Few people in the country have studied nonprofits brands as methodically as Nathalie Laidler-Kylander, a lecturer in public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. I gained plenty of new insights when she presented some of her research insights on campus more than a year ago, and today I enjoyed hearing how she’s pulling it together nicely during a workshop for folks at this year’s Massachusetts Nonprofit Network (MNN) annual conference in Framingham.
Some of the takeaways from Nathalie’s session:
Brands are assets, and as such deserve cultivation, protection and investment. Paradoxically, brands may have value for an organization but are truly owned by customers and external stakeholders — something she admits is “very freaky.”
Everything has a brand, whether you think so or not. After all, a brand is an idea that lives in the minds of people outside your organization. People have a notion of you.
Brands play a critical role for nonprofits. Specifically, they set you apart; offer a shortcut for decision-making; bring cohesion and (welcome) limits; elicit emotions, responses and action; and create trust and loyalty.
The highly performing nonprofit brands have three elements: integrity (an internal alignment between identity and image); democracy (that allows for stakeholders to shape and own the brand idea); and affinity (that welcome partnerships and collaboration).
Later in the day, Shaun Adamec provided a nice bookend with his workshop on storytelling. The former press secretary for Maryland’s governor, Shaun was well-versed in the art of using narrative to frame the issue at hand, and provided with simple but effective exercises to demonstrate. Some of my takeaways from his session:
The elements of a good story must include people (characters); a solution or resolution; and process (journey) to get from the first to the second.
In writing, we should give our audiences more metaphors, more imagery and more stories — and fewer facts and figures, fewer acronyms, and less wonk language.
I was thrilled to see this year’s agenda feature both topics so prominently, and hope it reflects MNN’s belief in the importance of brand, storytelling and communication more broadly.
Buy Nathalie’s book, The Brand IDEA: Managing Nonprofit Brands with Integrity, Democracy and Affinity” here. Visit Shaun’s company, Adamec Communications, online here.