NYU PADM4137 Strategic Branding and Communications for Nonprofit and Public Managers

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Course description

An organization’s brand can help it raise money, create change, and recruit participants as it effectively communicates its mission. But a brand is more than just a logo or a memorized elevator pitch, it is the way both internal and external audiences perceive your organization – and shaping this perception is as essential to the success of nonprofit and public organizations as it is to for-profit organizations. And since many nonprofits have limited staff and financial resources available for communications activities, it is even more important that these resources be deployed as strategically as possible. This course will offer an overview of branding and communications concepts, helping students approach branding in a way that builds commitment to their organization’s mission, increases trust, creates ambassadors, and strengthens impact. Students will gain a basic familiarity with a variety of branding principles and develop strategic communication recommendations for an organization they are familiar with.


Farra Trompeter, Fall 2015 (1 credit hour; 1/3 semester-course equivalent)


http://wagner.nyu.edu/files/syllabi/201509/PADM-GP.4137.001.pdf, accessed 29 June 2016.

Link to syllabus uploaded to the Atlas


Additional material from the syllabus

Learning Objectives

By the end of this course students should be able to:

  1. Understand how brand can act as the driver to an organization’s overall communications strategy.
  2. Define positioning and personality for a nonprofit organization and apply these tools to make decisions around an organization’s brand and communications channels.
  3. Apply the brand IDEA (integrity, democracy, and affinity) to assess the strength of an organizations’ brand.
  4. Produce strategic recommendations to guide how an organization can use its brand to drive alignment, engage internal and external audiences, and support partnerships for impact.
Course Requirements

There are no prerequisites for this course.

For your projects, you will need to select a nonprofit organization to serve as your case study. This can be an organization you are already connected to or one you’ve always admired. While you can do the assignments without talking to an actual organization, connecting with a staff person there will make your projects better. If you need help selecting an organization, let me know by our second session.


We will read selections from the following two books. Other readings outside of these books may be assigned.

Durham, Sarah. Brandraising. California: Wiley, 2010.

Laidler-Kylander, Nathalie and Julia Shepard Stenzel, The Brand IDEA. California: Wiley, 2014.

Participation and Attendance

Class attendance and preparation are critical. All of us bring different perceptions and ideas to this dialogue about strategic communications. Please prepare for each class by immersing yourself in the assignments, and be ready to provide an open and comfortable atmosphere in which to share comments and participate.

As your instructor, I will happily share my knowledge and experience, but I see myself as a facilitator. Our sessions will be interactive and I expect that you’ll be ready to share your insights from the readings and engage one another in discussion. This course is for the student who wants to engage with the material and each other. Class participation is important and will count toward your overall grade. If speaking in public is difficult for you, please let me know early on.

Since we are only meeting for seven sessions, you are required to attend every class and arrive on time. If you are not able to attend a class due to an emergency, you must notify me beforehand. If there is an assignment due on a date you are absent from class, it is still due at the beginning of class unless you are granted an extension. Extensions will be granted only in case of emergency, out of respect for those who abide by deadlines despite hectic schedules. Late submissions without prior permission will be penalized by ½ a letter grade per day (eg B+ to B).


You will have several writing projects to submit during the course. In crafting these writing projects, drawing from your own experience is fine, however you are expected to synthesize core ideas from all readings, and cite relevant examples. I will grade your papers for clarity and sharpness of the ideas articulated.


Your final grade will be calculated as follows:

  • Class attendance and participation: 15%
  • Memo 1: 30%
  • Worksheets: 20%
  • Memo 2: 35%

I will also grade you in accordance to Wagner’s grading guidelines, available for your review at https://wagner.nyu.edu/files/admissions/GradingGuidelines.pdf.

Grading Rubric

I will evaluate your work on the quality of your insights and your ability to demonstrate that you have processed the readings and reflected on our class discussions. I expect your projects to be organized and thoughtful. Your projects should be well written and reflect professional quality in spelling, grammar, punctuation, and clarity. I will use the following criteria when grading your projects, particularly the memo and plan:

  • WRITING (25%): The writing is fluid; sentences/paragraphs are well structured; proper grammar; shows command of graduate level vocabulary and understanding of concepts; polished, not drafty.
  • PROFESSIONAL PRESENTATION (10%): Correct spelling/no typos; length limits honored (if given); timeliness and other instructions followed.
  • ANALYTICAL THINKING (25%): Uses material from class to develop and support ideas; demonstrates effort to integrate materials; paper has a logical flow that presents and develops a clear, unified position/argument; argument is consistent (no contradictions or gaps) and based on critical thinking.
  • RECOMMENDATIONS (30%): Reflects realities of nonprofit organization’s resources, mission, and community; applies insights to a practical discussion of strategic communications.
  • REFERENCES (10%): Uses and cites references appropriately. You can use ANY reference system of your choice, as long as you are consistent.

I will use this rubric when calculating your participation grade:

14-15%: “A” Level Participation

  • Attends all classes. If late, sends email to professor ahead of time.
  • Frequently contributes to class conversation (roughly once or twice per class). Note: offering input does not mean you will always be called upon.
  • Comments are clear, succinct, and relevant to the current conversation.
  • Is prepared for class, as evidenced by: providing substantive responses; applying ideas from the readings to the discussion; challenging or extending ideas in the readings; and integrating or contrasting ideas from current readings with previous readings

12-13%: “B” Level Participation

  • Misses one class. May not send email to professor ahead of time.
  • Rarely contributes to class conversation.
  • Comments are sometimes unclear, long-winded, or not relevant to discussion.
  • Is less prepared for class (see above).

10-11%: “C” Level Participation

  • Misses two classes. Doesn’t email professor ahead of time.
  • Arrives late more than once.
  • Rarely contributes to class conversation.
  • Is unprepared for class (see above).
Week-by-week listing of topics and assigned readings

Week 1: Introduction | Understanding strategic communication and defining Brandraising

“Marketing and Communications in Nonprofit Organizations” by David Williamson (2009), http://www.bernuthconsulting.com/wp-content/uploads/Georgetown-CPNL-nonprofit-marketing-whitepaper.pdf

“Ten Steps to Stronger Nonprofit Communications” by Jill Rasmussen” (2006), http://skollworldforum.org/2006/09/25/ten-steps-to-stronger-nonprofit-communications/

“How Great Leaders Inspire Action” (TED talk) by Simon Sinek (2009), http://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action

Brandraising, chapters 1-3

Assignment: Respond to student survey (link will be sent before first class)

Week 2: The brand’s big idea and personality – what are we communicating?

Brandraising, chapters 4-5

The Brand IDEA, pages 9-12; chapters 3, 5

“Positioning: Why you should define your nonprofit’s big idea“ by Dan Gunderman (2014), http://www.bigducknyc.com/what-is-your-organizations-big-idea

“The Eight-Word Mission Statement” by Kevin Starr (2012), http://www.ssireview.org/blog/entry/the_eight_word_mission_statement

“5 tips for thinking creatively about nonprofit identity” by Rebecca Hume (2012), http://www.bigducknyc.com/dont_let_your_logo_trip_you_up

Assignments: Submit case study organization overview worksheet (document will be available on NYU Classes). Also review this list of vision statements (http://topnonprofits.com/examples/vision-statements/) and pick your favorite. Come to class ready to explain why.

Week 3: The experience of the brand and its integrity

Brandraising, chapter 6

Brand IDEA, chapter 5

“Nonprofit Communications: The 4 W’s and H of Your Communications Plan” by ConceptLink (2013), http://www.conceptlink.com/nonprofit-communications-4-ws-h/

Assignment: Submit brand refinement worksheet (document will be available on NYU Classes)

Week 4: Understanding the role of the brand

“The Role of Brand in the Nonprofit Sector” by Nathalie Kylander & Christopher Stone (2012), http://www.ssireview.org/articles/entry/the_role_of_brand_in_the_nonprofit_sector

The Brand Idea, chapters 2, 4

“Rebuild before repainting: What’s really holding your communications back?” by Elizabeth Ricca (2014), http://www.bigducknyc.com/weak-organizational-development-can-trip-up-branding

Assignment: Submit 3-5 page memo assessing your case study organization’s brand and recommending how it might refine it by applying Brandraising principles.

Week 5: Engaging board, staff, and other audiences to drive alignment

Brand IDEA, chapters 6, 8 (119-139), Conclusion (172-176)

“Six steps to ensure your rebranding sticks” by Sarah Durham (2014) http://www.bigducknyc.com/organizationalstrategy-and-clear-communications-goals

“How to Empower Staff to be the Voice for the Organization through Social Media” (webinar/video) by Farra Trompeter (2014), https://vimeo.com/108941692 (empowerstaff)

Assignment: Submit worksheet “Audience Profile” for one audience using your case study organization.

Week 6: Building partnerships and using campaigns to attract supporters

Brand IDEA, chapters 7, 8 (139-152)

“Nice to meet you, audience.” by Elizabeth Ricca (2012), http://www.bigducknyc.com/nice_to_meet_you_audience

“Five opportunities to get more mileage out of your brand” by Rachel Hope Allison (2014), http://www.bigducknyc.com/making-a-plan-for-your-audience-engagement

“Campaigns as an Experience of Your Brand” [webinar/video] by Farra Trompeter (2013), http://www.bigducknyc.com/webinar-october-30-campaigns-experience-of-your-brand

Guest speaker: Heather Wallace Reynolds, City Harvest (to be confirmed)

Assignment: Submit worksheet “Measuring External Trust and Capacity” using your case study organization.

Week 7: Evaluating when it is time to rebrand and branding in specific situations

Brand IDEA, chapter 9

“Is your brand healthy? Four steps to give it a check-up” by Farra Trompeter (2015), http://www.bigducknyc.com/nonprofit_fundraising_and_marketing_blog

“The Rebrand Effect” [e-book] by Sarah Durham (2014), http://www.bigducknyc.com/rebrandeffect

“Get on the same wavelength: Building buy-in for rebranding” by Sarah Durham (2014), http://www.bigducknyc.com/build-buyin-for-rebrand-with-evidence-and-assessment-tools

“Is it time to rebrand?” by Big Duck (2015), http://www.bigducknyc.com/consider-timing-when-branding

Guest speaker: Sarah Durham, president, Big Duck (to be confirmed)

Assignment: Submit 3-5 page memo proposing how your case study organization can improve how it uses it brand to accomplish its mission by applying brand integrity, democracy, or affinity principles.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last updated 30 June 2016.