In his three-part series on branding, Tom Kellogg laid out some basic rules for building a solid brand for your secular organization (Part 1) and then gave examples of how those rules can be put into practice in an organization’s logo and other materials (Part 2). Today he concludes this series with some final thoughts on branding.
Getting the Word Out
The secular world needs to know that your organization exists and has a great brand to offer. This takes some perseverance and patience. Membership will grow slowly. The Law of Publicity says to look for ways to publicize in the media and network with other groups. The media tends to be quite reluctant to report on secular issues, so networking is your best bet, and you can always expand your networking to include local journalists.
Attend other groups’ events and get to know the leaders. Make it clear that you want to collaborate and learn from each other. Some organizations have a newsletter that could mention your group. There are organizations that specifically network with and support other groups, such as local Coalition of Reason (CoR) groups in your state. Contact them and become a member group, or contact unitedcor.org for help. The American Humanist Association also keeps an updated list of its chapters and affiliates on its website, which you can consult for contact information for other local groups. Look for secular community centers nearby that may support local groups. Denver, for example, has the Secular Hub.
You can give out, post or mail newsletters, flyers, brochures, pamphlets, and business cards. Word-of-mouth is still often the best way to spread the word. Talk to anyone who will listen and mention all the cool programs and events the group offers. Carry printed materials with you to give out.
Definitely have a Meetup.com page to get the word out about upcoming events. Meetup is great for posting events, especially since automatic email reminders are sent out to members. Photos are uploaded into a library showing activities and past meetups. A website is good along with social media. However, major topics have already been touched upon in my previous article “The Roots of Building a Secular Community.”
Make sure to publicly endorse and promote human rights, such as LGBTQ equality, women’s issues, and racial justice, along with equal rights for humanists, atheists and other nontheists. With logo t-shirts on, go as a group to rallies and marches in support of these causes. Recognizing animal rights and environmentalism is also important, so find ways to support this in your humanism.
I haven’t seen a lot of general advertising used to promote secular organizations, except for major events. Advertising can be expensive and may not target your specific audience well. The Boulder Atheists started up before websites were common and well before social media and Google. Meetup.com came along much later. They used to post their upcoming monthly meeting announcements in the personal ads section of the Boulder Daily Camera. Some newspapers have a “Community Events” section that is free or very cheap and appears in both their print and online editions.
Part of your outreach can focus on people who don’t know there are secular groups in their areaor are caught in a religious culture that they would leave if they knew there were alternatives. They would like to belong to a secular group if they knew there was one that would welcome them and make them feel safe. Additionally, because of the negative stigma that religion erroneously perpetuates about the evils of nontheism, many people are nervous about who they may encounter in secular groups. This misconception is one reason why humanists and atheists should always be friendly, positive, and understanding of others.
Many people are trapped in a culture where religion is strongly ingrained in the fabric of their lives. They are especially hard to reach. Even the slightest mention to their peers that they are considering exploring alternative thinking triggers rejection and outrage from others. I have been involved with ways to reach these folks. The best way I have found is to locate people who have managed to escape these conservative religious communities and have joined the secular movement. They may want to be spokespersons and role models. Support their efforts to go back into their old community to make people aware of secular groups that understand, want to support, and welcome all sorts of folks into a new community.
Advanced programs are needed if we wish to have a full range of offerings in the secular community. Once the group has become established and is flourishing, it can then think about taking a further step to more advanced program development. These programs are usually expansions of positive programs. Or they may be more serious involvement with members and people in need, known as crisis management.
Crisis management programs are the hardest type of programs to implement and require specialized training, commitment, and money. These include family counseling, financial counseling, support for people trying to escape religion, and support for medical or mental health issues. They can also include ride pools, grief counseling, end-of-life counseling, relief for substance abuse, food and necessities for the poor, homelessness, and other serious problems.
Positive, advanced programs are not quite as difficult to implement but still require dedicated volunteers and financial resources. These include offering scholarships, secular world education classes, children’s programs, events featuring well-known speakers, camping trips, retreats, and other large scale social events.
The whole subject of advanced programs is bigger than the span of just this article. For now, I will point out the basic premise and demonstrate the need. These programs are the kinds of services that churches or religious organizations have frequently provided. Although we godless folks don’t go to church, the same need for such programs and the sense of community and fellowship that they provide is still present in the secular world.
As you think about expanding your programs, you will also need to consider fundraising and donation collection to support these efforts. These topics are also too vast to be covered just in this article, but I will outline some basic advice.
A way to get started with fundraising is to network with national secular organizations that specialize in ways to help folks. Become familiar with each one and what they offer. Become a member chapter of a national group to receive literature to hand out as well as personalized attention and support. The American Humanist Association, for example, provides financial grants and other benefits to chapters. You can learn more about become an American Humanist Association chapter here.
My own experience with advanced programs has taught me that they require extreme dedication, committed volunteers, understanding, training, hard work, and some money. Once the group decides to take on these kinds of programs, it is responsible for following through. Those who use these services are expecting quality guidance and help. If you let them down, they will be disappointed. I have learned after trying to build some of these programs that it takes the whole organization being involved, not just one or two people. Larger-scale programs must be a group effort in order to be successful.
Before making the decision to do any of this, realize that the reputation and brand of the organization are on the line. You have to know what you are doing and be committed to it. If you succeed, the brand will grow.
Implementing these programs takes specialized knowledge, so outside experts may need to be brought in to meet with members. Find secular professionals in these areas and invite them to give talks at special meetings. It is not easy to locate them because these professionals don’t normally publicize that they are secular. Look for those who have contacted secular organizations and ask around if they know anyone. These people may visit your group for free but are usually looking for new, paying clients. They could be willing to teach a training class for a nominal fee.
Put It All Together
The eleven laws explored in part one lay out the foundation of building a brand. After adapting them to our purposes, the only thing left to do is study them again, along with the rest of the points mentioned, and build the organization as a whole.
- Do a lot of up front-planning work.
- Your brand should be focused and clear about what you are.
- Build programs and events that are relevant to your brand, and avoid too much redundancy. Build your “Product Line” slowly and carefully.
- Be honest and upfront about who you are. Be proud of it.
- Be consistent and dependable with programs and events.
- Create a meaningful logo and banner graphic. Have t-shirts made.
- Write a mission statement that briefly explains the main purpose of the organization.
- Tell the world about how great the group is. Hand out flyers and pamphlets.
- Always be friendly and welcoming.
- Network with and embrace other similar organizations.
- Reach out to people from other cultures and ethnicities. Support human rights.
- Some money is needed for basic branding, but not much. Good volunteers are the greatest asset.
- More advanced programs can be implemented once the organization is flourishing. This requires commitment and money.
Remember, the name is the brand, and you are part of the name.
This series covers most of the basics of branding a secular organization. There is much more on building a secular community.