The Secret to Great Branding for Nonprofits | Brand Strategy

The Secret to a Great Brand is Just One Thing

Branding for nonprofits should have the same dedication to the principles of branding as a for-profit company. Learn how to do that here.

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Know what the secret to a great brand is?
One thing – just one thing.

Focusing on one thing when branding for nonprofits is admittedly the hardest part of creating an amazing brand. The trick, as Jack Palance in “City Slickers” reveal, is figuring out what your “One Thing” is. It’s going to take discipline and fortitude to choose the “One Thing” your brand stands for. Allowing your brand to be distracted, taken off course, and waylaid is far far easier than maintaining your allegiance to just one thing.

I was recently meeting with a local chapter of a national nonprofit organization. As is true for most nonprofits with national affiliations, this group raised money for its national charitable fund, as well as it’s local charitable fund. (If you’re keeping count, that’s two things). The local nonprofit organization also wanted to demonstrate it’s commitment to the local community and give away money to other non-profits in the region. (That’s three things). Now, in good economic times, that’s marginally acceptable, at least there is enough money to go around and support all three of its charitable goals. But in a tough economy, three things is at least one too many (and in all likelihood two too many), there isn’t enough money to go around, and unless this nonprofit organization makes some difficult decisions about what the brand stands for, they will be unable to support all three charitable goals.

The Bigger Branding Problem

branding for nonprofits
photo credit cogdogblog via Flickr

The bigger problem, however, is that the local nonprofit’s chapter membership and potential membership doesn’t have a clear understanding of what the chapter’s reason for being (brand) is. The nonprofit chapter struggles with its identity and providing potential donors a reason to join this chapter instead others. In failing to stand for something, their brand has failed to stand for anything.  The root of the problem in branding for nonprofits is simple to explain and almost impossible to change.

By trying to raise money for three distinct and separate causes, the local nonprofit chapter’s brand fails to stand for anything. When the chapter fails to stand for something, new members cannot choose to affiliate with the ideals and goals of the Chapter. Existing membership struggles to remain conscious of why they affiliated in the first place. And what we see begin to happen is an inevitable march toward obsolescence — a fundamental problem for the brand.

Branding for Nonprofits Must Focus on its One Thing

Brand focus doesn’t just happen to non-profits, it happens to every brand that loses focus on what it’s One Thing is. Changes in staffing, business opportunities, and community needs, all have the potential to throw a non-profit or business off its One Thing. When that happens, unless the organization has the fortitude to check itself and return to its One Thing – or have the guts to step away from it’s old One Thing and create a new One Thing, then the organization will slowly slip away out of it’s donors/customers’ minds, and donation/buying patterns. One Thing — and sticking to it — that’s it, that’s the secret to a great brand.


Tisha Oehmen

Tisha Oehmen is a professional brand strategist and a leader in the branding field. She was recently named a member of the Global Guru’s Top 30 Brand Gurus. She is also the co-founder of Oregon-based Paradux Media Group and the best-selling author of the book, Finding Brand: The Brand Book Tutorial.

Possessing expertise in both front- and back-office operations, Tisha conceptualizes, develops, and implements initiatives to foster brand effectiveness like no other. With over 15 years of experience in branding and marketing, Tisha has successfully led large financial institutions and health care companies down the path of renaming their business.

Where Tisha really shines is in the work that isn’t done. Sometimes a name change for a business isn’t in their best interest and after meeting with Tisha, they are able to find the true value and equity that has always been in their brand. Tisha has a special knack of being able to communicate the value so that the CEO/Business owner can see its luster and then with a little polishing, make it shine company wide.

Tisha is best known for developing long lasting branding campaigns that speak to the heart of the business, the brand, and the community. True brand, no matter how big or small, has longevity. Creating branding campaigns that have longevity, that have a laser-like focus, is where Tisha thrives.

Tisha received her M.B.A. from the University of Oregon, from where she also earned a B.A. in Political Science. She enjoyed a distinguished academic career punctuated by enthusiastic and successful participation in competitive speaking events, and holds numerous awards for her skill in public speaking. Tisha is widely recognized for her ability to capture an audience’s attention with her straightforward and engaging speaking style.

When not working, she enjoys golfing, baking, reading, and hiking with her partner, Mike, and their two dogs, Chloe and Jackson. She’s also an active member of Rotary International, the Chamber of Commerce, and is a very proud supporter of the Oregon Ducks. Tisha lives in Eagle Point, Oregon.

Reader Interactions


  1. Adrienne says

    I had a prospect email me just yesterday Tisha after I had given him some recommendations for creating his own blog. He wanted my opinion and so I gave it to him.

    He was all over the place writing about one thing yet advertising for two other things that had absolutely nothing to do with each other. After giving him my opinion he came back to let me know that he now understands that this has been his problem all along. He’s never really focused on just one thing.

    He has some decisions to make and I have no doubt he will, I gave him the same advice you are giving us here. What’s your brand and stick with just one thing. Putting too many irons in the fire will not only burn you out but not benefit you in the long run.

    • Tisha Oehmen says

      So true Adrienne — when we fail to focus on one thing we generally fail. The challenge is keeping focus on that one thing in the face of so many competing priorities and opportunities.

  2. Kate Brown Wilson says

    Thanks for sharing this great information about brand, based on my experience the best way to gain many visitor is by showing unique brand. and you must stick on this until the end.

  3. Terry says

    Showing a unique brand is really one that can set your product apart. Competition is tough so be different and make people feel that difference that they become willing to buy your product.

  4. Vincent Wright says

    Curly is CORRECT! 100% correct! (Recently, I’ve been aggravating one of my favorite writers to write “Just One Book”! :-))

    Thanks for sharing this helpful point of concentration, Tisha!
    +Vincent Wright

  5. Matt Clarke says

    I completely agree. Even getting potential customers to associate one thing with your brand is very difficult, trying to do more is very unrealistic. Having clarity and a distinct USP for customers to take away is one of the key aspects of branding, and something that many small businesses could easily work on to improve their brand. Thanks for posting!

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