From Charles Kojo Vandyck: The last couple of years, my colleagues and I at WACSI [West Africa Civil Society Institute] have initiated passionate discussions about branding and its value added to strengthening the institute’s relevance, identity, cohesion and capacity. We have shared a lot of ideas about this intriguing subject; hitherto, a lot of us associated it with only for-profit businesses.

From our discussions, it is apparent that many of the successful CSOs we are associated with continue to use their brands primarily as a fundraising tool. However, we also recognise that it is important for CSOs to develop a broader and more strategic approach, managing their brands to create greater social impact and resilient organisational cohesion.

We have become truly passionate about branding because we strongly believe that CSOs especially community based organisations (CBOs) can benefit from having strong brands which can help them to tell their stories so that development partners support their organisations in a sustainable manner. An investment in branding can also stimulate a sense of trust from the general public and the civil society sector and that is beneficial to all of us.

In contemporary African societies, brands have played an important role. There has been a proliferation of choices and brands, which acts as a short cut 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 CSO where the idea is to create a short cut for development partners to support your organisation’s vision, programmes and interventions.

The basic premise for creating a strong CSO 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 organisation 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 organisation 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 CSOs emphasise their mission and not specifically their 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 organisation’s newsletters, annual reports, brochures, 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 and makes a connection that is immediate and impactful. However, if you put out messages that are inconsistent it makes your organisation look unprofessional and unorganised. This is something you would want to avoid.

Strong brands distinguish your brand from other organisations: For example, in Ghana there are over 6500[1] registered CSOs, therefore, it is important to distinguish your organisation 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 organisation as a leader in its field: It is important that your organisation is at the forefront of the specific work you do. As funding is being refined, the organisations 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 would enable your organisation to be highly recommended for partnerships and would also ensure that existing partnerships are sustained.

Strong brands save money by streamlining activities and processes: Organisations 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 utilise technology effectively: Through your website, email and social media, an organisation should communicate to their development partners, establish a rapport and appeal to the specific target audiences that are relevant for their work. Organisations 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 CSO 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 CSO is a sales outlet and its products and/or services are a reflection of the organisation’s brand identity. Therefore, CSO branding is being conscious of the continual nature of deliberately selling the organisation.

*The author is WACSI’s Head of Capacity Development. The blog appears here on that website.
1. Source: NGO Desk, Social Welfare Department, 2015

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