It’s pretty simple.  A successful brand - commercial or nonprofit - is one that connects with the aspirations of its audience.  Not one that compellingly describes itself.

This is about all you need to know about branding. It’s about the donor or customer.  Not about the organization or company.  Period.

When you buy a car, you’re not really looking for a machine that gets you from one place to another—you’re looking for an object that says something about you.  If you’re like me, that something might be “I’m someone who only wants a car that gets me and my stuff from one place to another.”  (This is my excuse for owning a minivan.)

Since there’s little direct utility in charitable giving, giving is even more purely aspirational than buying.

Put it this way:  Your donors are giving to you because of what that giving says about them - to themselves or to others.

They aren’t giving because your programs are so brilliant.

They aren’t giving because you’re so smart (or strategic, or any other great attribute).

They aren’t giving because of your long history or superior achievement.

(Though you need to excel at all those things.)

So ask yourself:  What about our brand feeds the unique aspirations of our donors?  What is it about giving to you that makes them feel proud or happy or cool or validated?

You don’t have to please everyone.  But you do need to be square in somebody’s sweet spot.

I can almost guarantee you won’t be there if your brand is a brilliant expression of yourself - and not a crystal-clear expression or your donors’ aspirations.

imageJeff Brooks is creative director at Merkle|Domain, a direct-response agency serving the nonprofit world.  He blogs at the Donor Power Blog.