By Brian Greenwald – a Brand Leadership expert and nonprofit superfan who helps extraordinary organizations transform from commoditized brands to human-centered, character-based Benevolent Business brands. Brian serves as the Founder of BPOZ Brand Leadership and is a Founding Partner of Curious Collaborations.

Everywhere you look these days, people are talking about leadership.

Nonprofit, business, people, team, board, community, tech, emergent, servant, etc. Any variety of leadership you’re looking to master, it’s out there.

Let’s throw one more on the pile: Brand Leadership.

Before we talk about what Brand Leadership IS and why you should elevate it at your nonprofit, let’s first clarify what Brand Leadership is NOT. Brand Leadership is NOT branding and marketing. It’s not your logo, website, social media, or fundraising campaigns. 

Brand Leadership is “from within” leadership, and for branding, marketing, and everything else to be effective, it has to come FIRST.

It’s the deliberate practice of designing, building, and evolving the positive perception and experience of everyone inside and outside of your ecosystem. 
When done well, it’s a potent human-first driver of excellence, particularly at nonprofits where internal harmony and external reputation are essential.

When not done well? Toxic misalignment, confusion, friction, and frustration are likely to persist.

Ignore Brand Leadership at your peril.

Just as you and your team run critical day-to-day nonprofit functions, you can practice Brand Leadership to contribute to a smooth, impactful operation imbued with energy, creativity, resilience, and sustainability.

In other words, Brand Leadership IS Leadership.

Clear as mud? Perhaps it’s easier to illustrate than explain. Here are 5 strategies to activate and sustain Brand Leadership in your organization:

1) Start with Leadership

Obviously, Brand Leadership must start with leaders. When leaders lead, they are constantly sending signals to everyone through behaviors, messages, decisions, and actions to positive or negative effect. No one has more impact on brand health than the leadership team.

When leaders are deeply aligned, they exude confidence and clarity for everyone.

To ensure alignment, the first step is to consider simple but surprisingly vexing brand questions such as:

  • Who are we?
  • What do we do?
  • How do we do it?
  • Why do we do it?
  • What are we today?
  • What do we want to be?
  • Where do we agree/disagree?

If you uncover misalignment and/or a lack of clarity, consider holding a facilitated Leadership Alignment Intensive process, designed to get your team rowing in the same direction.

Once a Leadership Alignment Roadmap is established, consider scheduling refresher sessions 2-4 times a year to keep brand alignment healthy.

2) Always Be Evaluating

To ensure that healthy Leadership Alignment actually leads to excellence, there is just one question, the most important question, that brand leaders must ask every single day:

“Is it true?”

In other words, are the things we say to each other, our staff, and the world about who we are and how we behave reality or are there gaps?

In Brand Leadership, we call these gaps “Brand Delta”. Identifying and closing these gaps is what Brand Leaders do. By collaborating with the entire organization, we refine what the brand means and build individual and collective confidence in how to operate within it. 

Make continuous Brand Delta assessment and tracking, informed by your clear Leadership Alignment Roadmap, as normal as program and financial reporting, and create feasible action items to address over time.

3) Include Everyone

In an effective Brand Leadership system, brand is defined as “What everyone ELSE believes you are.”

In other words, while you can work to SHAPE brand perception (branding and marketing), you don’t OWN that perception. “Wishful thinking” or “papering over the cracks” branding and marketing actually HURTS your brand. It’s disconnected from others’ lived experiences (See Brand Delta), which can result in skepticism about who you say you are.

To address, beyond collecting data digitally, engage with and glean insights from employees, clients, community members, influencers, partners, and others about their lived experiences with your brand as part of your Brand Delta evaluation. Listen carefully and look for trends.

Doing so will reveal what’s really going on in ways data cannot, and will generate a lot of goodwill. Participants who feel heard and respected will volunteer unique information, stories, and ideas. The effort itself will improve your brand.

4) Find Content Everywhere

Once you grasp your Brand Delta and are actively tackling it, it’s time to consider content.

Through the lens of content, brand building is actually audience building. When generating content that builds an audience, EVERYONE and EVERYTHING is useful and can contribute something valuable.

From your summer intern, back office admin, front line staff, volunteers, clients, partners and leadership, explore the stories, knowledge, and inspiration that each person brings to make your organization special and unleash their unique voice.

Identify specific themes/topics an individual can contribute to, whether it’s their love for the mission, personal story, or helpful tips your audience can use. Most importantly, let their personalities shine through.

These folks don’t have to be writers or communications pros. There are techniques for low effort, high value content sourcing from the wonderful people you work with and for. Go beyond your senior staff and spokespeople and bring your brand alive.

5) Watch, Learn, and Repeat

Finally, just like organizational leadership is an “always on” effort, Brand Leadership is as well.

As you align teams, identify gaps, and execute your roadmap, be intentional about measuring the impacts of your Brand Leadership program by tracking, learning, and adjusting as real world conditions change.

In the end, Brand Leadership is a virtuous, continuous, systemic loop of growth, not a closed end project or plan that we complete and forget. It’s a leadership lifestyle.

A carefully designed, flexible Brand Leadership practice can make a huge difference in designing and leading a mindfully enlightened organization for you, your team, and the mission you serve.

About the Author

Brian Greenwald serves as the Founder of BPOZ Brand Leadership and is a Founding Partner of Curious Collaborations both of which provide consulting, fractional executive support, sessions and programs designed to transform brands, leaders, teams, and organizations through Brand Leadership, People Alignment, and Business Thinking collaboration methods. To learn more, please reach out through our connect page or subscribe to our Benevolent Business and Curious Inspirations newsletters.