t very well known outside of its home town of Santa Clarita. “We’re known in the Santa Clarita Valley but not as much in our broader service area,” said Jeffrey Shapiro, executive director of the non-profit that was founded in 1994. “It’s vital we get that recognition and it’s vital we continue to educate Santa Clarita Valley residents.” So for the past year and a half, Shapiro and the board of directors have been focusing on “re-branding” the organization. This includes developing visual material (e.g. logo, stationery) and messaging that are consistent and speak to the larger mission and service area. “There are so many charities out there, and the question is how you make yourself stand out,” he said. Branding is a top priority for many area non-profits. Like well known companies such as Nike or Coca Cola, brand awareness and trust in that brand is what keeps people and money coming back. It’s one element of growing and running a non-profit efficiently. Creating local awareness “Over the past five years we’ve branded ourselves as a national but local club,” said Jan Sobel, CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of the West Valley. “We added ‘Right here in the San Fernando Valley’ to the national tag line, because we have to tell the local story.” Sobel said the good news is that the Boys & Girls Club is a long-standing national organization that has brand awareness. The bad news is that many potential donors assume the local club is supported by the national entity. In fact, the Boys & Girls Club of the West Valley is mostly owned and operated locally, even though it uses the national logo and runs some national programs. Sobel and the board are getting the local message out through media, some advertising, Internet and social networking sites, and word-of-mouth. The club has also overhauled its financial and management systems, since financial stability is another important part of attracting donations and volunteers. “For the past four to five years, this club has had a renaissance, going from two to seven sites and doubling its donations,” said Sobel. “I think prior to five years ago nobody knew we existed and we were kind of an after thought.” The top five charities in the U.S. that people are most likely to donate to include: Susan G. Komen for the Cure; American Cancer Society; St. Jude’s Research Hospital; Goodwill Industries; and the Salvation Army, according to Harris Interactive’s 2010 EquiTrend report, an annual brand equity study. Americans’ likelihood of donating has increased in 2010, said the study. And one of the most critical elements of a non-profit’s brand name, and ability to attract those dollars, is people being able to trust the organization. The credibility factor “The trust that the general public place in non-profits is paramount to their success as enduring brands,” said Justin Greeves of Harris Interactive. “Those that deliver well on their promises and missions stand the test of time.” People want to give their time and money to non-profits that are credible in both their look and mission, said Christina Jorgensen of Drizen-Dohs Corporate Communications in Chatsworth. When you create a brand you want all of the organization’s chapters and offices to communicate the same message and same look. All of the Internet, written and other materials should reflect who you want to be five years down the road. “You want to raise the bar and have something to aspire towards,” said Jorgensen. Some re-branding campaigns can be done fast. Others may take four to six months, depending on the complexity of the overhaul and organization. But it’s a process that, when done right, is almost like strategic planning for the non-profit, she said. Walking a fine line Shapiro and the Michael Hoefflin Foundation board of directors created a subcommittee to focus on the re-branding. Re-branding the organization is a fine line to walk though, he said. “Considering our core supporters, we need to be sure we don’t do it at the expense of what’s recognizable and endearing to them.” Strategic thinking, strong governance, operational leadership, fiscal responsibility, and having a steady pipeline of volunteers are the other elements of running a non-profit efficiently and attracting donations, he said.

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