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YALI Voices: Why Branding Matters for Civil Society Organizations
October 20, 2017

In contemporary African societies, brands have played an important role. There has been a proliferation of choices and of brands, which act as a shortcut to access those choices. For example, when you purchase a product and you like it and go back and buy it again, the brand is the way for you to know that you are getting the same quality and experience you would expect from that product. The same example should be applied to your civil society organization, where the idea is to create a shortcut for development partners to support your organization’s vision, programs and interventions.

The basic premise for creating a strong civil society organization brand is your ability to express your message so that development partners can understand what you do and why you do it effectively. Therefore, within the civil society sector, branding may be defined as the capacity of an organization to educate and create emotional value that attracts loyal supporters and advocates to their cause. Branding may also be described as telling your story to your audience and showing why the work your organization does matters.

So what are the benefits of having a strong brand?

Strong brands articulate your message so people understand your mission: This is extremely important because most civil society organizations emphasize their mission and not specifically the impact they have achieved, which is what donors want to see, the ultimate results of the problem that you are solving.

Strong brands raise the level of professionalism and ensure consistency: This means that your organization’s newsletters, annual reports, brochures and programmes and how you use social media should reflect a consistency in the values and brand personality you are expressing. This helps to establish rapport with donors, your peers and beneficiaries, which makes a connection that is immediate and impactful. However, if you put out messages that are inconsistent, it makes your organization look unprofessional and unorganized. This is something you want to avoid.

Strong brands distinguish your organization from other organizations: For example, in Ghana there are over 6,500 registered civil society organizations. Therefore, it is important to distinguish your organization so that people know your uniqueness. This should be reflected in your service, the population you serve, the impact you achieve, and the way you go about delivering your service and your philosophy. Any of these measures can be differentiators that can help people understand what you are doing differently, why you exist, and why they need to support you.

Strong brands position your organization as a leader in its field: It is important that your organization is at the forefront of the specific work you do. As funding is being refined, the organizations that are going to be supported are the ones that have a leadership position in their sector. A strong brand can help you project the quality of your leadership.

Strong brands foster repeat business and referrals: A strong brand enables your organization to be highly recommended for partnerships and also ensures that existing partnerships are sustained.

Strong brands save money by streamlining activities and processes: Organizations with strong brands have developed and invested in systems and processes that enable them to produce tools and materials in a cost-effective manner. They are cost-conscious and continuously seek to be prudent without sacrificing quality.

Strong brands utilize technology effectively: Through their website, email and social media, an organization should communicate to their development partners, establish a rapport and appeal to the specific target audiences that are relevant for their work. Organizations should also explore using technology that improves the efficiency and effectiveness of their operational and programme delivery.

Strong brands provide a strong foundation for growth: A civil society organization with a strong brand is poised for growth. Having a strong message, visual identity and tools to communicate compellingly allows you to have brand advocates that support you in telling your story and facilitates your ability to be innovative and future-oriented.

Every civil society organization is a sales outlet, and its products and/or services are a reflection of the organization’s brand identity. Therefore, civil society organization branding is being conscious of the continual nature of deliberately selling the organization.

Charles Kojo Vandyck is a social justice advocate who works to strengthen civil society and citizens’ participation in development processes. Charles works on strengthening the legitimacy, transparency and accountability of civil society through training, shared learning and technical assistance. Charles currently serves as the head, Capacity Development Unit, at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). Charles is a 2017 Executive Programme for Nonprofit Leaders Stanford University Fellow. Charles is a member of the Development Studies Association, the United Kingdom’s professional body for academic teaching and research, policy and practice in the field of international development. Charles studied development management at the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration (GIMPA). Contact Charles via LinkedIn.

The views and opinions expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the YALI Network or the U.S. government. YALI Voices is a series of podcasts, videos and blogs contributed by members of the YALI Network.

Charles Kojo Vandyck_Photo
Charles Kojo Vandyck_Photo