Joshua Adams

  Joshua Adams


Is marketing important for cause-based nonprofits? Sometimes marketing is considered to be a bad word, just like profit. I was a youth pastor for three years. I get it. But you must run any organization like a business. There is a balance sheet. There are margins. There is overhead. You have customers, kind of. You have to cater to those people.

If you are a nonprofit or a ministry, you have to get out to your audience, and you are trying to attract them. It doesn’t matter whether you are trying to make a profit or make an impact. Regardless of what it is you are trying to do, you have to reach people with your message. Sometimes that marketing is to get donors, to drive revenue, to be able to do bigger things. Sometimes it is for outreach, to be able to reach people who are in need. How you get that message out there is important.

What is that message? If you don’t have a clear, concise, consistent message, people don’t know what you stand for. That’s very important, even more so for nonprofits. What is this organization, what do they stand for, what is their message, why should we be involved, why should we give? There has to be a clear message.

Most people think that a brand is a logo and some colors. While that is part of your brand, you have to understand that your logo is a representation of your brand. Your true brand is the character and essence of your company, the personality of it, what it stands for. Your brand is not necessarily that pretty logo sitting there. When you have a truly great logo, a truly great image representation of your brand, it comes from a good understanding of who you are.

Stop and know yourself.

  • Who are you?
  • What are you trying to convey?
  • What makes you different?

Know yourself. Know the true part. A lot of organizations don’t.

  • Why do you do what you do?
  • What kind of an impact are you making on the world that is different from the other groups doing it?
  • Why are you more trustworthy?

Tell me more about you. Tug at my heartstrings.

  • What is the vision of your brand?
  • In ten words or fewer, what is the highest calling of the company?
  • What is that headline in a future newspaper that you’ll be so proud of?
  • What is your battle cry?

When you can define that, you can go from there and define your mission statement, which is the how.

  • How do I accomplish that vision?
  • What is my brand promise?
  • Who am I making that promise to, and what is that promise, that unique thing I am promising to every customer, stakeholder, donor, whomever?
  • What is that unique promise I am making?

It’s important to define this stuff so that it can float up in the mind of the organization’s leaders, its members, employees, staff or team members, or clergy.

The executive director is normally the person who has to go to the board and say, “This is important to me because…” People don’t know who we are. People don’t know what we are. Our name may not represent what we do currently; it might represent what we did 20 years ago. Talk about that. Is this even relevant currently? Understand that you have to make sure you are speaking the right message to the right audience, that you’re differentiating yourself from the crowd, that you’re making an impact with your message, and that you’re being consistent. These are all things that are important to any organization.

You need to get your board to understand why this is important, that everything you do is influenced through your brand. If people don’t trust your brand, they are not going to donate, and they are not going to attend your events. It’s the same with a business. If you go to a website and see a product you might be interested in, but the website doesn’t look good and the logo looks like it was made in MS Paint, you are going to think twice about clicking the Buy Now button. This is just regular business. You’re afraid you don’t know who they are.

The same thing is true with nonprofits. If I go to your website and it doesn’t look great, then I am afraid to make that donation. It’s just the way the world works. We are trained that if it’s trustworthy, it’s consistent. That’s why it’s important to have that brand cohesiveness. It doesn’t have to be the most amazing, wondrous design on the planet, but it does need to make sense. It needs to convey the right message. It needs to be consistent. Speak to the right audience. And choose your design, style, colors, and everything else based on what your audience wants, not necessarily your stakeholders’ favorite color.

Sometimes it can be a challenge to work through this with a board and define a course. There is a general education level needed before people can make decisions. The more people you have, the harder it is to make finite decisions. It can be challenging to make sure you really break down what you stand for. You’ll need to pull this out of them. “Let’s talk more about this. Let’s build this promise.” Once you have a unified promise and everybody can agree on what you’re promising, it’s so much easier to deliver on that brand. Work on things like brand personality, how it should sound, how it should look, how it should act when it’s out there.

Core values and value statements are the essence of your brand. But getting everyone to agree can be challenging. You have to rally around core goals and a core vision. What are you trying to accomplish today? Typically, that is unity, a strong message, focusing your scattered message because nobody knows who you are. The first step is that vision. If you can get the group to agree on a vision, the rest of it is much easier. You can build out from there.

Once you have defined all of this, then you can build a website to manifest that brand image, matching color, logo, and style, but now you are matching personality, belief, and message. Design is so much more than just some pretty pictures and colors. It’s a message. True design has a purpose. Why are you doing what you’re doing? Ask why you’re doing everything you do. Do not rush this part of it. Don’t just do something to have a website up next month. That may do you more harm than good. There is such a thing as negative brand recognition.

Create a web experience, versus just a website, so that visitors get the whole experience. There needs to be an engagement involved. Build your website on purpose.

  • What does your brand say?
  • Are you controlling that?
  • Are you purposely driving that message?
  • Does the brand say that we know what we’re doing, we’re fun, we’re exciting, we do all this stuff?
  • Or does it say, maybe we don’t know, maybe we’re not put together, maybe we’re not organized?

Your brand will have a message. People are going to take that in subconsciously without even knowing it. I’m not saying that there is somehow a correlation to how good an organization you are. But it does impact perception.

Regardless of the facts, perception is the truth to most people. How often are we misjudged as people? Until it’s corrected, that perception is what they are going to believe. The perception of your brand, unfortunately, is the truth to your audience until you change that. Take control of your brand so that it says what you want, and everything else will follow.

Is your brand going to just accidentally communicate to people that you have integrity, that you are team players, that you are fun? No. You have to decide that’s what you want your brand to say, and then push it out there.

Joshua Adams is Head Honcho of Rock Paper Simple, a marketing company that has received multiple business and advertising awards by putting results first, looking for the simplest but most effective options to move forward. For more information and special offers, go to

Joshua created the website.

This article is reprinted from Issue #10 of Nonprofit Performance Magazine. Subscribe today so that you won’t miss other actionable articles that will help you run your nonprofit organization with less pain and more gain!

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