About The Author

David Grabitske

David Grabitske is the manager of outreach services at the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul, Minnesota.

One of the concepts in business is that there is value in a good name or “brand value,” which is the difference between appraised value and purchase price. For example, the good name of sports franchise could be said to be worth $20 million, if the appraised value of the team was $200 million and it recently sold for $220 million. Nonprofit historical organizations likewise have good names that are worth something, but how might that value be measured? Can that value be measured in dollars? Could it be measured in other ways?

Policy Innovations believes there is untapped power in nonprofit brands. Local historical organizations often see results of their good name when people turn to it for all sorts of reasons: community events, genealogical questions, natural disasters, offering artifacts, and on and on. The brand value of a local historical organization can make the organization more than a department of civic life. As the value rises, the nonprofit historical organization becomes more central or meaningful to people’s daily life because they think well of it.  Robin Rusch writes more about this in “Do nonprofits have value?“  She concludes: “The more nonprofits understand the value of their brand, the better control they can exercise over how and when that brand gets used and the better they can put their donations to use in furthering their cause..”

How would you measure the value of your organization’s good name?

Here’s a potential scoring system based on Robin Rusch’s work. Measure for Brand Strength

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11 Responses to Brand value for historical organizations

  1. Mary Warner says:

    We have had a good understanding of our brand value for a long time – decades, really, which is why we so carefully design our promotional materials. We create pieces that go together, that have a consistent look, and when we change things, we take a long, hard look at what we’re attempting to communicate before we make the change.

    The larger question of how to value our brand (or any nonprofit’s brand) is complicated. Have you seen the Mastercard commercials where a number of things you can buy are listed with their prices, but the final thing on the list is something money can’t buy and its value is priceless? That’s what nonprofit brand values are – priceless.

    I’ve seen a number of articles referencing the trust people have in museums. Trust is a value. How do you put a monetary value on trust? As my husband says, you can’t really, because either you have trust or you don’t. It’s an all or nothing proposition. (I’m sure some economist has figured out a monetary value for trust, but I’m not acquainted with him or her.)

    Because for-profit companies have figured out that nonprofits have priceless values, they’re starting to look at us and wonder how they can hitch their wagons to ours. Of course, in the end, it still comes down to money for a for-profit organization, and by trading in on our priceless values, they hope to increase their bling.

    If a nonprofit can get enough out of this sort of arrangement, can get part of its mission accomplished without selling its soul to the devil, then the arrangement works. But, if the for-profit company should become ensconced in a scandal, than the nonprofit organization involved with the for-profit can kiss its trust value goodbye.


  2. These are good points. However, some in the nonprofit field have noticed that a nonprofit’s strength is tied to its brand identity. In what ways could that be objectively measured? Without objectivity, comparisons become subjective. Are Robin Rusch’s 5 points measureable?


  3. Mary Warner says:

    Tell me why, if we are capable of recognizing the intrinsic value of our brand and can translate that into actions that encourage people to support our mission, do we need to objectively measure the value of our brand? What purpose does that serve if our organizations are not for sale?


  4. Some of this discussion reminds me of when I first started at Cokato, and one of the projects was the MAP III Survey. Part of that survey required you to do a random poll of people in your community to see if they know of your organization, what you had to offer, etc. So we literally stood on the street corner and asked passers-by these questions. (You can insert your own amusing visual and commentary here.”

    The serious point I am trying to make here is that no matter how much branding you try to do, there will always be those who essentially tune you out as they have no wish to care for you. Getting your name out there is futile if no one is listening.

    My wonder is if “branding” is just another fad, like outcome based evaluations, that will be replaced eventually by another scheme–think ‘new math’.


    David Grabitske reply on May 14th, 2008:

    Mike’s point is well taken. One year for the Local History Workshops, Annette Atkins was a featured speaker. Her keynote presentation pointed out what she called “legibility.” She had participants document the meeting by writing down the “facts.” After a time she had people read what they wrote down: usually the number of people, how the room was arranged, whether the room was comfortable, why they were there, and so on. Annette then read what she wrote: number of men vs. women in the room, whether minorities were present, if it was cold that there were jackets in the room, and so on. She then went on to describe “legibility” as what’s on our radar screen (what we care about). She then asked if an electrician were in the room, what would be on that list? Wall sockets, type of lights, etc. How about a beautician? Hair color, styles, length, etc.

    It strikes me that the fads Mike notes probably are all aimed at finding new ways to make our organizations legible to more people.

    In that sense, is branding worthwhile for nonprofit historical organizations?

    And, how might nonprofits measure the value of their legibility?


  5. To give an example of how silly branding can become I’ll use our local public library. The Cokato Library is one of thirty-three branch locations of Great River Regional Library, based St. Cloud. When you called the Cokato number, a pleasant voice on the other end would usually say “Cokato Library (name) speaking”. But when a new director took over at GRRL, they directed–in the name of branding–all their branches to change their answering protocols. So now, the pleasant voice on the other end of the line says: “Great River Regional Library, Cokato branch, (name) speaking”.

    In that vein does MHS require its historic sites to answer the phone “Minnesota Historical Society, Forest History Center site, (name) speaking”?

    My glibness aside, I wonder sometimes if that type of branding is effective.

    In political circles, there is an axiom that someone needs to see/hear your name at least eight times before they will remember it. But when you get past that eight, will they begin to ignore you (in this case the institution) as they have been bombarded so many times that they tune out?


  6. Mary Warner says:

    Try having a museum next to the Lindbergh Home if you want to talk about branding. Our museum has two names – The Charles A. Weyerhaeuser Memorial Museum and the Morrison County Historical Society. The Lindbergh Site is run by the Minnesota Historical Society, so there are two names involved there as well. Both the well-known Lindberghs, the senator father and aviator son, had the name Charles A. Can you see a few potential branding problems between our sites? Charles A., Charles A., Charles A. plus MCHS versus MHS. To complicate matters further, we have the Charles A. Lindbergh State Park, which was named for the senator, but that isn’t commonly known among most visitors. Then, there’s Linden Hill, which is the site in town that has the Charles Weyerhaeuser and Richard Drew Musser homes.

    Are you confused yet? So are many of our visitors. If you’re only half-listening, no amount of branding in the world is going to sort this out for you. It takes a dedicated relationship to our sites to reach an in-depth understanding of what each of us do. Branding is only one piece of that puzzle.


    Mike Worcester reply on June 3rd, 2008:

    “Are you confused yet? So are many of our visitors. If you’re only half-listening, no amount of branding in the world is going to sort this out for you.”

    Even good signage won’t 100% solve that problem. How many of your patrons pulled into the Lindbergh House site thinking it was MCHS?


    Mary Warner reply on June 5th, 2008:

    Exactly, Mike! And the reverse is true. Many people have pulled into our site, which has a nice, big sign out front, and asked if we are the Lindbergh home.


  7. However, there is a bit more to branding that just the name. It is more about who you are as an institution. The name is only one indicator of who you are–for confusion, try the North Star Museum of Boy Scouting and Girl Scouting (an independent institution) vs. the Northern Star Council of the BSA (the Boy Scouts). It is ungracious to say “we ain’t them”. Therefore, the way to set ourselves apart is to ensure that in everything we do and every way we present ourselves (think about all the different ways you present yourself to the public every day), it has to be about the brand identity that we crafted with students from teh Carlson School of Management two years ago (mind you, we have not marketed ourselves as that organization yet).

    Eventually, people will get to know you by your works, and they can help other people understand. But in the end, the best branding in the world is not going to solve your identity problem with people who simply don’t pay attention!


    Mary Warner reply on June 5th, 2008:

    You’re right, Claudia, branding is about more than just a name or names. This brings us back to the intangibles that make our institutions more than names and structures. We brand our museum by trying to be a place people can find answers. If we can’t find an answer to someone’s question within our facility, we make it our business to find a resource outside our museum to help. Researchers are amazed that we do this, even though it seems like such a small thing. I had one researcher call me with a question about Ellis Island because we had been so helpful with his previous research.

    Another part of our branding is our newsletter, both in look and content. We print our newsletter and letterhead on a special color paper, one that is getting harder for our printer to find. We load our newsletter with historical content and keep the administrative info to a minimum. Readers notice and many who receive our newsletters save them for future reference.

    Other parts of our branding involve being fiscally responsible and transparent and by being as cutting-edge as we can be with our small staff and limited budget. You can do a lot with a shoestring if you put your mind to it.

    In the end, though, the biggest part of our branding comes through our personal relationships with those who use our services. This is something that money cannot purchase.


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