Don’t Let Your Nonprofit Brand Get Too Personal

Placido Domingo just resigned as the director of the Washington National Opera (WNO). That’s trouble for this cultural organization in flux and making it right has to go way beyond updating its logo.

Understandably, the WNO has relied heavily on Domingo — a universal opera favorite with memorable voice, bearing and personality — to build its brand.  The Opera has grown exponentially in the past decade and few think of the WNO without thinking of Domingo. He is, for all effective purposes, the Opera’s face…the symbol of its power, beauty and, seemingly, its success.

However, even Domingo couldn’t protect the opera from cuts in arts funding that have plagued cultural organizations in the last few years. And evidently there are bigger issues than that:  According to a recent article in the Washington Post, Domingo was an inattentive leader on both the creative and administrative sides, and the WNO is now in a real hole.

That’s branding gone bad on two fronts:

  • Think hard before putting an individual at the helm of your organization’s brand. Your brand should convey your organization’s value for the communities you serve. That’s how it  connects you and them. Although an individual may epitomize that connection in the short term, people move on and that will leave you with nothing.
  • Your brand has to be authentic. If there’s nothing behind it, it will be found out and your organization’s credibility is shattered. WNO’s Domingo brand was all about vigor, which seems to be noticeably absent from the organization. WNO is likely to find it more difficult than ever to recruit board members and other donors at this point.

Any ideas for WNO’s marketing team? I’m sure they’re looking for all the help they can get! Please share your thoughts below.

P.S. Get more in-depth articles, case studies and tools for nonprofit marketing  success — all featured in the twice-monthly Getting Attention e-update. Subscribe today.

Nancy Schwartz on September 28, 2010 in Branding and Messages, Case Studies | 4 comments
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  • Damien

    Ultimately, these type of organizations belong to the communities they serve. I think brand Domigo was important but at this time non-profits , especially those representing arts & culture should be using it’s community as it’s primary marketing tool. It should be reaching out to the next generation of it’s audience. What about a coaliton of young artists that represent the future of WNO’s work and place in American Opera.

  • Nancy Schwartz

    I love your idea of the coalition of the future of American Opera. Hope WNO is reading!

  • Many years ago I found myself seated two rows away from Domingo during a performance at the WNO. When we made eye contact, he winked at me in a flirtatious but innocent way. I thought I was going to melt off of my chair and into the carpet! Upon reflection, perhaps it is possible to be *too* charismatic? Did too many people at the WNO simply rely on those winks and grins to pave the way?

  • Nancy Schwartz

    I love it, Heather! Too much winking and grinning says it all.

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