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13 Reasons Your Nonprofit Might Need To Update Its Brand

Posted by on July 10th, 2015
Posted in Blog, Nonprofit Branding, Nonprofit Communications, Nonprofit Messaging   

We get calls from nonprofits, foundations, and independent schools eager to address communication challenges of every kind. Some recognize that an unclear brand is at the center of their issues, and others haven’t given the idea of brand much thought at all.

Regardless of the communications challenges at your organization, having a stronger brand is likely an important part of the solution.

Below are the 13 most common reasons nonprofits decide they need to rebrand. Do any of these scenarios feel familiar to you and your organization?

  1. Our organization gets confused with others that do similar work.
    If you’re doing work that matters, but are little known for it, evaluating where your brand can be strengthened is a must. If you feel like you’re “the best kept secret” in your sector or community, chances are that building your brand has been overlooked as an organizational priority. Doing good work isn’t enough. Knowing how to simplify the reasons why what you do matters helps bring your work out of the shadows.
  2. We need a new way to tell our story.
    The nonprofit sector is very focused on storytelling right now. And for good reason. Powerful stories make us feel something, and feeling is the first step toward a supporter taking action in support of your work. But good stories can only be developed when you are clear about what signals your brand should send to your various publics. When you’re clear on your brand strategy the right stories come into focus and have the chance to do their job.
  3. We need new messages. No one says the same thing!
    This is one of the best reasons to invest in strengthening your brand strategy. But without a clear focus on the single big idea you want your reputation to hinge on, knowing how to focus key messages is difficult. Without a clear brand strategy, developing new messages can often be miserable for the person or group charged with the work. Should we talk about our history? Focus on our programs? Should we create separate messages for separate audiences? Should the board use the same messages as the program staff? We are frequently asked to help our client develop new key talking points so that the board, staff, faculty, and all volunteers are consistent in their portrayal of an organization’s work. And starting with an evaluation and refinement of the organization’s brand is key to success in creating messages that not only sing, but that people want to use.
  4. We’re not clear on who we are.
    This may or may not be a challenge that a stronger brand can solve. If your mission or focus is in flux, making firm strategic decisions should (ideally) precede any branding work you invest in doing. Brand is about helping your audiences instantly feel a connection to your work. You can’t do that if you’re considering a major mission shift. On the other hand, if you really are clear about why what you do matters and what you’re in business to do, branding can help focus internal stakeholders on that big, differentiating idea that will help everyone inside and outside your organization gain clarity and focus.
  5. Our logo is outdated and doesn’t reflect who we are.
    Your logo is not your brand. It’s a signal about the kind of brand you are. While a refresh of your visual identity may very well be in order, embarking on a redesign won’t have a dramatic effect on how people feel about your organization unless that design is anchored in a strong brand strategy. Ask anyone who has ever hired a graphic designer for a new logo without first developing the brand strategy and they will probably tell you it was a painful process. Why? Because without a clear strategy, any designs you consider are subject to the personal preferences of the team reviewing them – rather than on a plan for what the design should accomplish. Visual identity design should support your brand strategy, not set it for you.
  6. We need a new name.
    Your name is not your brand. Your name is one signal about the kind of brand you are. When a client asks us to help them rename we’re cautious. Name changes are expensive. After all, even a bad name has value, because everyone already knows you by it. Sure, it may not be the name you’d choose today, but is it really holding you back from greatness? It’s possible that a strengthened brand strategy, new visual identity, and powerful tagline can help a mediocre name shine. And none of those can be created well without first honing your brand strategy.
  7. Our website is outdated.
    Websites matter. A lot. So why would you want to invest in a redesign without first being crystal clear about what brand signals it should send? What experience should visitors have when they visit your site, and how can that experience enhance how people feel about your work and your brand? Good websites do more than function well and look good. They engage visitors, making them feel a kinship with your work. Don’t miss your chance to have a website that dramatically positions your value by skipping the brand strategy work that should precede it.
  8. We want to evaluate our brand and learn how to make it stronger.
    Naturally, we love this assignment. It demonstrates that our client understands the value of brand, and that having a strong brand is an ongoing endeavor. Every organization has a brand, whether they realize it or not. The question to ask is, “What brand do we have now in the minds of people who matter to us most, and what can we do to make that brand even more clear and compelling?” Your brand should always be linked to your larger organizational goals. What are you trying to accomplish, and how can your stronger brand help you accomplish it?
  9. We could raise more money if we could do a better job talking about our work.
    Yep. The more clearly you can articulate the value of your work to donors, the more donors of every kind you’ll have. But just writing new fundraising copy isn’t enough. The benefits of a strong brand are many, including making it easy for donors to recognize your value and want to give. A strong brand creates a relationship with your donors beyond the fundraising interaction. A positive, familiar brand makes it easy for donors to say yes when you ask them for support.
  10. Our strategic plan says we have to re-brand.
    When boards get together to set their strategic goals for the years ahead they frequently realize that investing in creating a stronger brand is wise. Brands aren’t meant to just be shiny new logos or clever taglines. A brand is part of your overall strategy for achieving your goals, and a clear plan for the brand you want your organization to have will both impact your strategies and help you achieve them.
  11. Our founder (or longtime leader) has retired and new leadership wants a stronger brand.
    If the brand your organization has today is too deeply linked with your founder or a beloved, charismatic leader, you may have trouble sustaining support during a leadership transition. Strong brands transcend the people who run them. Who is the current President of the American Red Cross? Most people don’t know, but that doesn’t stop them from having strongly positive feelings about the organization. Regardless of its leader, millions of people donate to the Red Cross in times of disaster. Your brand should have a personality, but that can’t be based solely on the personality of its leader. If yours is, consider how to make your brand powerful in its own right.
  12. We’ve changed, but our brand hasn’t.
    Has your organization expanded into new geographic areas of service? New lines of service? Have you changed your program model or the definition of whom you serve? If so, it may be time to update your brand to reflect the new you. While your brand should transcend programmatic details, ensuring it reflects the totality of your work is critical.
  13. We need to appeal to younger donors.
    Define young. Giving statistics continue to show that twenty and thirty-somethings, while globally aware and generous of spirit, do not comprise the majority of financial donors in America. While your brand should be appealing to anyone with an interest in the work you do, a real brand overhaul to reach younger donors should only be undertaken if the brand you have is truly getting in the way of your successful fundraising across all demographic profiles.

Has your organization rebranded? Why did you do it?

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Jennie Winton is a Founding Partner of Mission Minded and a 25-year marketing veteran sought for her expertise in branding and positioning nonprofit organizations.

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