Why Indian non-profits should stop using marketing & brand building as a “bad” word

May 5, 2017 Brand 0 Comments

When I started Collaborative Community (2010), with design as the focused intervention in social sector/ non-profits, NGOs in India, the intentions were well received but putting the money where it mattered was difficult. The “pro-bono” mind set of non-profits for design services still continues although the freebies expectation has reduced since 2010. Now the established, large to even mid-scale non-profits are investing in design of brand identity (popularly quoted as “design us a logo”), communication collaterals and website for fundraising. Our firm has always maintained the agility to evolve our services according to the strength of our skills balanced with the real gap of services in the social sector. In the last two years, we started focusing on brand building and digital marketing as the real gap and need for social sector organisations. And we face resistance from organisations, with myths and assumptions about why brand building is so critical for non-profits to be sustainable and what is the process involved with a long-term commitment to not just the vision or impact but the path to its sustainability. The majority of organisations that are on board with the intent are unable to block their budgets, resources or don’t figure ways of raising additional money for brand building.

As we share more content about why and how to build a brand, I wanted to first address the resistance to the concept of brand building and marketing.

There are various factors/ root causes of why organisations resist to the idea of marketing and brand building so we try to address some of these myths and how we can break the stereotypes.

brand & marketing for nonprofits india

Debunking myths

  • Associating with commercialisation or profits

Brand building and marketing as terminology and execution is primarily known in the commercial sector and in India, the idea of brand building is still viewed with profit intentions by many non-profits, NGOs and government. Although international grant makers, foundations, non-profits in metro cities are exposed and recognise the need for marketing building sustainable model for funds.


  • Not focused on impact

Many at times, specific audiences or funding organisations develop a view that non-profit organisations that have strong brand building activities and marketing capacity, don’t seem to be more focused about impact or the program delivery. This also leads to organisations internally mirroring this view that being perceived as a strong brand presence in public, a larger marketing team, investing resources and budgets for brand building will not be appreciated or viewed negatively rather by funders.


  • Self-promotion

Brand building is often viewed as a tool for self-promotion of the organisation or organisational leader. If an organisation is individual/ founder driven, it might be perceived as self-promotion of the organisation leader, but sometimes brand building of organisation leader leads to attracting and engaging relevant funders in terms of credibility. Self- promotion is not a singular idea of leader glorification, it can be misused and leveraged very well to further the organisations’ positive impact and growth.


  • Not relevant to capacity building of organisation

Capacity building of NGO, non-profit organisations is understood in the areas of talent/ HR, training of team, infrastructure, marketing but brand building is not completely understood as a category. It neither communications, advocacy, outreach nor marketing, fundraising. Brand building sits on top as the custodian, content, beacon and outreach activities, digital, PR, marketing is an extension, distribution and execution of a brand.


Breaking the stereotype

So how do we overcome the myths of brand building in Indian social sector? We can break the stereotypes and assumptions of brand building internally within the organisation first and educating the external audience over a period of time.

  • Educating stakeholders

It is imperative to educate the stakeholders, internal and external, especially funders about the relevance and impact of brand building on sustainability of a non-profit organisation.

There are enough online resources such as articles, videos, talks at events that can be shared about the importance of brand building in social sector. By also investing a sustained budget into brand building, organisations can demonstrate to other funders how brand building directly impacts the organisation capacity to not just sustain but also grow and thrive with their work. The tougher part is to convince funders about looking at brand building as an investment and long-term exercise to reap exponential benefits across the organisation’s work and beyond just programmatic support.


  • Recognising capacity building support

A NGO, non-profit organisation need to also internalise and recognise that brand building is inherently part of organisation capacity building exercise over a period of time. The leadership team need to prioritise investing in it as they do in human capital, training and other resources. The internalisation of it will lead to the team pitching and allocating resources for brand building more effectively and the funders will clearly see the confidence and resolve of the team in benefits of brand building.


  • Non-profits need to thrive

A non-profit can only continue to make positive impact and change when it cannot just sustain but also thrive. It will require more than just funding, to attract quality talent who are willing to commit not because it feels good or a part-time charity. Rather a full-time job that has immense career growth opportunities, comfortable lifestyle that can compete with commercial sector jobs.

“In order to do so, the organisation needs to also build a brand that young top-quality talent can find aspirational as much as they find it inspirational.”

There are many social sector leaders such as Dan Pallotta who has been talking about how non-profits need to be as lucrative career as commercial sector and his work demonstrates the investment in brand building.