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Who gets to use words like "for the cure?" All breast cancer organizations? Just Susan G. Komen for the Cure and the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation? How much effort and cost should charities undertake to protect their brand assets? Do we expect them to defend these assets like a corporation would? Or do we have different standards for charities?

A recent NBC News report on a breast cancer brand by Brian Williams raises these questions.

Several years ago, I was hired as the first marketing and communications director for the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. My job was to manage the brand. And what a task it was! Unlike the United States, the pink ribbon in Canada is an official mark, meaning it carries greater weight than a trademark. No entity can use the ribbon without consent of the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation (CBCF). With so many American products bearing the pink ribbon symbol, managing the intellectual property and symbol became a full-time job when products crossed the border onto Canadian store shelves.

So, why the angst about pink ribbons and brands? As one of the women interviewed in this segment notes, "We're all supposed to be fighting for breast cancer."

Yes, she's right. That's why many nonprofits collaborate to achieve greater impact. But the reality is that nonprofits fundraising for breast cancer research and programs compete against each other for funding dollars. They also compete with other charities in their market that raise money for other causes. How can they stand out and differentiate their missions unless they have solid marketing and branding strategies?

It is absolutely the same as in the business sector. Companies that invest heavily in their brand assets must protect them to avoid confusion in the marketplace. We accept that. Can you imagine what Nike would do if another company began to use a symbol similar to its swoosh? So, why should we expect it to be different in the nonprofit sector? Is there a double standard at play here?

There's an archaic viewpoint about the charitable world that needs to be dispelled. If we expect nonprofits to solve the problems that governments and businesses cannot fund, then it is in our collective best interest to ensure they function effectively. And if that means spending money to defend their brand assets, market their missions, and invest in things like leadership and staff development, it can only make them stronger and able to accomplish more.

If we expect them to run so "lean and mean" that they cannot strengthen and grow, then we'll get more of what we have now. Leadership attrition, staff turnover, wait lists, and an inability to fully tackle the huge problems that face our society.

What do you think? Should charities operate more like businesses and protect their brand assets in the same manner?

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
image of Elaine Fogel

Elaine Fogel is president and CMO of Solutions Marketing & Consulting LLC, and a marketing and branding thought leader, speaker, writer, and MarketingProfs contributor. She is the author of the Beyond Your Logo: 7 Brand Ideas That Matter Most for Small Business Success.

LinkedIn: Elaine Fogel

Twitter: @Elaine_Fogel