This is the fourth in our series using our workbook Developing Your Nonprofit Brand. We’ll be posting a new blog every 2 weeks. Download it and follow along with the exercises. By early 2020, you’ll be on your way to having more impact in the new year.

Missed a post? Start here.


Review: What is a Brand Audit?

It’s simply an assessment of where you are now. The audit uncovers your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. The audit is critical to determine your differentiation and positioning, which is the essence of branding. Your discoveries will help you plan corrective actions and strategies.

There are 4 parts to a brand audit:

  1. communications,
  2. activities,
  3. competitors and
  4. stakeholder interviews.

Important reminder: Keep an open mind during the discovery process, as you may come across findings that are completely different than what you expect.  

Get to Know Your Playing Field

In the workbook, turn to page 9: “Audit Your Brand, Part 3: Audit Your Competitors.”

This part of the audit is similar to the communications audit you did in step one for your organization. First, you identify your top competitors. Next, you collect examples of their communications. Finally, you analyze the material and put the information into a table. (There’s a blank table on page 10.) This will give you a more clear understanding about what they are doing and how your organization compares.

Who are Your Competitors?

In the nonprofit world, most aren’t accustomed to thinking in terms of competition and competitors. But while your organization may provide unique services or is unique in a region, that doesn’t mean you are free from competition. If you go after the same grants, donors, partners, or even volunteers, as another organization—they are your competition. It’s possible that your competition could even be in an unrelated area.

You probably have some idea of who your competitors might be. If you have trouble coming up with them, think of other groups that serve the same population, operate in the same region, or have similar missions. Any group that is often confused with yours is definitely a competitor. Think of a recent major funder or donor, which organizations were they deciding between?

Remember that while to you, your difference may be crystal clear, if it’s not obvious to a casual observer, others are lumping you together; and you are competing for mind space.

Mini Case Study: The Marine Science Institute

Below is a completed competitors table that we created for the workbook that appears on page 9. The Marine Science Institute is a nonprofit that provides environmental education field trips on a specially equipped research boat on San Francisco Bay for grade school aged children. From the many other San Francisco Bay environmental nonprofits, we chose four others to populate our table.

Looking at their names and logos, what do you notice? While Marine Science Institute’s tagline includes the word “bay” (Discovering Our Bay), all the others includes “bay” in their names. All the logos use the color blue predominantly. Do the names give a clear idea of what each organization does? How could our group stand out more amongst these others? What could we do from a design and communications standpoint to be more distinctive?

Less obvious points will also come into view, such as, which of these competitors would be the perfect partner for the beach cleanup project we envisioned?

Your Competitors Table

Use the table on page 10 of the workbook as a template to record your findings. List each competitor, copy their logo, their missions, what they do, and select five words or phrases that describes them (brand personality attributes). Include other relevant information such as region, who they serve, prominent partnerships, or significant funders. Look at their websites, their newsletters, brochures, social media, fundraising campaigns. What is the tone or voice of their communications?

When you have this information in one place, it will give you some insights about where you fit in within your landscape. You might see how distinctive your organization is or not.

Your insights will generate some questions that will be useful to ask others about in the next step when you conduct brand interviews.