Part 2: Strategic Reinvention in Action

Meeting the moment you're in requires bold change, but embracing the opportunity to elevate your brand will give you the best results.

In our last post, my co-founder Zach talked about how external cultural and market forces can affect nonprofits while in the process of making major strategic changes to your organization’s approach. Though it can be stressful, the most exciting opportunities are the ones where an organization’s leadership sees an opportunity to widen their impact – and how to boldly step into a new vision and position with elevated brands and strategic plans. 

Here at Mission Minded, our own re-brand offers the perfect example. We took a fresh look at our brand strategy because our portfolio of services and their impact had both expanded, and our reputation hadn’t kept pace. And as we delved into the research and revisited what our clients love most about partnering with us, we recognized an opportunity for our brand to take an even bigger leap to better align with our value and the cultural zeitgeist that shapes how we’re perceived.

Here are just some of the cultural and market forces that shaped Mission Minded’s elevated brand and how we predict they’ll impact and shape foundational strategies for your organization.

All politics are national, and now all competition is, too

When we founded Mission Minded, we built our reputation — our brand — with geographic emphasis (shout out to our earliest supporters in San Francisco and then Denver!). This was true even though we’ve always been a fully remote team without a physical headquarters. Our “virtual” nature gave us an early advantage as organizations across the country and now even the world recognized our expertise. 

The market has evolved, and today we find dozens of comparison firms working in the space we helped create. Now you’ll find an abundance of strategic and creative expertise in the nonprofit and education sectors just one click away on the web. A nonprofit in Texas might be checking out websites of a strategy firm in Idaho, and another in New York. In that context, we knew the Mission Minded’s own brand had to stand for something more than brand expertise.

Many nonprofit organizations, and particularly post-secondary educational institutions, find themselves in a similar situation. Your earliest supporters and students may have come from a specific geographic territory. Your programs — your expertise — were likely the only game in town. But now the audiences most important for your future success can find dozens of alternate, similar providers via a search bar on Google.

More organizations are doing the same work. You may have been the trailblazer once, but now you’re just one in a field of copycats. The key questions: What makes you distinctive? What can you own that’s of value? Where’s the opportunity to leapfrog ahead?

Your audiences expect more

Another facet of our market that drove our brand’s evolution is the increased expertise and sophistication of our clients. Leaders and professionals working within nonprofits, foundations, associations, K-12 schools, and higher education have watched and learned, adopting branding and marketing strategies from the corporate world. 

Twenty-five years ago, Mission Minded spent a lot of time educating leaders about what a nonprofit brand was and why brand mattered. Since then, the appreciation for the value and the necessity of a strong brand has grown. And, as referenced above, the wealth of free educational resources available allows anyone with an interest to research strategic frameworks, messaging best practices, and more. Today we can begin the conversation at a more advanced level. And we’ve seen our partnerships get stronger because our clients are bringing their own expertise and experience to the table.

That same trend applies to your organization, too, in two key ways. 

First, because there’s so much knowledge and so many tools out there, other organizations in your space have likely strengthened their brands, developed savvier strategic plans, and executed compelling communications campaigns. The competition is stiffer. Which means, if you hope to invite more people into your cause or community, it’s more important than ever for you to stand apart and stand out.

Second, your audiences are coming to you more knowledgeable and educated about the work you do. They’ve scrolled through the stream of blog posts, podcasts, trend pieces, and advocacy content about your subject matter. They’re bringing you different questions and challenges than you may have received in the past. Your organizational strategies, communications approaches, and leadership style all need to reflect a changing relationship with your audiences.

It’s time to get clear on what DEI means for what you do

Black Lives Matter and other social change movements have successfully focused worldwide attention on the structural racism and injustice that permeate and persist in our culture.

Like many other organizations, Mission Minded reflected on how our work may contribute to and uphold harmful, racist, and marginalizing power dynamics. We made commitments to positive change and more equitable practices. 

Our updated brand and messages further this commitment by uplifting collaboration and inclusion as central to our thinking. This expansion of the ways we share power and co-create with our clients and the communities they serve better activates our promise of equity. It also, quite frankly, is more relevant and impactful than simply signaling your solidarity with a policy statement.

I imagine that by now your nonprofit or school has been called upon to confront your own biases and inequities. From boardroom diversity to representation in marketing to recalibrating programs and operations, your foundational organizational strategies must reflect a commitment to equity and inclusivity that is woven into so much more than what you say — it must be what you do.

The strongest brands must deliver

One through-line of much of the above is that strategic branding has been a wildly successful way for nonprofits and schools to advance their missions. To further capitalize on its full potential, you have to see your brand as much more than marketing… it’s an organizational north star to guide your way.

At Mission Minded, we’ve been talking for years about brand activation, and why strong brands consider not just how they look and what they say, but also how they act and what they do. That’s why we grew our offerings to incorporate strategic planning and leadership coaching. They are the missing pieces you need to deliver on your visionary brand promise.

When aligned with your brand, your strategic plan will tell a story about your organization through an inspiring and elevated structure that leverages the impact you exist to achieve, instead of retelling the operational business of achieving your mission. With urgency and visionary thinking, you can inspire leaders and stakeholders alike, so they understand and embrace your work. They’ll be primed to revolutionize the way you think about and work toward impact.

And when you understand and feel excited about your own leadership style, your confidence soars. That’s when you’re best equipped to inspire and energize your community. One-on-one coaching helps leaders better step into their power, recognize their expertise, and find the fuel that makes them the leaders they are, and the leaders they must be to achieve mission success in an evolving world.

One and Done Isn’t Enough

Too many organizations invest in brand strategy, but neglect ongoing brand execution. Rebranding isn’t a one-time strategic initiative. It kicks off a new way of thinking and being, of asking every day how you can show up even more on-brand than the day before. That’s why, in the spirit of our value of asking “What if?”, we will also continue to evolve and expand our visual identity following this first phase of our launch. Expect our visual identity, and all of our materials and communications to become even bolder, gutsy, and more energizing over time.

Gutsy thinking that gets results

Mission Minded has identified a few more cultural trends we are seeing that are impacting nonprofit and education brands. If you’re wrestling with how to meet this moment when it comes to living your values, retaining and re-inspiring your staff, and rekindling trust with your most important audiences, read Trust Matters: Cultural & Market Forces Driving Strategic Reinvention or register for our free webinar:

Cultural & Market Forces to Watch: What’s Driving the Strategic Reinvention Imperative?

Thursday, June 20, 2024
12:30-1:15 pm PT/3:30-4:15 pm ET

In this free session, Mission Minded co-founder Zach Hochstadt and I will be spotlighting the ways we see your landscape shifting and how your organization can leverage new opportunities to further your mission and impact. In the session, you’ll have the chance to learn from other organizations and share your own experiences.

The leadership challenges and opportunities you face keep evolving. At Mission Minded, our vision is nonprofits and schools that make the world  better have what they need to succeed. Let us be your partner in navigating this shifting landscape and spotlightling your path to greater impact.