Protecting a charity’s brand. Also, how do you hold an advocacy group accountable?

Here are two articles for your consideration. The first illustrates the idea that if you have a recognizable brand and you want to keep it for a long time, you probably ought to defend it. The second addresses the issue of how to hold organizations accountable for the context of outcome measures, in other words whether they are actually having any impact in the world.

5/7 – Steve Nardizzi at Huffington Post – Protecting the Nonprofit Brand The CEO of Wounded Warrior Project gives a very persuasive explanation why WWP pursued litigation against charities that got too close to their name and their logo. If you’re building for the long-term and you want to have an impact for decades into the future you need to do a some things different from if you have an extremely short-term focus.

You can see that in their fundraising. They are getting a lot of heat for spending “too much” increasing the number of supporters. The organization says they are working to build long-term donors and long-term support, which takes a tremendous amount of effort today.

They also have gone after two organizations who are infringing their brand.

One of the organizations had a name that was so close that they were depositing checks actually made payable to WWP. Seems to me that depositing someone else’s checks is about as far as you can go on in terms of infringing someone else’s name.

While discussions were amicable with another organization, they asked for “help” in transitioning their brand, to the tune of an amount equal to two-thirds of their annual budget. A bunch of details are left out of the article on status of those discussions, but I wouldn’t be surprised if WWP ended up in litigation.

Mr. Nardizzi raises a fascinating question – if copyright and trademark laws in the for-profit world are understood and respected, why should that not be the case in the nonprofit world?

If you do not protect your brand against every challenge, you will lose the brand. Ponder the name most associated with making a copy on a photocopier and the soft piece of paper you use to blow your nose. Those used to be trademark protected names. Now one is generic and the other almost.

Here’s an article that illustrates why WWP is moving as they are:

5/25 – Wall Street Journal – Travelers Doesn’t Want to Share Its Umbrella Logo – There is an insurance company called Travelers that has a red umbrella as its trademarked logo. They are aggressive in defending their logo.

Article describes that the insurance company has gone after 30 different companies for trademark infringement.

Here’s a quote from an attorney who illustrates the concept and explains why WWP is proceeding as described above:

“If you don’t protect your trademark, if you let everybody use your symbol because it is a common household item, some day you will find someone who will say to the court: ‘But, look, you have tolerated all these other uses,’


5/17 – Marc Gunther at Nonprofit Chronicles – Who’s Watching the Environmental Watchdogs? 

Short answer: no one.

Long answer: there is no accountability for results amongst the environmental activists. We do not have any way to measure the results of the advocacy and activism, let alone compare one to another.

The same issues apply in comparing environmental activists as comparing other charities. How do you possibly measure the link between one organization’s efforts and changes in the world? What is really tough for a social service organization is even more challenging for an advocacy charity.  Life is extremely complicated and making causal links is difficult.

A second major issue is how do you compare different types of activism? That requires value judgments. Consider this superb way of explaining the challenge:

But comparing one conservation group to another, or even comparing projects, is harder than it might seem, since it would require judgments about the relative value of, say, tropical rainforest, Rocky Mountain wilderness and suburban parkland.

One person might have personal values that assess preservation of tropical rain forests as more important than mountain wilderness or city parks. Someone else might feel that city parks are more important. Yet another person might believe that getting remote tribes out of dirt-eating poverty might have equal value to preserving rainforests. How do you and I balance those personal opinions when assessing relative performance of NPOs?

I like the idea of organizations addressing these questions and disclosing their answers, provided by Charting Impact:

1.What is your organization aiming to accomplish?

2.What are your strategies for making this happen?

3.What are your organization’s capabilities for doing this?

4.How will your organization know if you are making progress?

5.What have and haven’t you accomplished so far?

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