Nonprofits want brand awareness the way a teenage girl wants Justin Timberlake at her birthday party. We want celebrity appeal...to be attractive...for people to think we're cool.
But how do we become a household name?
Keep it Simple.
Brand awareness begins with brand recognition. Don't try too hard with logos, color schemes, tag lines, or catch phrases. If you can't pair down the meat and potatoes of what you do in 5-7 words, you need to try harder. The average logo has 2-3 colors. Remember to develop branding that can cross mediums, from Tshirts to flyers to websites. Against white, transparent, and black backgrounds. Also remember that the more colors involved in a logo, the more costly printing will be.
If you can't decide, have a few rolling options. My department has a 2 color logo, but we also have a solid white version for when we're printing on dark surfaces. We also chose 2 colors that easily print in grayscale in the event we need to really cut costs.
The more people see your branding, the more they will be curious about it, and the more familiar they will become. Engage in as many communication channels as your nonprofit can handle: at a bare bones minimum maintain a website, blog, flyer, Facebook page, and twitter account. The glaring benefit to an online presence is that other than human capital, its FREE. I've seen many organizations use volunteers (a great volunteer from home opportunity), interns, and even delegate blog posts and web content across all departments. There's no reason why your program staff can't write 4 sentences about what they're working on. Spreading the work out breaks down the rigor of maintenance.
Don't say too much.
Remember that folks want to get their info and move on. You want to be memorable but clear. Make sure you're not inundating your audience with information. One phone number, one URL, one logo. If you brand your programs, make sure that the names are disparate enough that folks won't get confused. This was a lesson learned the hard way for my org - we have two programs with names that only differ by 2 letters. Sometimes in meetings we think someone is discussing one program but in fact its the other; if we're getting confused I bet others are too.
Avoid lengthy excerpts: just give them enough to get interested, then link. Get them to your site where they can look around and learn. Same thing with print collateral - get them interested then route your audience back to a central location.
Drive your presence with content.
If you're relying on gorgeous promotional material to boost engagement, something is missing. Your message should be the star of the show. Your presence should be driven by content - think of your organization as a subject matter expert engaging in a conversation. Drive the talk with thoughtful content and simple, powerful visuals. No one ever says no to the intelligent gorgeous girl in the room - be that girl.
Make sure that your brand and messaging is coming from multiple sources - staff, board members, volunteers, interns...the more people who can serve as ambassadors for your brand the better, especially if they span age, ethnicity, social circles, etc. You'll see larger nonprofits dedicate specific groups/clubs to fill holes in their brand: The Red Cross and Susan G. Komen for the Cure have young professionals organizations to engage 20 and 30 somethings. Its easy to form a committee and bring folks together to diversify your brand and message. Groups like this can do wonders for an organization, and usually for little to no cost.
It can be easy for other projects, urgent needs, and all of the little fires nonprofit administrators put out to overpower continuing growth of your brand. Always keep brand awareness and engagement in the back of your mind and keep up. No one went from running a mile and gasping for air to a marathon overnight - its a steady climb. The organizations who continually push their brand are the ones we all recognize.