Nonprofit Tagline Basics

Published on September 6, 2012 by      Print
Nonprofit Tagline Basics

(Our articles are published in partnership with the Philanthropy Journal.)

Most often, nonprofits develop new taglines as a result of one of the following events: A rebranding, an anniversary or milestone celebration, the launch of a new fundraising campaign, or the hiring of a new marketing manager or executive director.

Of these reasons for a new tagline, which ones are the wrong reasons and which ones are right?

A new marketing manager with an idea he or she doesn’t discuss with anyone else before placing it all over collateral material is not the right reason (nor is it the right way to go about it, no matter how “clever” the idea).

The perfect time is as part of a rebranding. Other appropriate times include the launch of a new fundraising or awareness campaign, which often are tied to anniversaries or similar milestones.

While an anniversary is a great time to launch a new campaign and tagline, a common mistake made by nonprofits is investing in a tagline that only works during that year.

It is fine to include “30 years” in your tagline, but only if it is tied to concept that can have a much longer shelf life.

For example, “Connecting youth to resources for a better life for 30 years” can be shortened to “Connecting youth to resources for a better life,” a phrase that works on its own after the landmark year comes and goes.

But the most common mistake nonprofits make when it comes to taglines lies on opposite sides of the spectrum.

In one extreme, a tagline can be too generic, like “Making a difference.” That common, but misguided, approach occurs just as often as the other – making a tagline too long.

For example, “Providing critical services for teens in Lancaster country, utilizing best practices and connections with mentors” is too much.

But what is too much and what is too little is determined in part by what your organization’s name tells your audiences.

The organization name “Teen Services of Lancaster County,” for example, includes who is served and where they are served. Therefore, those details are not needed in the tagline, and a more creative tagline can be used.

However, if the organization’s name is more conceptual, it likely will need a descriptive tagline.

For example, a name like “Hope House,” while memorable has branding potential, doesn’t contain the who and what in terms of its mission.

And speaking of missions, a mission statement is never a proper tagline.

A tagline, like a logo or organization name, cannot do everything. Therefore the approach needs to be unique to each organization and should be part of a larger branding strategy that is well thought out.

Hannah Brazee Gregory is a nonprofit marketing expert and founder of Shoestring, the nonprofit’s agency. She can be reached at or 1-888-835-6236.

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One Comment !

  1. Victor says:

    Here is some insight from what we use as tag lines.
    First, we decided to change our title from “Sacramento Community Family Resources” to “The Sacramento Resource Directory”. The first title is too much to say, and implies we serve only families, when we actually serve everyone. Also, people would sometimes ask what resources do you provide, and we had to sat we are not the actual resource; we only connect them to the resources.
    Last year we created a helpline, so it much better for the caller to hear us say Hello, this is Victor Stark The Sacramento Resource Directory can I help you. We also officially published the only resource directory in Sacramento, so using the new name as a title for the book is much better.
    Another important thing is the first word “The”, because we are the largest and only updated and printed directory. That in effect makes us the authority on local resource directories. Most people refer to us as “The Directory”.
    Now, is getting the word out …printing new cards etc. A good way to start a new tag line is using a simple and free survey, let others choose the best name and that way they already have the title in their thoughts.

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