Monday, August 6, 2012

Connecting Mission to Brand: The Evolution of a Modern Non-Profit

In 1920, the National Urban League assumed its current formal name. This national organization was created through the consolidation of several prominent empowerment organizations of that era. They adopted as their mission, "to enable African Americans to secure economic self-reliance, parity, power and civil rights." The Atlanta chapter – the Atlanta Urban League was also formed that same year.

Most people usually associate an effective branding strategy with
 creating identity (brand awareness) and establishing image. In the case of a non-profit organization, effective branding must accomplish much more than that. The branding strategy must also be carefully aligned with the mission and values of the organization. A successful branding strategy must also facilitate the expansion of the organization’s operating capacity (capacity building) and be representative of the organization’s social impact.

Successful modern non-profits must evolve. When they do, they must also make sure that their branding strategy be connected to their renewed mission. The mission of the Urban League has always been economic empowerment and civil rights. The primary measurement of the organization’s social impact was finding job opportunities for their constituency. The Urban League realized that simply securing job opportunities in this evolving economy did not effectively address their mission. The “League” has responded to changing times and identified that the true measurement of success should now be establishing businesses and creating jobs. At the vanguard of realizing this renewed mission is the
 Atlanta Entrepreneurship Center

Providing dynamic leadership at the helm of the Atlanta Entrepreneurship Center is their
 Executive Director – Mr. Marc Parham.  As he so eloquently and succinctly states, “Finding people jobs has always been the mission of the Urban League”, but this was essentially a process of negotiating for or demanding jobs from mainstream employers. This was necessary to redress inequities that developed because of past civil rights and social welfare injustices. However, according to Parham the charge of the organization as a modern non-profit is to now “Create jobs via entrepreneurship”.

The Atlanta Entrepreneurship Center is one very important component of a holistic approach to providing economic empowerment programs to the National Urban Leagues’ constituency. The Entrepreneurship Center (TEC) was launched in Atlanta in October 2004. At the core of the program is education via four primary methods. These essential training programs are as follows;

  • Start-up Business Essentials Series for Entrepreneurs
  • Existing Business Series – Writing The Business Plan
  • Specialized Workshops - Focusing on specific topics (i.e. QuickBooks, Websites, Insurance, Access to Capital, etc)
  • Group or One on One Coaching – Experienced Business Consultants will meet one on one with participants to coach them with the development of their business plan.

The different components are designed to suit the needs of start-up, early stage and long-established business. The Start-up Business Essentials Series is a six (6) session series that helps entrepreneurs to understand the basic business essentials for starting a business. The Existing Business Series curriculum is devoted to giving entrepreneurs a foundation in the “Core 4 Systems” which are:
  • Success Planning
  • Marketing Planning
  • Cash-flow Planning
  • Operations Planning
While for-profit “business incubators” may offer similar services, a non-profit is uniquely positioned to provide participants with additional value added components. They can offer a high caliber of business acumen, lower cost and provide other “supportive services’. Many top-notch Atlanta business consultants make themselves available to students as their way of “giving back”. According to Parham, “People who work at the Urban League, really understand, the plight of the people that they work with because they’ve walked in their shoes.” Essentially this means that they have also experienced all of the ups and downs of building a successful business. They are motivated to share their wealth of knowledge in order to help other people succeed, not by the prospect of personal gain.

In developing a branding strategy for a non-profit, it may be necessary to first undertake a SWOT Analysis of the organization. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. This is important in order to access whether reengineering the branding strategy could possibly undermine the already established brand equity of the organization. Brand equity is the value that a company realizes in the public from positive associations by consumers compared to their competition. In the case of a non-profit organization, alienating long time supporters could possibly alienate existing supporters and damage the ability to realize ongoing social impact. Providing social impact is ultimately the purpose of an effective non-profit.

In the case of a non-profit, not all of the impacts are always tangibly measureable. Mr. Parham asserts that a significant aspect of aligning the branding strategy of the Atlanta Entrepreneurship Center to their mission is to “Give people the confidence that they can succeed.” Unlike a business, accomplishing an intangible goal such as this enhances brand equity and is an important sign that a non-profit organization is succeeding. Enhancing brand equity while demonstrating social impact is ultimately the goal of connecting mission to brand.

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