taglines for nonprofits

A classic component of branding is the tagline. You know taglines: Nike’s “Just Do It,” Honda’s “The Power of Dreams,” Home Depot’s “You can do it. We can Help,” etc. (these are a few that popped into my head if you want to know more here’s a long list of taglines.

According to Nancy Schwartz, over at GettingAttention.org, 72% of nonprofits either don’t use a tagline or rate theirs as ineffective. Nancy’s running a fun contest to find the best nonprofits taglines, you can click here for more information.

Having worked for a zillion years in advertising and nonprofits, I’m not surprised about Nancy’s findings. (Maybe you’d think it isn’t as high as she reports, but I’d think it’s higher.) Taglines are often either ignored as unimportant or given a half-hearted effort–which is sad and a loss for the organization.


A great advertising mind at work on a tagline.

Taglines are described many ways, but a commonly accepted definition tracks along these lines: a short memorable sentence or phrase that describes the brand or what the brand does.

“Short”–many of us try for less than 8 words although that isn’t carved in stone anywhere.
“Memorable”–a tagline doesn’t work if no one can remember it or if it could describe anyone.
“Describes the brand”–your tagline must say something about the essence or unique work of the organization.

A catchy tagline that doesn’t describe you specifically isn’t helpful. In fact, if your tagline could be anyone’s, then it shouldn’t be yours.

Think of your tagline as the quickest “elevator speech” for your organization. And don’t confuse taglines with mission statements; these are very different animals.

For example, Oneicity’s tagline is: “Income solutions for nonprofits™.” That describes what we do. It also points out how important taglines are if your organization’s name doesn’t immediately describe who you are and what you do. “Oneicity” could be anything (and pronounced a couple of ways). Our tagline defines us further. It also differentiates us from others in our niche. A couple of thoughts before I go on. 1. We added a “mantra” to the mix: “it’s all about relationships™” to further describe us. Mantras are a smart addition to the branding toolbox when you have an unique name. Not everyone likes them or uses them but there’s a place to use them. More on that another time. 2. Notice the “TM” after our tagline. Protect your tagline with trademarking. It won’t cost as much as you think and it can save heartache and problems later. Please don’t believe that you don’t need to do this–your brand has extraordinary equity measured in real dollars and must be protected.

Some people out there in the branding world are saying that brands don’t need taglines. I don’t buy that. Most of the successful companies that don’t use taglines are either extraordinarily well known brands whose name carries meaning or their brand name describes their work well. My thinking is that there are a tiny percentage of nonprofits who fit in the category of not needing a tagline. Assuming you don’t need a tagline is hazardous. Most of the time when the “we don’t need a tagline” argument is made, it’s because the people involved are too lazy to develop one or the mission of the organization is so mixed up that a clear tagline isn’t possible.

If your nonprofit has a tagline that’s unique and effective you should get in on Nancy’s contest. It’ll be fun.

If not, why not? Many nonprofits and ministries have names that aren’t unique or memorable. Think of all the “unions,” “gospels,” “rescues,” “missions,” and “ministries” that you know. Are they all the same? Is the only difference the city name? I don’t think so. Most are unique even if their name doesn’t show it. A tagline gives you the opportunity to memorably describe your uniqueness and lock that in your donor’s mind. You can’t afford not to!

So, how about you? Does your nonprofit have a great tagline? Do you know any great nonprofit taglines you could share with us? In your opinion, what makes a tagline great?

And because this is Good Job Monday , we’ll give a shout out to Union Mission of Charleston, WV. Now that’s a generic ministry name if I ever heard one. BUT their tagline is “we feed people, it’s what we do.” Kudos to Union Mission! Great tagline. Vivid, direct and memorable. And guess what url they got? www.wefeedpeople.com. SCORE!

“Good Job” to all the good folks at Union Mission Charleston.


Steve Thomas
Partner, Oneicity

Steve Thomas

Steve Thomas

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