Branding a Nonprofit with Matt Meiers
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When I was four, I wanted to be a trash man. I would run to the window when I heard the big trash truck coming. Our trash men were always having fun, joking around, laughing—and they got to play with trash!
Kids want to be many things when they grow up: firefighter, baseball player, doctor, nurse, Taylor Swift, ninja, and, yes, some lovely souls want to be sanitation engineers.
Our mission at So Many Angels is to use photography to transform children battling cancer into whatever they want to be when they grow up.
We are still in the launch phase, and I want to share some of the steps we have taken to hopefully become a brand that is recognized for being the best at what we do. It’s not easy to think of photographing children with cancer and marketing/branding in the same paragraph, let alone the same sentence. But if I don’t, we will never be able to reach the number of families we wish to serve.
This article is not about the legal stuff you need to do to be recognized by the IRS as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. These are just some thoughts that are fresh on my mind since the year I started sharing my dreams of this organization with others. Hopefully something here will help start you on your way.
This is where it all begins. It can be a light-bulb moment or something that strikes you so powerfully that you would swear you’ve just been struck by lightning. It’s the seed that’s planted in your mind to start a nonprofit. Once you realize that it’s moved beyond the “I should start it” category to the “I need to start this,” start writing things down and getting organized.
A few years ago, I was taking photos at a Make-a-Wish event and started to wonder, what if I could get a couple of photographer friends and Photoshop artists together, take photos of children who are battling cancer and edit the photos to movie-poster quality? Then, what if we could gift the families wall prints of the images?
Say it clearly, and don’t take all day to get the words out. What does So Many Angels do? Kids battling cancer dress up like who or what they want to be when they grow up. We take their photos. We go through all the photos, choose the best ones and use Photoshop and other tools to produce a piece of art. Then we send the families a canvas print of the final artwork. While this is all accurate, it doesn’t make for a good mission statement.
Our mission statement is simple: We use photography to transform children battling cancer into whatever they want to be when they grow up.
Give It a Name
One thing I found challenging was coming up with a name for the nonprofit. Something like “Superhero Kids” wouldn’t work, because what if the girls wanted to be princesses? The more I thought about it, the more my mind kept coming back to superheroes and princesses. The name of your nonprofit is very important. Along with your logo, you want it to tell people what your organization does. It should make people curious enough to want to find out more. Other things you should consider is the URL, Facebook page name and Instagram name. As with all URLs, you should use the least number of letters that make sense. If the website is something like SoManyAngels, you may also want to try to purchase SoManyAngles, unless it’s already been scooped up by carpenters or math geeks.
The name So Many Angels came about as I was explaining to someone the process of forming this charity. Although sometimes calls and emails were not being returned and I would get a little discouraged, there were also times when people would pop up here and there to offer help. It was almost like the universe was sending so many angels to push and guide me. The funny thing about the universe is the more work I put into So Many Angels, the more the universe wants to help move us along.
If you’re a photographer, you may seethe silently when you see photos of real estate properties that are less than ideal. Have you ever seen great chefs post not-so-great photos of their incredible food? Are you cringing because you think you could do better? Well, that’s what goes through the minds of graphic artists and logo designers when they see photographers post 18 different versions of their homemade logo on social media and ask, “Which of these are best?” For the ones where you can actually read the letters, do the colors match your brand? Do the colors work with each other? Do you even know that colors should work with each other?
Justen Hong at Visual Lure knows all these things, which is why he is the person we wanted to work with. It’s his job, and he’s dang good at it.
Look around and take notes of not just logos you like, but logos that speak to you. Contact those organizations and ask who did their logo. I bet they’ll be happy to refer you. Find a designer whose work you love, and work with them to convey what you want in your logo.
I explained to Justen what I wanted to say with the logo for So Many Angels. I wanted it to speak with the spirit, heart and determination of the children we would be photographing. I wanted superheroes, angels, princesses and a certain je ne sais quoi. That’s French for “I can’t really describe what I mean, but you’re the pro, you figure it out!” I wanted something that would work for the website, social media, lip balms and T-shirts, because I want that shirt to look good when I’m on The Ellen Show!
Portfolio/Show Your Ideas
There are similarities between a portfolio for a photographer and a nonprofit that uses photography as one of its major tools. You need to show what you want to “sell.” Although we are not selling anything, we still need to show potential “clients,” partners and donors what we do. How do you show potential clients that you photograph headshots when you don’t have any headshots to show them? You create them. You get some volunteers to pose for headshots, you start showing those headshots, which should lead to more headshots, which leads to more headshot photos in your portfolio.
So Many Angels’s mission is quite different than what I focus on in my normal photography (bodyscapes and fitness). I wanted to work behind the scenes to get things done. I made an “elevator pitch” video, about a minute long, that used stock footage with a few composites by my friend Mickey Webster. I showed the video to friends, and they loved it. I started showing it to more people, almost always in person, because I wanted to see their reactions.
Earlier this year I was showing my friend Ryan my idea video at a conference in Florida. He loved it, and asked if we planned on photographing only children battling cancer. I asked him if he wanted me to photograph Logan, his son. I asked if by chance they would be at ShutterFest, and if so, we could do this. He was. We did. Logan rocked his photo session, and Mickey rocked the edit.
Want Help? Find Partners
One of the first potential partners I showed my video to was Miller’s Professional Lab. They were all in. Immediately. My first reaction: “Holy crap!” Actually, that was my second reaction; my first reaction was to cry. The tears came because I had someone willing to accompany me on this journey.
Did I just start emailing the biggest pro labs in the country hoping one of them would get back to me? Hardly. I already knew people at Miller’s, which made it much easier. Miller’s was already sponsoring me and my fitness and bodyscape workshops and speaking engagements. You may be thinking, well, I don’t have sponsors and I don’t know anybody. Yeah, so? Change that. Get your behind to conferences and meet people. Go to trade shows. Support the vendors.
If it’s not a photography-related charity you’re thinking of, find charities that are doing something similar, and add something they are not doing. There are plenty of charities that take photos of children battling cancer. Some of them are very well established, and many of them are very well run.
I wanted to add a bit more to the experience. Miller’s is helping that dream become a reality. If you believe in your cause enough, you’ll find a way to get things done. You may also find that it’s so much easier approaching people and talking about your charity than it is talking about yourself.
What is the work you can’t not do?
Ready, Fire, Aim!
As much as you want everything to be perfect when you launch, it won’t be. In two years, So Many Angels might look nothing like I envision it right this second, and that’s okay. I think it will morph into exactly what it needs to be. I think the families and kids will help us get to where we need to be.
And if the universe is listening, please send me a four-year-old trash man to photograph!