Do Nonprofit Brands Have Personality?

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A landmark article by brand researcher Jennifer Aaker (Dimensions of Brand Personality, 1997) identified 5 dimensions of brand personality. They include Sincerity, Excitement, Competence, Sophistication, and Ruggedness. These dimensions and their associated traits are said to be able to describe the personality of all brands, but can they be extended to nonprofit brands?

A brand personality of Sincerity is marked by having traits of being down-to-earth, honest, wholesome, and cheerful. An Exciting brand is known as one that is daring, spirited, imaginative, and daring. A Competent brand exhibits traits of reliability, intelligence and successfulness. A brand that is Sophisticated is upper class and charming. A personality of Ruggedness is outdoorsy and tough. The research by Aaker has proven these dimensions to be quite reliable and valid in describing the personalities of a wide variety of brands in the consumer and business markets.

The natural question is whether the same personality dimensions can be used to describe nonprofit brands. Like it or not, the brand directly and indirectly impacts the marketing effectiveness of fundraising efforts. Brand awareness, brand associations, brand attitudes, brand attachments and brand activity (all of which make up the value of a brand) drive the market share (number of donors), price premiums (size of donations), and protection from competitive vulnerabilities (giving to other causes). Brand value also reduces marketing costs by increasing the effectiveness of marketing and fundraising efforts. So brands matter in the nonprofit world just as they do in the for-profit sector.

But can nonprofit brands have the same personalities as for-profit brands? Can a nonprofit brand have a personality of Sincerity, Excitement, Competence, Sophistication, Ruggedness or some combination? Let us look at some examples. The Salvation Army could be thought of as having a personality of Sincerity and Competence. The Sierra Club could be thought to have a personality of Ruggedness and Sophistication. The Pew Forum, an organization which tracks religious lifestyles, could be thought of having a personality of Competence and Sincerity. The Peace Corp could be considered Exciting. Closer to home, the House of Charity, an organization serving the needs of the homeless, has a personality of Sincerity and Competence.

So back to the original question… do nonprofit brands have personality? The answer appears to be an emphatic yes. Nonprofits brands do appear to exhibit a personality. Some are Sincere, some are Exciting, some are Competent, some are Sophisticated, some are Rugged, some are a combination just as humans are combinations of personalities. These personalities are important to nonprofit marketing and fundraising. Brand personalities make the job of marketing and fundraising easier and more effective. Just because brand marketing does not related to direct donor support is no reason for nonprofits to give it less than top priority consideration.

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