Advancement Branding: Creating a Place in Minds and Hearts

nonprofit strategy

Many nonprofits are beginning to apply the concept of “branding” to advancement operations. But what exactly is branding, and how can it be applied to fundraising programs?

A quick primer…. Branding is often confused with marketing. In the simplest explanation, marketing supports the brand. The process of branding establishes a foundation upon which marketing techniques and tactics can be built.

Applied to nonprofit fundraising, marketing might have the goal of producing a tangible, short-term result — such as convincing 1,000 people to give before midnight on December 31st. Advancement branding seeks to make a deeper, long-term connection to constituents that will (hopefully) result in more loyalty and increased levels of donor engagement and support.

In essence, branding for advancement is about creating a place in the minds and hearts of constituents.

When it comes to applying branding to fundraising programs, going through a branding exercise can help nonprofit fundraisers identify opportunities for more clarity, structure and consistency around an organization’s philanthropic identity and messaging. When applied to fundraising programs like annual funds and capital campaigns, the branding process can help ensure that messaging produces positive and authentic shared perceptions across various donor and prospect audiences.

If branding sounds confusing as applied to nonprofit fundraising, take a step back and read Wikipedia’s page on brand architecture. Your nonprofit itself is the “parent brand.” In many cases, you may have sub-brands that fall under its umbrella. For example: One of our nonprofit clients has four sub-brands that employ unique messaging and positioning. Their “brand family” includes an annual fund, a legacy society for planned giving donors, a recognition society for annual fund donors, and a second recognition society to honor total lifetime giving.

Advancement branding is an important consideration for nonprofits that want to effectively engage donors and attract new supporters. Branding isn’t something that should be limited to the parent organization. After all, most communications from nonprofit organizations are deployed by fundraising professionals. Each year, advancement programs are responsible for dozens — maybe even hundreds — of engagement touchpoints with external audiences. Each can have a positive, negative or null effect. Whether it is appeal copy, a certain photograph used in a brochure, a script that callers follow for phonathon, a President’s speech to alumni, or the manner in which staff answer the phone, every engagement is an opportunity to positively supportnegatively impact, or have no effect on the brand.

Advancement branding can have a profound effect on the way constituents perceive a nonprofit and its philanthropic worthiness.

When every engagement is informed by a branding process that has identified what matters most to supporters, audiences invite nonprofits to occupy a place in their minds and hearts. And when that mindspace and heartspace is granted, nonprofits open a direct line of communication with donors and prospects. Individuals put their trust in the organization and become more willing to open direct mail envelopes, take phone calls, read e-appeals, and engage.


On average, new IPM clients see a 34.8% increase in direct mail fundraising acquisition response rates within the first year of working with us. Want to learn more?

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