5 Questions About Nonprofit Branding

We ask Scott Mikesh of Art Buddies about keeping a nonprofit brand on track.


At 5 by 5 Design we believe it’s possible to change the world by posing the right questions, listening to the honest answers, and following the path that emerges from the dialogue. Today, we’ve tapped into the insights of Scott Mikesh.

Scott is the President and Executive Director of Art Buddies, an organization that pairs creative mentors with underprivileged kids to help them discover their creative abilities, believe in themselves, and dream of a brighter future. Fueled by his passion for children, the arts, and social services, Scott is continually inspired by the support and volunteerism of our creative community.

1. What methods do you use to collect, document, and share stories from the kids in your program?

At the end of every season, we collect written evaluations from children, mentors, and school staff. Some are short, and some are more elaborate, but we love reading them all. We share some on social media, and share others in marketing pieces and presentations.

Last season, we hired a videographer to film and edit short video clips that captured the experience of our kids and mentors that we shared online as well, via Facebook and Twitter.

We also encourage volunteers to share stories and anecdotes about their experience working with their Art Buddies student, and tag us with #artbuddiesmn so we can find and share their stories too!

2. How do you manage volunteers and a small staff to keep your verbal and visual brand consistent?

Currently, I am the only staff person, and with my Marketing & Communications background, I am able to manage and develop our various marketing efforts. That said, my time is limited, and content development to posting does take a lot of time.

The challenge with staffing and delegating specialized tasks is always finding enough time to recruit and train a qualified volunteer or staff person—sometimes more time than it takes to do things myself—but delegating is also vital to our continued success and growth.

To help delegate, I created a one-page branding guide of our common font styles, colors, and general tone of our messaging, and formed a Communications Committee as part of our Advisory Board that has assisted at various times with cultivating social media content.

3. How do you differentiate your organization from groups that have a similar mission?

Art Buddies is unique in our combined approach of fostering creativity through one-on-one mentoring. Some programs provide arts programing, and others provide one-on-one mentoring, but few (if any) provide both.

Another unique aspect of our program is our mission to expose children to creative careers, and the opportunity to realize their creativity as a powerful tool and valuable asset. Since our focus is on low-income communities, we aim to expose children and parents to creative careers that could help overcome economic disparities and access to good-paying creative jobs—jobs they may not otherwise know about or consider.

4. What are some best-practices for nurturing your donor relationships and making them grow?

Ultimately, fundraising is about relationships. Donors give because they want to make a difference, and charities like Art Buddies need donors to make that difference.

The most impactful donor relationships are those that are mutually beneficial, so the main question to ask a new or existing donor is, “What are your giving goals?”

Some of the best-practices we use to nurture donor relationships are regular communications and updates that foster a deeper understanding and connection with our organization and their giving goals, plus personal thanks, personal thanks, and personal thanks. You really can’t thank donors enough or too much!

5. What new trends are you seeing in philanthropy and/or volunteering?

The trend in volunteering and philanthropy seems to be a desire to do more with less—to give smaller amounts of dollars or time to many causes, versus a larger amount to one.

There are many programs competing for volunteer time and donor dollars, and people want to make the most impact with what they have to give, whether that’s time or money.

The challenge some people have with volunteering for Art Buddies is that it is an 8- to 10-week commitment, with sessions that meet weekly after-school for approximately two hours.

While being an Art Buddies mentor is a perfect fit for many, we also receive many requests for one-time volunteer activities that we don’t currently offer, so we’re always trying to fit in other ways to give people a one-time taste of Art Buddies, like cleaning our art supplies or assisting with a fundraising event.

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