It’s all about soul | business | Hindustan Times
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It’s all about soul

Non-governmental organisations are waking up to the need for branding. A strong brand identity, they’ve realised, can make a huge difference to their cause and in the hunt for funds, reports Devraj Uchil.

business Updated: Sep 20, 2009 23:14 IST
Devraj Uchil

You’d normally associate the careful cultivation of a brand identity with business houses, who invest a lot of time and money in creating an image that helps consumers identify with their values and products.

But that’s part of the corporate universe.

Increasingly, even not-for-profit organisations are realising that brand-building is critical. While profit is not the objective, such organisations understand that a strong brand identity helps mobilise funds and people.

Like business houses, the need to be visible is not lost on non-governmental organisations (NGOs). The only difference is that an NGO brand seeks to create an aura of trust and the need for action. “Branding is extremely important for NGOs because they ask for support in the form of time, resources or money,” says Sharda Agarwal, director, MarketGate Consulting, “where the donor gets no tangible value in return.”

While business houses can use every medium available, NGOs cannot risk seeming wasteful. They have to be subtle, which is why they use subsidised events, word-of-mouth advertising, the internet and social media like Facebook and Twitter.

NGOs vie for resources that are limited, especially in times like these. As with corporations, the brand that stays top-of-mind gains the most. A good brand identity also reassures donors that their money is being used well.

Besides, it’s not just money that NGOs are looking for. One of the primary tasks is to rally people around their causes and to reassure volunteers that the time they are giving is making a difference.

“Unless people understand what an NGO does and what it stands for, how will they feel involved with the cause? This is where branding and communication prove vital,” says Sohan Shah, sustainability head of Magic Bus, an NGO that inculcates life skills among underprivileged children through sports.

Dheeraj Sinha, chief strategy officer at Bates141 India, couldn’t agree more. “It’s critical for NGOs to give a sense of purpose to invite participation,” he says. “The kind of support you get is directly proportional to the scale of the cause. People participate because they want to feel better about themselves.”

A good example of this is the Nike Livestrong initiative. Since 2004, the initiative has helped the Lance Armstrong Foundation raise over $80 million (Rs 400 crore) to fight cancer.

“NGOs exist because of the need for equitable development and justice. In a corporation, brand building is ultimately geared to translate into greater sales, while for an NGO it’s about creating awareness for its cause,” says Sangeeta Kapila, general manager (communications), Child Rights and You (CRY).

Explaining the brand philosophy of Magic Bus, Shah says, “‘Discovering I Can’, the mainstay of our communication DNA, stands for awareness, belief and purpose. We ensure that all our marketing tools, resources and presentations reflect these three key words.”

It’s critical to remember, says Agarwal, NGOs don’t have the channels that business houses do to present themselves to potential supporters.

There’s another distinction: the brand-building tasks. While a business attempts to create a favourable image, NGO marketing is a call-to-action.

The task is made tougher because of the large number of NGOs in India, which clutters the social sector space. Also, points out Naresh Chaudhary, COO of Smile Foundation, which works with underprivileged children, “people don’t trust NGOs much”.

Communication leads to awareness generation, which in turn builds confidence in the NGO. The right kind of awareness generation can guarantee the resources needed to sustain welfare programmes.

Again, trust is the key.

“We seek resources from the public and we inform them of how we spend it. Accountability is the key to brand perception,” says Kapila.

There’s another major difference between corporate and NGO branding: NGO communication needs to be far more focused because the target group is restricted and resources are limited. Exceptions exist. When the cause appeals to masses — such as organ donation — then traditional media is more appropriate.

Profit is never a motive, but the social sector is waking up to the benefits a corporate approach can give.