Many nonprofits have spent enormous sums of money and organizational energy on “branding.” The lucky ones are able to have it done pro bono by a large commercial ad agency—though judging from the work one typically sees from them, they’re giving the job to the interns.

The end product is usually a document—brand guidelines—that prescribes fonts, color palates, design practices, and often a short copy stylebook for the organization. The smarter documents also discuss the meaning of the brand. But even that is generally taken care of in a paragraph or two.

If you do brand-ing this way, you’re just changing your packaging.

A real nonprofit brand isn’t a “look.” It’s a movement.

While commercial brands must struggle to position the shoe, soft drink, or widget they sell as larger than life, your cause is, by definition already a superhuman, larger-than-life thing. Every nonprofit that does fundraising is a movement of idealistic people who want to make the world a better place and put their money where their mouths are.

Is that evident in your brand guidelines? Is your branding energy directed towards building, describing, and sustaining a movement? Or do you have a whole book dedicated to packaging?

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