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3 Lessons Nonprofits Can Teach Businesses About Branding

Often nonprofit marketers look to top commercial companies for best practices in branding. But it’s worth twisting this practice around to see what commercial businesses can learn from organizations who are less concerned with financial gain and are more focused on doing good. And there are many reasons to work toward the greater good in big business. It’s boosts morale, builds respect and a good reputation, it provides networking and publicity opportunities and in return you are positively contributing to society.

Here are three key lessons from strong nonprofit branding that could help for-profit brands connect with consumers’ hearts and their wallets.

1. Increase the urgency factor in your branding.

Many non-profits are reaching out to their supporters in times of crisis. Natural disasters, food shortages, and collateral damage from military conflicts can all lead to situations were aid is needed now. Nonprofits employ a sense of urgency in their marketing that businesses can learn from. For-profits businesses often take too soft of an approach. There is no real sense of urgency. Sure there are occasional sales and seasonal discounts. But it doesn’t feel like time really is of the essence. Take a page from a nonprofit such as the Red Cross, and twist these best practices to harness the power of now. Don’t just soft-peddle your new winter coats online. Instead, rally the troops around the storm predicted this weekend and offer free shipping for anyone who clicks to purchase within five minutes of coming to your site. Throw in some storm preparation safety tips while you’re at it and show your customers that you truly care.

Related: 4 Lessons That Nonprofits Can Teach Entrepreneurs

2. Inspire, don’t market.

Successful nonprofits know that deciding to donate or volunteer is not just a rational thought process. They deliver a message of hope and inspiration, supported often by science and data. Too many for-profit brands dwell uniquely in left-brain territory -- the rational side of the brain. Great brands don’t only tell you what they offer, they make you feel something. St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital for example, doesn’t lead with the facts and figures of their clinical trials -- they touch us with the stories of the children they serve and make us feel connected to them. Many for-profit brands (particularly small businesses and entrepreneurs) need to resist the urge to bombard their audiences with brand messages about functional attributes (ex. pricing, technology speed, delivery times, variety of colors and sizes) and think about their larger mission. How are you trying to improve people’s lives? Lead with the emotional outcome and back this up with rational details. Products that evoke emotion always win.

Related: 8 Steps to Take Before Opening the Doors of Your Nonprofit

3. Make purchasing more of a grassroots event.

Live Aid, Farm Aid and most recently the Broadway Cares support of the Orlando shooting victims, all create a sense of community around giving. You are not just donating -- you are joining a movement of like-minded people who are all participating and expressing their support at the same time. This can be pretty heady stuff. Commercial brands can take a page from this playbook and stage specific purchasing “buy-ins” where consumers are invited to express their support of a brand. This may be through a communal purchasing experience; perhaps, a large sporting organization could offer a “Girls Rule 24-Hour Grab-A-Thon” where mothers and daughters are invited to share what they love about sports on their social media channels and are offered a discount code in response to tweets and Facebook posts.

Related: How a NYC Nonprofit Is Working With Businesses to Make the World a Better Place

In the pursuit of stronger sales, commercial brands would do well to remember that brands are relationships. Strong relationships are built over time through caring, commitment and communication. These are areas where nonprofits can light the way with valuable lessons.