What a Nonprofit Can Learn From Patagonia’s Brand

Philip Manzano • May 17, 2018

Are you familiar with Patagonia’s brand ?

The clothing brand caters to lovers of the outdoors. But more importantly, it caters to lovers of the environment. This is a screenshot of their homepage.

When you first land on any website, the first thing that you see is an area referred to as “above the fold”. This is basically any information or images that you initially see without having to scroll. This is valuable real estate because you are always fighting for your audience’s attention. Anything that distracts from your main ask or call-to-action could be costly.

But take a look at what’s above the fold for Patagonia. It’s not a product. It’s not an item. It’s not a sale. They choose to focus on their cause .

This has been a recurring theme within their company.

The founder of the company , Yvon Chouinard — an avid rock climber and advocate for the environment — found himself in an interesting predicament when it came to scaling their business. He knew that it was hard to manufacture clothing without harming the environment. So, the company looked for a new way to create clothing, sourcing natural and recycled products. They even went as far as to encourage their patrons not to buy their products in order to reduce consumption.

They famously used this ad:

But what happened? Their sales went through the roof.

Patrons of the brand were falling in love with what Patagonia stood for, and supported the company because of their values. Wearing their products essentially became a badge of honor for people — a declaration to the world that they care about what Patagonia cared about: the environment.

So what does Patagonia’s brand mean for my nonprofit?

Full transparency — we didn’t partner with Patagonia on this article. We just truly admire how their team tells their story. We are particularly interested in this because of the potential it has for nonprofits. At Keela, we are always looking for ways to provide core strategies for nonprofits to help them make data-driven decisions , and level up their work by investing in a CRM. We’re always looking for new nonprofit fundraising ideas. But there are tons of examples from the business world that can be adapted for the nonprofit sector.

We can see 3 ways that nonprofits can learn from Patagonia.

1. Talk about the issues you are solving.

At the front and centre of all your communication, should be the issues you are trying to solve. This is the common thread that will tie together every story that you write. At a high level, when you focus on the issues, as opposed to patting yourself on the back for the work your organization is doing, you create an open environment for people to join. You are tapping into the emotions of others who also identify with that issue.

Essentially, you are casting a wider net — encouraging engagement from a larger group of people. When you talk about the issues, you talk about your work and the fact that your organization thinks it’s a conversation worth having.

Not sure if this is the right thing to talk about? Think about what resonates most with your audience , and build messages that work with that.

2. Invite people to be part of your work.

Although they didn’t get the result they expected — Patagonia engaged with their clients in a very direct way. They asked their clients not to buy something. And although their audience disregarded this ask, it’s important to note that they still opened up a dialogue.

Not only are they doing their work and presenting it to their audience, they are asking them to engage with their cause in a more meaningful way than just a transfer of money.

Nonprofits need to engage their donors the same way. Individuals who support your organization’s work are vital partners in your work, and they should be treated that way. Ask them questions, respond to concerns, and encourage genuine connection with the organization.

What’s a good way to engage your audience? Try looking at ways to incorporate email marketing into your CRM to get the most bang from your buck!

3. Build advocates — not customers.

Receiving donations is great. And if you receive a huge one-time donation, it can mean a great deal for your organization. But what you want to do is create advocates.

Advocates truly believe in your work and support it. They talk to their friends about it, and encourage them to give as well. They wear stickers and pins to show their support. They go above and beyond just writing a cheque.

But they’re not falling in love with just the work. They are falling in love with the values that the work supports. They want to align themselves with those values and believe that your organization can genuinely help them do that. These relationships become so valuable for nonprofits who want to grow.

Want to make a stronger connection with your donors? It’s important to find meaningful ways to engage donors , and learn from them.

Using these three tips, you can start building an organizational brand with a foundation on empathy. There are tons of fun places you can take this narrative, and we can’t wait to hear what you do with it.