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The Power of Adding a Higher Purpose to Your Nonprofit’s Brand Strategy

Last year, during our 20th anniversary, I reflected on how Constructive’s values have guided who we are, what we do, and why we do it. As a purpose-driven, social impact agency, values are woven into our culture. They’re expressions of who we are and who we want to be that can be seen and experienced in everything we do. In reflecting on how to better focus our brand and add even greater meaning to our purpose, we sought to go higher. Literally. As part of our strategic planning work this year, Constructive’s leadership team worked with our advisor to add a Higher Purpose to our brand strategy that’s deepened our commitment to each other and to our work. Which, of course, got me thinking about nonprofit brand strategy and how we can help social impact organizations elevate the purpose in their own missions.

Why Add a Higher Purpose to Your Nonprofit’s Brand?

When we first started discussing a Higher Purpose, I wasn’t sure—it sounded a bit too “woo woo” spiritual  for me. But as we explored the idea further, I quickly became one of the converted. The idea of adding a Higher Purpose to your brand is to define a single word or short phrase that encapsulates the biggest why for what it is you do. One idea that’s at the core of everything you do and why you do it—both for yourself and for the world. The key is to make it very simple, unlike a mission statement, which is usually wordy. That’s what makes it so powerful and expansive. 

When thinking about your nonprofit’s brand and brand strategy, it’s important to remember the importance it plays in strengthening organizational capacity and cohesion to increas impact. The simplicity and loftiness of a Higher Purpose complements mission and vision work extremely well (so much so that we’ll likely be adding it to Constructive’s brand strategy process). Once you identify your nonprofit brand’s Higher Purpose, it’s a little bit of magic. The ideas just start flowing. All of a sudden, your Higher Purpose is seemingly everything. For me, it gave my rational, creative, and ethical mind so much room to roam.

For Constructive, our Higher Purpose, “Engagement,” is both how we want to be and how we’d like the world to be. Engagement is the through-line that connects our mission and our values. It’s at the core of both the thing we’re in pursuit of and the beliefs that guide us in that pursuit. It contains multitudes—both a North Star and a universe unto itself. 

The process of establishing a Higher Purpose for your nonprofit brand is dead-simple: 

1) Collectively define a word or short phrase that embodies as much of the what, why, how, and who of your mission.

2) Riff!

The results really are magic. Whether you’re a nonprofit, a foundation, a government agency, or a social impact enterprise, establishing your Higher Purpose will quickly become clarifying and offer so many avenues for shaping your work, your culture, and your impact. It effortlessly creates focus and expands possibilities at the same time—a powerful combination. Talk about crystallizing the purpose of your purpose-driven brand!

What’s this look like? 

After exploring different ideas and concepts, Constructive’s team settled on “Engagement” for our brand’s higher purpose. And once we did, here’s how we defined what engagement means for the world and for ourselves.

Why Engagement Matters for the World We Want to Live In

Engagement is essential to an equitable society. As our engagement widens, our social impact increases. It’s a dynamic series of concentric, virtuous, widening circles: an engaged person can become an engaged citizen, which can create an engaged community, which can create an engaged society.

Engagement is the antidote for apathy. A world with apathy is the greatest threat to progress. When we are engaged, we instantly recognize the importance of the people and issues that we care about—and by sustaining that engagement, it’s impossible not to care.

Engagement is a sign of respect. It requires us to care, tune in, and pay attention with great intent. The deeper our level of engagement, the more we demonstrate our commitment and how much we value the people and things that we engage with.

Engagement is essential to collaboration. Co-creating solutions and designing new ways forward for people and the planet requires us to collaborate. The greater our engagement with our collaborators in that process, the bigger the space we create for meaningful contributions.

Engagement is a commitment to learning. To be engaged is to accept an invitation to greater understanding, appreciation, and contribution. It’s the essence of getting better every day in whatever it is we do—and who we want to be.

Engagement is the foundation of partnership. Whether between individuals, groups, or communities, being engaged is to cultivate an appreciation for everyone’s value and interests, and for what we have to offer. As a result, everyone contributes and everyone receives something meaningful in return.

Engagement cultivates awareness, understanding, and empathy. By paying attention with purpose we can better place the things in which we’re engaged in context and capture the essence of their direct and indirect impact on people and the planet.

Engagement generates action. Whether our engagement is mental, emotional, or physical, the greater our engagement, the more likely it is that our actions will create the results that we are looking for. 

What Engagement Means for Constructive’s Brand

Whether it’s in our work or the world in which we live, being deeply engaged in what we are doing, who we are doing it for, and why we are doing it is the foundation for being deeply fulfilled.

As a collaborative, consultative strategy and design firm that works with social impact organizations to solve complex problems, we must be deeply engaged— with the work that we are doing, how we are doing it, the people we are doing it with, and those that we are doing it for.

Our clients in the social impact space are profoundly engaged in the issues on which they work. To be the type of partner they need and deserve—and to be our best at helping them achieve our shared goals, we must be equally engaged.

Advancing social change takes time and requires partners and allies. The success of Constructive’s clients in realizing the change they seek depends on how well we help them engage their audiences to join in the effort.

The more deeply we engage in understanding the people we design for, the more effective we will be in designing experiences that engage them—that connect with meaning to who they are, their needs, and their aspirations.

Engaging with goals in mind is the essence of effective design: committing oneself to fully understanding an existing situation and then problem solving to make it better.

Producing great work requires deep focus and great attention to detail—both hallmarks of being deeply engaged. This is particularly true in collaborative, complex work, where our strategic, creative, and technical choices impact the work of others.

Our work and our success are based on partnership with our clients, our partners, and each other. The quality of these relationships depends on how deeply engaged we are in our partnerships. 

To sustain long-term relationships we must remain engaged, paying close attention to their needs and aspirations, and being proactive about how we can help fulfill them.

Our commitment to our craft and to our clients is demonstrated by how deeply engaged we are in producing great work—and the results speak for themselves when others experience it.

When the going gets tough, we must stay engaged. The difference between success and failure often hinges on how we handle situations when they aren’t easy or aren’t going our way. Our level of engagement reflects our level of focus, care, and commitment—all essential to delivering great results.

Maybe I’m drinking my own Kool Aid here, but this feels like pretty powerful stuff! And even better, it feels like we’ve only just begun. That’s the hidden beauty of a Higher Purpose for your brand. Unlike brand values (which are absolutely essential), a Higher Purpose provides a singular focus that can be deeply explored—and focus is one of the most important things to a successful brand.

Moving forward, not only will defining a Higher Purpose be integrated into Constructive’s brand strategy process, it will also be reflected in who we are, what we do, and why it matters—the very essence of our own brand. And for social impact organizations thinking about how internal branding unites their people, I’d say give adding a Higher Purpose to your nonprofit’s brand strategy a try—you’re likely to be amazed by the ideas and energy it unlocks.

About the Author

Matthew Schwartz

Matthew Schwartz

Matt believes in servant leadership, working with Constructive’s clients and teams to make sure that we stay focused on what matters, and that both our partnerships and the work we produce meets our shared expectations and the highest standards. With 25 years of experience as a designer and brand strategist, Matt helps Constructive’s teams design processes and practices that create social impact brand value. Matt contributes to the field of social impact design, serving on the Leadership Team for the NY chapter of The Communications Network, writing, speaking, mentoring, and conducting workshops. His work has been recognized for excellence by numerous organizations such as The Webbys, Communication Arts, Print Magazine, The Case Awards, Graphic Design USA, The W3 Awards, The Communicator Awards, and others. Matt earned his BA from Sarah Lawrence College in Writing & Visual Studies, and then conducted post-graduate design studies at the School of Visual Arts, Rhode Island School of Design, and Parsons.

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