Nonprofit organizations can and should put disciplined thought and effort against developing a distinctive brand, one that communicates their organization’s “why” and gives stakeholders compelling reasons to engage with them. While branding in the nonprofit sector has historically applied primarily to fundraising, its application has become more encompassing, with more organizations harnessing its power to drive long-term strategy, stand for something in the marketplace and engage internal and external stakeholders.

What many nonprofit leaders overlook is that their own personal brand is also a reflection of their broader organization’s. No matter their role in the nonprofit – executive director, marketing executive, fundraiser or board member – personal branding plays a role. Too often, people leave their personal brand to chance and underestimate the lost opportunity and impact this will have on their organization. As Amazon’s Jeff Bezos says, your personal brand is “what people say about you when you leave the room.” Think about the last meeting you led. What words would the participants use to describe you? What values did you put in action? To what degree did what you say align with and advance your organization’s brand? If you don’t think you adequately controlled each of these variables, the good news is that you can.

Once Upon a Time: Crafting a Compelling Narrative
One of the most effective ways to ensure that you embody your organization’s brand identify and amplify it in your community is through story telling. Skilled leaders know how to develop a narrative that revolves around their core values and use it repeatedly to achieve their organizational, professional and personal goals. Every story is different, but each speaks to the “why” that motivates the individual to do the work they do. Engagement is the goal and is achieved through personal anecdotes, compelling facts, human interest stories and other reasons to believe (RTBs). These RTBs work on intellectual and emotional levels to seamlessly weave the individual’s narrative into that of their organization. 

There are three key elements to crafting an effective personal branding story that aligns with your nonprofit’s:   

  1. Be authentic. Don’t try and be something you are not. Reach deep down to your core and tap into what makes you feel motivated, energized and committed to your organization on a personal level. Speak from the heart with honesty, openness and transparency to express your vision and values. Authenticity rings true and will let people see that you aren’t doing something just for the sake of marketing or fundraising, for example, but that you’re doing it legitimately because you believe that it’s the right thing to do. Authenticity means being relevant, so choose aspects of your life and beliefs that tie closely to the mission of your nonprofit.

  2. Be consistent. Consistency builds confidence and trust. If the personal brand you project through your social media, in-person presentations and communications are wildly divergent, you won’t have a clear personal brand. People will become confused about what you stand for and you will lose alignment with your nonprofit’s brand identity. Once you become cognizant of the importance of being consistent, it’s one of the easiest measures to master. Think of Martha Stewart. Love her or hate her, she has built a brand so consistent that it has rung true from apple pie to K-Mart to prison and back. She has overcome the odds and remains a successful leader today because of her consistent spirit, approach and discipline.

  3. Make it memorable. There is no shortage of heart breaking and inspirational human interest stories in the world of nonprofits. Given how moving so many of these can be, it can be a challenge to make your own story memorable. But that’s not a reason to not do it. Find ways to go beyond words and bring your story to life. Use language that paints a picture, reference someone’s story in a counterintuitive way or use surprising facts and figures to get attention. When telling your story, pretend that you’re talking to your college roommate or even a younger person to break through jargon and say it like it is. People are surprised and appreciative to hear “real talk” and you’ll make a lasting impression when you do.

With these basics down you’re ready to bring your brand to life, online through your social media channels, in the office and in person at board meetings, community events, discussions with funders, policy makers, volunteers and the media. Keep your compass set to what is authentic and meaningful about your position and your beliefs and you will elevate both your own brand and your nonprofit’s. Resist the temptation of activities, associations or partnerships that are off topic and that will distract you from your authentic narrative. In doing so, you will strengthen your personal brand and continue to elevate your nonprofit’s profile and distinctive positioning.