Book Review of Sarah Durham's Brandraising: How Nonprofits Raise Visibility and Money Through Smart Communications
By Tanya Cothran
Sometimes we seem to forget that libraries are a kind of nonprofit organization. But there are many good resources about nonprofit techniques that librarians can embrace. In the current economic environment, where there is high competition for limited resources, we must work hard to help our organizations stand out from the pack and remain ever-present in the minds of our supporters. Yet, ask librarians why their library does not have a cohesive identity or a clear, defined communications system and they will most likely respond that they do not have the time, the budget or the personnel to put something of that magnitude into place. Brandraising: How Nonprofits Raise Visibility and Money Through Smart Communications by Sarah Durham [Jossey-Bass, 2010] is designed to help an organization overcome these barriers in order to better promote themselves and their mission. In these uncertain times, this book starts a conversation that will help your library be proactive, rather than reactive, and plan for long-range success.
Durham defines the concept of brandraising as “making it easier to express the organization’s mission effectively and consistently” (p. 4) and divides the book into three sections which illustrate the concept as a pyramid. At the top is the Organizational Level, which includes core organization elements like vision, mission, audiences and personality. These, once defined, inform the rest of your communication strategy. The mid-level is called the Identity Level, encompassing elements associated with traditional branding, such as visual platforms (logo, fonts, colors) and messaging platforms (taglines, key messages, elevator pitch). While library directors or the board of directors necessarily define the Organizational elements, Durham often recommends calling in design professionals to help with the Identity elements.
On the bottom of the pyramid, the Experiential Level is divided into the different channels that your audience uses to hear about your organization. This level includes the daily activities that will employ the newly refined Organizational and Identity elements. The result is a cohesive communication plan, outlined in a style guide document, which presents consistent language, tone, and visual elements that clearly communicate your mission to your audience.
The idea of brandraising is that once you have all these elements resting on the same core values, it is much easier and quicker to write external communications. For example, if you have a clear “elevator pitch” (2-3 sentences expressing the essence of your mission) for your library, you already know the first or last three sentences you will write for a press release. Durham grants, “Always referring to the same points and using the same language may seem dull and repetitious to the staff, but it weaves a consistent, cohesive experience for audiences” (p. 90).
Some of the best parts of this book are the insightful, thought-provoking questions posed to get the discussion about marketing started, even providing suggestions about how to include the inevitable change-adverse people in the conversation. For example, when discussing the concept of personality, or "attributes that reflect the way the organization wants individuals to experience it" (p. 63), Durham suggests questions like, "If this future organization had a theme song or anthem, what would it be? Why?" (p.64). The reason why people choose the answers they do begins to reveal the personality and culture of the organization.
Durham, a consultant for nonprofits, directs the book toward nonprofit organizations of all types, providing a great entry to marketing and communications for libraries. It provides more relevant information than books geared towards for-profit enterprises and helps remind us how similar nonprofits and libraries are in their management techniques. However, some of the discussions in this book are designed for high-level staff in the organization, such as communications directors, executive directors and boards of directors. New librarians, who may be writing the communications, updating the blog, and talking with users on a regular basis, are not necessarily in a position to request an overhaul of the organization's mission and value statements. However, for librarians with high levels of autonomy or real change-makers in any organization, this book is a good way to guide the process. Also, for new librarians, this is a good primer for developing new marketing skills. Throughout the book, the language is straightforward and the concepts are well defined and explained with examples. In the end, you will come out with much more knowledge. And if your library does decide to tackle this challenge, you will be poised to join the discussion and possibly stand out as a leader in your library.
After laying out a very long planning process, Durham is kind enough to assure us that "experience has shown me that some brandraising is better than none, and that even minor adjustments can yield significant results." Take a hard look at your current communication plan; assessing how your audience wants to hear from you can push your organization to develop an audience-centric and long-range plan that will benefit you when you need it most.Tanya Cothran is a recent MLIS graduate from St. Catherine University and Executive Administrator for the international grant-making organization, Spirit in Action, she blogs at (http://godsspiritinaction.org/news)