In 2004 in Houston, Texas, neuroscientist Read Montague and his colleagues at Baylor College of Medicine did an experiment.
Taking a group of about 70 volunteers, Montague first gave them two unlabeled cups, one containing Coke, the other containing Pepsi. When questioned, almost all of the group said they preferred the Pepsi.
Montague then gave the same group two cans, each clearly labelled “Coke” and “Pepsi”. In what has become known as the “Pepsi Paradox”, the majority of the group now responded that they strongly preferred the “Coke” – even though both cans actually contained Pepsi!
Under brain scans, Montague observed that drinking the cup labelled “Coke” actually triggered a reaction in parts of the brain not associated with taste at all – areas associated with memory, emotions, and how we think about ourselves.
The moral of the story: whether you like it or not, brand – the look, the feel, and the associations conjured up when we use a service, buy a product, and even consider a prospective employer – matters.
These days most not-for-profits have realised the importance of branding and external communications in creating a positive perception of them and their work in the minds of funding bodies, partners, journalists, other stakeholders and the general public.
However, fewer have made the connection between how they present themselves to the world and their recruitment efforts.
People choose to work in the community sector because of their personal values, often passing up bigger salaries, and they want to work somewhere that makes them feel good about going to work each day on both personal and professional levels.
What do you mean by branding – is it just my logo?
Branding is much more than just your logo. It’s all the various materials, places and ways through which a potential job-seeker is likely to experience your organisation prior to having direct contact with you. This includes your:
- Media coverage,
- Social media
- Fundraising; and
- Advocacy campaigns
It includes the language, images, fonts, colours and stories you use.
These things add up to give someone an overall impression of what your organisation does, and the kind of culture and workplace environment you provide.
Are you small and deeply embedded in your community, or are you a household name? Are you corporate and conservative or fun and funky? Are you religious or secular? Do you have a clear and well-articulated vision? Do you support and empower staff and service users to have a voice? Do you get active in social justice causes and campaigns? Do you talk about the support, professional development and wellbeing options offered to your staff team? Are you out there on Facebook and Twitter?
Successful NFP brands
Berry Street includes ‘Since 1877’ and ‘We never give up’ in its logotype.
This already tells you a few important things. They have been around a long time, are an established organisation and likely to be more traditional in their approach. Their tagline tells you they are passionate and committed in their services and value the people they work with.
Another example of organisational brand positioning is the increasing number of NFPs who participate in events to demonstrate a set of values to the public. Take Victoria’s Pride March and Sydney’s Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras. This year the former included contingents from Berry Street (with a foster care themed contingent), HomeGround Services, Hanover Welfare Services, beyondblue and the Australian Nursing Federation plus universities, local councils and corporations. It’s one thing to say you value diversity, but but another entirely when your CEO is at Mardi Gras.
An organisation like headspace makes a very strong statement in all its public materials that it is a funky and innovative youth service with a very professional, even slick, corporate image. Job applicants would expect this sense of creativity, fun and professionalism to extend to its organisational culture.
Make your brand support your recruitment efforts
Prospective employees will form an impression of your organisation, both the work it does and the kind of place it is to work, from the information available to them. For those who don’t have a personal connection, this means your website, social media, publications and overall public profile are vital.
Not only do they need to project the right image, but they need to be consistent and support each other. Mixed messages lead to a lack of confidence in the impression being formed.
What kind of organisation are you?
In the end, your branding efforts should not be about creating an illusion or trying to attract a certain kind of person. Your challenge in crafting a strong brand identity is in identifying the things you already do well – finding your strengths – and then authentically (and relentlessly) reflecting that in your digital and public presence and communications activities.
If you can achieve this you will automatically attract people who are a good fit and filter out those who aren’t.
Asking current staff and stakeholders to describe the defining qualities of your organisation and why they choose to work with you is always a good place to start.
Do you have a story about how your brand attracts the right people to your organisation? Share you story in the comments section below.