You may look at your nonprofit’s website and worry that it looks woefully out of date. Maybe it doesn’t function as smoothly as it should, or it isn’t optimized for mobile, or it depends on technology so old you have it in your desk drawer on a CD-ROM. Perhaps, you open your homepage and realize it doesn’t engage your visitors with a compelling (and accurate) story, or that the messaging could be clearer.
Even if you have to check every single one of those boxes, you’re probably STILL not ready to redesign your website.
Every day, we get contacted by nonprofits, foundations, and independent schools looking for help with a website redesign. And more often than not, what we have to tell them they need — before they even think about updating their website — is a brand strategy.
Many organizations investigating a website redesign have confused having a digital strategy with having a brand strategy, and these are projects of differing magnitude.
A brand strategy is a focused, intentional plan to establish and develop a specific reputation, one that sets your organization apart and engages its target audiences emotionally and consistently. A digital strategy is a plan to enact that brand strategy using a website and other online tools, such as social media.
So, if you don’t have a compelling brand strategy, how can you have a digital strategy? It would be like getting dressed for work before you’ve decided which job to apply for.
Even so, many well meaning nonprofits jump into website redesign before they know what they want their brand — and therefore their website — to communicate. This leads to frustration, wasted effort, and, at best, a website that looks great without really doing its job (to carry the brand flag forward).
While the usual approach to web design asks how you want your website to function, how information ought to be organized, and what design aesthetic works for you, at Mission Minded we instead ask:
Show us an organization that doesn’t know the answer to that last question, and we’ll show you one that needs a solid brand strategy.
Your organization has a brand whether you’ve gone through a branding initiative or not.
Your brand is your reputation, and that reputation has been accrued, intentionally or unintentionally, through every touch point encountered and every signal received by every member of your audience. Your brand is not your mission, logo, or a description of program features. Your brand is the big, bold idea that attracts more people to your work. It differentiates you from other organizations and offers supporters a value they keep coming back for.
A strong brand is essential to the success of any nonprofit, foundation, or independent school or university. It should serve as a sounding board for everything from programmatic decision making to the tone of email auto-responses. Once you have a clear brand strategy in place, communicating with purpose becomes much easier.
Then, and only then, will you be ready to redesign your website, because you’ll know how it should function and what it should say.
Think you’re ready to take control of your brand? If so, there are six assets you need to make the most of a rebranding effort.
1. Strong Leadership
Successful branding projects require strong leadership. You’ll need to decide who will own important decisions and to be clear that everyone else will only be consulted. If you’re reading this article, chances are that decision-maker is going to be you.
Strategic decisions cannot (and should not) be sent to committee. Project leaders should hear everyone out, weigh pros and cons, and then be decisive.
Are you ready?
2. Sound Rationale
Rebranding shouldn’t just be about looking or sounding better, getting a new website up, or doing what seems expected. You need a strong business reason to rebrand: examples include the need to attract more donors, increasing partnership opportunities, and aligning staff around your mission or strategic plan.
Developing a strategy un-strategically is, clearly, not a great tactical move.
3. Enthusiastic Buy-In
Your trustees and senior leadership need to be on board about rebranding and about why the investment makes sense now. While branding falls under the umbrella of marketing, and is therefore almost always doesn’t technically require board approval, if your trustees aren’t enthusiastically behind the project, it will probably go off the rails.
As executive director, you’ll have to set the tone for the board and everyone else. Amplifying enthusiasm around developing and broadcasting the new brand is part of your job. Our process is an inclusive one; that means everyone — from the volunteer crossing guard to the board president — needs to fall in line behind you in understanding and promoting the brand.
4. Budget Scope
Developing a new brand strategy and building the creative new tools needed to promote it takes a significant investment. Plan carefully and budget realistically so you can do it right the first time.
While it’s exciting to participate in rebranding work, it does take staff and volunteers away from their normal duties. That makes it critical to factor staff time into your estimate of costs.
When you work with Mission Minded, you’re not outsourcing, you’re co-creating. You and your colleagues will need to share your expertise in your organization and area of operations. You’ll participate in sessions, attend meetings, supply background information, coordinate research study participants, and supply us with valuable feedback.
Without all of that, we can’t possibly know what brand will lead your organization to mission success.
Changing public perceptions takes time. Each interaction someone has with your brand contributes to the overall impression they have about your organization and its value.
A thoughtful branding process, including the development of key messages and visual cues like a new logo and website, will help you achieve your day-to-day goals and build the brand you’ll need for tomorrow.
Feeling ready? Read our list of 6 Questions to Ask when considering a rebrand. And, when your brand strategy is all set, and you’re finally ready to redesign your website, check out our 4-step approach to creating a website that wows.
Jennie Winton is a Founding Partner of Mission Minded, a 25-year marketing veteran sought for her expertise in branding nonprofit organizations, and a one-on-one impact coach.
See all posts by Jennie Winton