Book Review - Brandraising

Brandraising: How Nonprofits Raise Visibility and Money through Smart Communications

By Sarah Durham; Jossey-Bass, 2010; hardcover, 190 pages; ISBN# 978-0-470-52753-5  $35.00

Most nonprofit leaders know the value of communications, know (theortically, at least) that they can’t afford not to proactively communicate, but it is a common lament that time and money are too focused on programs to do it appropriately. Brandraising, a very digestible new book, makes a strong argument that communicating in a slightly different way can make a big difference in reaching and keeping your audiences to improve fundraising, programs, and mission.

Brandraising, as defined by author Sarah Durham, founder and principal of NYC-based Big Duck Communications, is the “process for building a strong framework for communicating” by addressing communications needs and activities at three different levels. These are the Organizational Level, the Identity Level, and the Experiential Level.

Durham describes seven communications elements at the Organizational Level, the “core elements that direct all aspects of an organization’s work”. Most nonprofits are very familiar with and have addressed some of these elements, such as vision and mission. Some organizations may have defined their values and objectives. Some may even have formally defined their audiences. But how many have formally defined their positioning or personality?

The Identity Level includes those aspects of communication that people most often think of when they consider “branding”: visual identity and messaging platform. Visual identity includes logo, color palette(s), typography, and use of imagery/graphics, which most organizations are familiar with, even if they’re not being successfully applied. The messaging platform includes the language-based elements of a brand including name, tagline, mission, values statements, key messages, boilerplate copy, lexicon of terminology, and elevator pitch.; This chapter contains more graphics to demonstrate the points, and though they are all in black-and-white (failing to support the points about the use of color), one can view the graphics in color online at the Jossey-Bass website.

The chapter on the Experiential Level focuses on “the channels and tools through which audiences connect with the organization”, or the ways in which they experience it. It includes a discussion of online, in print, on air, and in person communications, and the emerging field of mobile communications. Durham makes the point throughout the book that all communications directly experienced by the public must be developed and implemented in an “audience-centric” way. This may seem obvious; tailor specific pieces of communication to particular audiences. However, she offers examples of not-so-obvious ways to do this.

Brandraising gives a good overview of the elements in each level, from the very familiar to the foreign.  Durham acknowledges that many of the topics covered in a few pages could (and do) have volumes dedicated to them. However, each is given enough of a treatment to raise key questions and to answer others at a pace and level that should be comfortable for readers with varied expertise. Indeed, throughout the book, Durham suggests sets of questions to explore, which allows the information to be adaptable rather than prescriptive or rigid. She also offers lots of useful tips, like what to include in a style guide (and the best way to format one), what are the benefits of having a communications calendar, and how to extend the shelf-life of a printed annual report. There are plenty of bulleted lists, graphics, and chapter summaries that make navigating and returning to specific sections very easy. Durham also includes suggestions on which activities can likely be handled in-house vs. those where an outsider or professional can do the best job, and there are several instances of “Ideally, you’d….but if budget doesn’t allow, then…”, making the guidance here useful to organizations with a range of staff capacities and budgets for communications. The book concludes with a reminder, repeated throughout the book, that the brandraising process is necessarily a long-view process that requires time up-front and long-term commitment.  Durham suggests ways to get board buy-in, some guidance for staff training, the need for periodic review, and the importance of enforcement (by designated “brand police”). All of this is done in a clear and readable style that isn’t overly academic or theoretical.

My only minor complaint with the content is when Durham recommends shadowing a representative of each of your audiences for a few hours to observe how they spend their time and determine the most effective methods to reach them. While this is a good idea in theory, it seems unreasonable in terms of staff time and audience willingness. One other complaint has to do with the promise on the jacket that “this book includes [free] premium content that can be accessed from [the Jossey-Bass] Web site when you register” your purchase. I was a little disappointed to find that this content is solely comprised of color reproductions of the graphics in the book. While this is useful, don’t buy the book in hopes of accessing more or other material on this topic. But, overall this book succeeds in transforming abstract concepts into processes and products that are usable in day-to-day activities, and makes a convincing case for this long-term strategy to enhance consistency, brand awareness, and ultimately, fundraising potential in service of your mission.

--Cecilia Stancell