Walter Wymer explains the relationship between brand and fundraising income, and how nonprofits can grow and leverage their reputation to enhance their performance.

BrandingIt is obvious that a given fundraising campaign will be more effective for a well-known organisation with a great reputation than for a relatively unknown organisation with no reputation. Another way to think of this is that the well-known organisation with a great reputation is a much stronger brand than the relatively unknown one. 

It is also obvious that fundraising professionals want their organisations to be strong brands because of the potential benefits, yet many of them do not try to make this happen. Hence, they underperform in furthering their missions because they underperform in fundraising because their leadership has not made the organisations into strong brands. These points sound counterintuitive and irrational. They are not true for all organisations, but they are true for many.

Underperforming organisations tend to lack an understanding of marketing and its purpose, even though it is quite simple: to attract and retain support for the organisation. Organisations that do not need to attract support do not need to use marketing. The more an organisation depends on attracting and retaining support to fulfil its mission, the more important marketing is for its success. 

Why do organisations need brand-building?

The primary reason for the vicious cycle of underperformance often results from insufficient emphasis on developing the organisation into a strong brand – which requires a long-term marketing effort. The main point is that organisations need to add brand-building tactics to their annual marketing planning (which includes fundraising efforts).

Although dollars spent on brand building do not produce returns in the short-term (and, thus, will not appear on the annual accounting reports), over time the growing brand strength has a leveraging effect. Figure A presents this relationship.

Each year, organisations implement various marketing activities in order to achieve desired outcomes or objectives. One of these marketing activities may be a fundraising campaign that has been implemented in order to raise a projected level of contributions. Brand strength influences the effectiveness of the fundraising campaign. As the organisation’s brand strength increases, its other marketing activities will become more effective. 

Figure A: The leveraging effect of brand strength

Brand Strength

Understanding and measuring brand strength

Brand refers to target groups’ comprehension of an organisation. Those groups of people from whom an organisation wants to attract support are what I mean by target groups. Brand strength has three dimensions (see Table A). It refers to the degree to which a brand is well-known to a target group, how it is perceived favourably by a target group, and how it is perceived to be remarkable by a target group. 

Table A: Three dimensions of brand strength

Brand familiarity

The level of knowledge the target audience has about the branded object.

Brand attitude

The degree to which a branded object is perceived favourably by a target group.

Brand remarkability

The degree to which a branded object is perceived by a target group to be extraordinary.

From the perspective of a target group, the development of brand strength begins with a growing familiarity of the organisation. As individuals of a target group become more familiar with an organisation, they are more able to form a clearer understanding of the organisation and the degree to which it compares to similar organisations. 

The degree to which members of a target group perceive an organisation to be exceptional and outstanding (compared to its peer organisations) determines an organisation’s level of brand remarkability. Familiarity and remarkability influence a target group’s attitude toward the organisation (brand attitude).               

Measuring brand strength is accomplished by including nine items in a survey of target groups. The survey questions are presented in the following table. Respondents are directed to indicate their level of agreement with each of the nine statements, on a seven-point scale (1=strongly disagree; 7=strongly agree). 

Table B: Sample survey statements for measuring brand strength

Brand familiarity


I am knowledgeable about WWF’s activities.


I am able to describe WWF to others.


I have a good understanding of what WWF has done in the past.

Brand remarkability


No organisation is better than WWF at doing what it does.


WWF really stands apart as being exceptional.


WWF stands out in comparison to others.

Brand attitude


I have positive thoughts when I think of WWF.


I like WWF.


I have a positive impression about WWF.

Space constraints do not allow me to go into detail about measurement issues. However, note in Table B that each brand strength dimension is measured by three statements. Hence, each dimension can be measured in addition to a measure for composite brand strength. An organisation’s brand strength should be measured annually so that the longer-term trend of marketing effectiveness can be assessed. Furthermore, it would be useful to also measure the brand strength of an organisation’s closest peers in order to assess how brand strength is changing over time in the context of its peer set. 

Managerial implications

Marketing planning takes two pathways: tactical and strategic. Tactical marketing refers to the activities in a given year intended to attain short-term objectives (fundraising campaigns, etc.). Strategic marketing refers to the activities, spanning years, intended to attain long-term objectives (increasing brand strength). Tactical marketing is concerned with acquiring support in the short-term. Strategic marketing is concerned with an organisation’s ability to attract support. 

Organisations will continue to carry out their annual fundraising campaigns and other marketing activities. However, the current processes should be reinforced by including a strategic marketing orientation. The following steps describe a process for increasing brand strength over time: 

Step 1: Continuous improvement to increase brand remarkability. 

Step 2: Communicate to target groups to increase brand familiarity. 

Step 3: Measure brand strength and gather necessary information to inform continuous improvement efforts.

Walter WymerDr Walter Wymer (A.S., B.S., MBA, DBA) is a professor of marketing at the University of Lethbridge in Canada. Professor Wymer’s scholarly work includes nine books, and numerous journal articles and conference presentations. He is an associate editor for the European Journal of Marketing and serves on the editorial boards for five other scholarly journals.

Main image courtesy of Stuart Miles at




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