Surviving a Nonprofit Rebrand (and Living to Tell the Tale)
In this webinar, Sarah Durham will map out how to plan and manage rebranding so your nonprofit has the best chance of success.
Steven: All right, Sarah, my watch . . . yeah, go ahead.
Sarah: Lots of people are chatting in that the volume is very low on me. So I’m moving my headset a little bit closer to my mouth. But if those of you who are struggling to hear me can tell me if this sound quality is any better, that would be helpful. And I don’t know, Steven, if there’s anything that can be done on your end.
Steven: I am very loud, so I’m guessing once I pop off here it’ll normalize.
Steven: Cool. All right, well, I think we’re recording. So, okay, if I go ahead, Sarah?
Steven: All right, cool. Well, good afternoon, everyone, if you are in the East Coast I should say and good morning if you are on the West Coast or somewhere in between. Thanks for being here for today’s Bloomerang webinar, “Surviving a Nonprofit Rebrand and Living to Tell the Tale.” Thanks so much for being here. My name is Steven Shattuck, and I am the Chief Engagement Officer over here at Bloomerang, and I’ll be moderating today’s discussion, as always.
Just a couple of quick housekeeping items, I just want to let you all know that we are recording this session and I’ll be sending that out later this afternoon. So if you have to leave early or maybe you just want to review the content later on, have no fear, I will get all that good stuff in your hands. I’ll send out the slides once again, just in case those already missed you. So don’t worry, I’ll get all that good stuff to you this afternoon, I promise.
And as you’re with me today, most importantly, use that chat box. I know one of you already have which is awesome. I love it. We love these sessions to be interactive, so don’t be shy, don’t sit on your hands. We’re going to save some time at the end for Q&A so we’d love to hear your questions and comments throughout the hour. You can also send those our way on Twitter. I’ll keep an eye on the Twitter feed as well.
And one last bit of technical note. If you have any trouble hearing us through your computer speakers, we find that the audio by phone is usually a little bit better. So if that will be comfortable for you, if you don’t mind dialing in by phone, try that before you totally give up on us. There is the phone number in the email from ReadyTalk that went out about half hour ago that you can use it to dial in. So try that before you toss that computer out the window.
Now, if this is your first Bloomerang webinar, I just want to say an extra special welcome to you folks. We do these webinars every single week except for maybe one or two weeks throughout the year. Literally every week we do these things. We love it. It’s one of our favorite things we do. Probably my favorite thing actually.
But if you’ve never heard of Bloomerang besides our webinar series, we are a provider of donor management software. So if you’re curious about that, want to check out our offering, visit our websites later on. You can even download a quick video demo if you want to see the software in action. But don’t do that now because you are all in for a real treat. We’ve got one of my favorites returning to the webinar series. It would not be the Bloomerang series if we didn’t have Sarah Durham joining us. Hey, Sarah, how are you doing? Thanks for being here.
Sarah: Hey, Steven. Thanks for having me back.
Steven: This is awesome. Oh, yeah, this is great. I’m really excited for this one. You all are in for a treat. Sarah is the only person I recommend when it comes to rebranding, branding in general for nonprofits, so she is definitely the person to be leading this session. And to brag her really quickly if you guys don’t know Sarah, if you don’t know Big Duck, she’s been doing this a long time. Back in the ’90s she founded Big Duck, really awesome agency, does really, really good work. I can personally vouch for it. Also puts out a lot of really interesting content and advice and research also, you might hear about that today. She’s on the bookshelf too. She’s the author of “Brandraising: How Nonprofits Raise Visibility and Money through Smart Communications.” I would definitely pick up that book.
She has been featured all over the place, in NPR, Chronicle of Philanthropy, Guidestar. You may have seen her at a big conference leading sessions, leading panels. She was at the NTC Conference in Portland last week, maybe you saw her there. You can also catch her at conferences like IFC, AFP ICON, [Cause Camp 00:03:58], lots of good places. If you see her name on a conference schedule, definitely go to that session. Tell her you saw her on a Bloomerang webinar too.
I almost ran out of room on this title slide for all of her accolades. She’s been named the “top fundraiser under 40” by Fundraising Success magazine. She was named one of the most influential women in tech by Fast Company back in 2010, and really knows her stuff. And I’ve already taken away way too much time from you, Sarah. So I am going to let you hit the screen share button and take it away and tell us all about rebranding, my friend. It looks like it’s working.
Sarah: All right, great. Well, thank you, Steven. That was a very nice introduction and while my deck gets warmed up here, I want to thank you all for taking some time to be with us today, and I want to give you a sense of what we’re going to do in the next hour. I am a native New Yorker, I talk quickly and I have a presentation with lots of different things I want to do. And I’m going to try to get through all of that in time too at the end, leave 10 minutes or so, maybe a little bit longer for you to chat in your questions. So Steven towards the end is going to be reviewing all the things that get chatted in along the way and feeding me questions he’d like me to address. While I’m going through this presentation, I can’t actually see the chat so I won’t be responding to things so much in real-time but we’ll definitely leave some time for that at the end. And I’m also going to send out a link to some of the resources that I mentioned today.
Steven gave me a nice intro so I’m not going to spend time telling you about me. But I will just take a minute to say that at Big Duck we’re a team about 18 people. We’re based in Brooklyn, New York and we have been helping nonprofits rebrand since 1994. We work exclusively with nonprofits and the organizations we have taken through rebranding processes really range in all different sizes and shapes. But one of the big things they have in common is they’re all going through significant growth and change.
And a rebranding process is like many other things, a change management process. So a lot of times people think that if they just get great creative work, great messaging let’s say, or great logo or something like that it’s going to be, you know, smooth sailing in that rebrand. But what we know from our work here is that there’s a lot of variables like who’s involved and what’s the process and what’s the order of operations that have a really, really big impact on the success of that rebrand too.
So at Big Duck we work in three areas. We do brandraising we call it. I’ll introduce you to that concept today. We help nonprofits develop strong campaigns, and we also help nonprofits develop strong teams, and my giving this webinar today falls on under teams work. Basically, capacity building work to try to help you as a nonprofit staff person or board member do your job better, feel better equipped to navigate these things.
And today I think we do have to kind of ground our conversation in what branding means in a nonprofit so I’m going to start with a quick overview of that. But then what we’re really going to do is dig into some things around the process, the people, the roles, the buy-in, and practices that will help your new brand stick because it’s not going to be enough to just make something shiny and pretty and new. We want to make sure you’ve got the tools you need to really succeed with it.
So that’s what we’re going to do and I also want to just plug this presentation is a slice of a daylong workshop I do on brandraising. I think there’s one coming up in May in New York, so if you sign up for our eNews or something like that, you’ll get notified when we firm up those details, if you feel like you need more.
So, I think that it is a good place to start to talk about branding in the for-profit world. We are, you know, transacting with big brands every day. These are just a few of them. And when we think about these sort of top of mind businesses that we interact with they all have a lot of things in common. On the left side, items one through four, are things that tend to be unique to these huge, big businesses. We have these, you know, transactional relationships. They spend a ton of money. They do all these kinds of things that most nonprofits can’t do.
But on the right side, items five, six, and seven, you’ll see are all things that nonprofits can do. We can be consistent. We can develop campaigns that increase visibility, and we can establish and maintain mindshare. Mindshare is that kind of top of mind perception that’s people have about us that when they see your logo or they see your name they actually think they know something about you.
And when we look at nonprofits whether they are large, national, or international groups or smaller groups that target a particular community or particular audience, we see that there are, you know, a lot of restrictions. The more narrow the audience you want to reach, the more likely it is that not everybody is going to know who you are and even if you did want everybody to know who you are as an organization, chances are you’re not going to have the budget to reach and touch all those people.
So a lot of times I think there is this kind of unrealistic aspiration that nonprofits have that they’re going to become a household name. But it’s actually really, really expensive and really challenging to establish mindshare across lots and lots of audiences without some sort of day-to-day transactional relationship. And, you know, when we look at some of these really big brands that do a very good job associating a color or a mark with what they are, we know that what that’s really about is our perception.
You know, branding is very much in the eyes of the beholder. We see this, you know, red/white concentric circles and we know that it’s Target. Or some of the newer brands that have become very popular in, you know, the last 5 or 10 years have been very much about creating experiences where maybe in your exercise class you have an experience but you take that experience with you outside and you kind of identify with the brand.
So from your audiences’ point of view the brand exists in perception and it exist in experiences. But your job as an organization is to create those or shape those perceptions and experiences. Unfortunately, what happens in many organizations is a lack of sort of cohesive or proactive shaping of perceptions and experiences because a lot of different people are producing materials, are writing and speaking on behalf of the organization and so what gets put out into the world tends to be a little bit mismatched.
This is a slide from a conversation we had here with an organization probably about 10 years ago. One of the things we always do at Big Duck is we always ask an organization that’s about to go through a rebrand to print out all of your digital materials, grab all your flyers, grab all your brochures and lay them all out on a table and just kind of take a step back and look at how you’ve been communicating.
And if you’re like a lot of organizations, your materials might look something like this. They might be a little bit eclectic. So if you’re not putting out consistent assets, you know, visuals, messages, etc., then chances are the people on the receiving end are not going to understand who you are or form, you know, clear experiences. So just to kind of boil that down very quickly what I’m talking about is your organization’s voice. You as a nonprofit have the ability to shape and direct the voice of your organization. And that voice is then experienced by your target audiences in terms of perception and their experiences. So they perceive you, they experience you, and you use your voice to shape those perceptions and experiences.
So how do you do that? What are the essential elements of the brand? This is where we get into brandraising which is a model that we developed here at Big Duck probably about 16 years ago. We use it with all of our clients, and my book “Brandraising” breaks all of these down. I’ve had a lot of people tell me particularly in smaller organizations that don’t have a budget to hire an external consultant or help that they can use the book as a guide. So I’m going to give you a very quick cheat sheet to this model, and hopefully it’ll shape some of the way you think about how you direct your voice.
Nonprofits unlike for-profits are vision and mission driven. That is the bottom-line. Communications works in service of advancing your mission. So actually, a really thorough rebrand or a thoughtful look at your organization’s voice has to begin with your vision, your missions, your value as an organization. And usually, those things are reviewed or updated during a strategic planning process. So probably the top of this pyramid, which we call the organizational level, looks pretty familiar to you. It’s got a number of things here you’ve probably talked about and developed proactively at your organization.
What might be a little new is this slice of the organizational level, positioning and personality. Positioning and personality are marketing or branding concepts that have been around since the 1950s that sort of form a bridge from your organization’s strategic plan into the stuff that most people think of when they think of branding. So before we continue on and breakdown this pyramid, I just want to unpack these two concepts.
Positioning is the single idea you strive to establish in the minds of your target audience. So when I brought up that first slide and I showed you all those logos with FedEx and Apple and all of those big brands, a lot of those companies didn’t even have their names on their logos but I bet you knew who they were and you know what they do. That’s because they’ve clearly established their positioning in your mind. And nonprofits can do that too. It’s actually the starting points for most nonprofits that have been through strategic planning translating that strategic plan into brand strategy.
Personality is the really fun part of brand strategy. It’s the tone and style you use and the feeling you want people to associate with your organization. So I’m not going to go into a lot of examples here because we don’t have time. I want to shift into this sort of bigger process management part of this conversation pretty quickly but there are a lot of examples of positioning and personality if you poke around on the Big Duck website or in my book or in other resources that I can share with you after the webinar.
So with vision, mission, values, objectives, clarity on who your audiences are, your positioning and your personality defined your organization is now ready to get to the next level of changing your brand and that’s the identity level. This is the stuff that most people think of when they think of rebranding and a lot of rebrands go off either because they’re not grounded in the strategy of the organizational level or because they just start here without connecting the dots to the strategies.
But your visual identity is the stuff you probably think off like your logo or the colors or typography, your images you use. And messaging actually begins with your name and how you abbreviate it, if your organization has a tagline or slogan of some kind. And then how do you use language in your vision and mission statements consistently.
For most organizations there are some type of messaging that is central to establishing your voice so that if I ask your board or your senior leadership or a staff person in the program a question like, you know, tell me about your organization or what do you do? I would ideally hear sort of the consistent things from everybody because the messaging has been codified in some sort of consistent way and ideally wrapped up in an elevator pitch. So when you go to a rebranding process most people will spend a lot of times on their messaging platform and on their visual identity. But that rebrand isn’t really live until you start to roll it out publicly.
Everything at the top two levels, the organizational level and the identity level, it tends to happen kind of backstage. It’s a work that your staff and board does. It involves research and maybe some new development of things and testing of things. But it isn’t until you put it on your website or you integrate it into your templates or other materials that it comes to life for those external audiences. And so at the experiential level, the bottom of the pyramid, that’s where we start to actually shape those perceptions and experiences that your target market, your audiences experience externally.
So, that was a very fast dive into brandraising and there are two resources I want to share just because I realize that nonprofit branding in five minutes probably is a lot to take in. One resource and, again, we can send a link to this afterwards, is an eBook that we produced called “Putting strategy to work for your nonprofit.” That talks about what is the goal and objective, a strategy and a tactic, and how do those things relate to your vision and mission and programs. So how do you integrate strategy into communications generally?
And then these are three terrific books that I think all in different ways are very useful if your organization is about to embark on a rebrand. My book, “Brandraising,” is on the far left. “Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind” is in the middle, that’s a great book that’s been around for a long time that explains brand strategy. And then “The Brand Idea” is also an excellent book that’s been around for a few years that talks about sort of the power model as it applies to branding and how to integrate a more inclusive process and deal with your audiences in some unexpected ways. So all of these are great books that I recommend.
So, you know, as I mentioned, we have been helping nonprofits build their communications capacity and go through rebranding processes for just about 25 years here at Big Duck. And one of the things we’ve noticed is that some organizations go through a rebranding process really beautifully and, you know, hopefully not too painfully. And they come out the other end with all these great new assets or tools they can use to articulate their voice and it kind of, you know, it sticks. It’s beautiful. They roll it out. People love it. They love it and there’s the sense that the organization got a real lift or really took a leap forward.
But then there are other organizations where, you know, the process is really bumpy or even at the end no matter how great the tools are, it just doesn’t stick. They roll it out but then it sort of fizzles. It’s like people forget. You’ve probably heard stories about organizations that go through strategic planning where it sort of becomes a report that sits on the shelf.
Well, over the years we’ve been studying, you know, why does it go well for some organizations and why does it not go well for others? What can we learn about that? And it basically boils down to two elements—the process you go through and the people who are involved in that process. And, you know, this is really about change managements. These are the two fundamental components that impact any big change at your organization.
So what we’re going to do now is we’re going to kind of dig into these two areas for a bit. And we’re going to start by kind of thinking about, you know, what’s a good reason to rebrand, what sort of the right way to tackle this work. And I want to share with you, Steven and I were kind of playing around with the idea of doing a poll here. So I want to share with you four quotes. These are all real things that I have heard when people call me and they say, “You know, I want to talk to you about rebranding.” And I’ll say, “Oh, why do you want to rebrand?”
So what I’m hoping you’re going to do is chat into Steven and he’s going to read me just the first few responses. Is this a good reason to rebrand? So the first one is “We need a new logo for our anniversary year.” Chat it in, good reason to rebrand. What do you think, Steven?
Steven: Most people are saying no, Sarah. Overwhelming no.
Sarah: No. Yes, that is correct. This is not a good reason to rebrand. And actually when I do hear this, which I don’t constantly, but I do occasionally hear it. One of the pieces of ammunition you can use if this comes up in your organization is think about those big for-profit brands. You don’t see Starbucks coming out with a new logo because it’s their anniversary or McDonald’s or Staples, right? Your anniversary year is significant for you but it’s not a reason to change the voice of your organization writ large.
Here’s another one, chat into Steven if you think this is a good reason to rebrand, “The way we communicate no longer reflects who we are and where we’re heading.” If this is sort of a narrative inside your organization, is that a good reason to go through a comprehensive rebranding process?
Steven: It looks like mostly yeses here, Sarah. I’m going to join the crew and say yes also.
Sarah: Yes. I would agree. There is a sense in some organizations that the way they’ve been communicating their name or their logo or something else that is kind of, you know, essential to their identity just doesn’t fit anymore. Maybe the world around you has changed. I was talking to a woman at the Nonprofit Technology Conference last week who told me the name of her organization and the name included a very specific audience and she said, “You know, this name is really problematic because we no longer only serve that audience and so we can’t really use our full name. We have to use our acronym but then nobody knows who we are.”
Those are really problems in speaking with the clear voices in organizations. So generally, when I hear this I want to dig in a little deeper and understand where you’re heading and think about how to realign everything to match future and not the past.
Okay. What do you think about this one? “I like this new tagline better. I’ll just change it.” Is that a good reason to go through a rebranding process?
Steven: Lots of nos. I haven’t seen a yes yet, Sarah.
Sarah: Yes. I mean, you know, this is a little bit of a tricky one because embedded in here is a change management challenge which is the person who goes rogue. So I’m sort of conflating in this one a couple of things. It could be that that new tagline is better but the, “I’ll just change it” part is really problematic and maybe just changing your tagline isn’t in and of itself a rebrand. It’s just a kind of an addition to the arsenal you might use in your messaging identity.
So, you know, it might be that this is a statement that belies a bigger challenge or problem either with change management in your organization or maybe the need to create new resources or shore up resources. So I’d say this is the kind of a no into a maybe but I would dig deeper here.
And then here’s the last one. You know, you go into a meeting and let’s say you’ve got a new executive director and the executive director sits down and she thumps her fist on the table and she says, “We need to blow the roof off of our communications.” Is that a good reason to rebrand?
Steven: We’re getting some mix answers. It’s about 50-50, Sarah. So I’m curious your take on this one.
Sarah: I would dig in deeper on this one too. And this is actually a direct quote that I heard from an executive director a couple of years ago and when I asked him, “Well, why? Why do you need to blow the roof off of our communications?” You know, he described a lot of what we heard in that earlier quote about, “Well, the way we’re communicating it feels old and tired. It’s not exciting. Our work is really dynamic and exciting we need the way we communicate to reflect that.”
Rebranding isn’t the only way to do that though and I think that’s why some of you are kind of ambivalent on this one. It is quite possible that you could have, you know, a terrific name, a terrific tagline, great logo, great messaging, all the assets you need but you’re just not using them fully. So don’t conflate changing your organization’s brand assets or change any elements that make up your voice with the campaigns that you use to raise awareness to shape perceptions and shape the experiences. There are a lot of organizations out there that don’t have terrific brand assets but do a great job communicating through campaigns and other areas. So you might need to blow the roof off of your communications but you might not need to rebrand to do it. It really depends.
Okay. So let’s talk a little bit about the process of surviving a rebrand in a way that works. I would probably say that the biggest obstacle to a successful rebranding process that we hear regularly at the beginning of the process is timing and order or operations. So in atypical rebranding process in probably 70% of the processes that my team and I are involved in, the first step is strategic planning. Strategic planning is where your organization gets aligned around vision, mission, and values and if you’re not aligned about those things everything else is going to be problematic and challenging.
So you don’t have to go through a formal process, but you do want to have some alignment there otherwise brand strategy is going to be very hard to do. Visuals and messaging are going to feel like they’re subjective decisions not necessarily strategic. And then relaunching the experiential level assets which starts with your website happens last.
So you can see that this is the process that can actually take a little bit of time. Most organizations I know tackle this over multiple years and in fact I just recorded a podcast with a director of communications at the Lycée Français de New York, her name is Elisabeth King, where she talked about going through a five-year process, two years of strategic planning, two years of rebranding, and a year of kind of finishing it all. Now that’s a long and comprehensive process but she was trying to involve over 2000 people in the process. So take that with a grain of salt I suppose.
So, again, the strategic planning piece happens up at the tippy top. The brand strategies up at the tippy top, then the visuals and messaging, and then finally rolling it all out. It’s not really live until your website goes live. And you really want to budget for a process where year by year you have the resources you need not only time but staff, freelancers, consultants, whatever you need.
So think about it this way if you’re embarking on a process and you’ve got some time to manage the change. Maybe year one you get your strategic planning done. Year two, brand strategy, identity changes, and the training you need to do to make sure everybody in your organization knows how to use that new identity. And then after year three, you relaunch your website, maybe other templates and tools and you start to establish some sticky practices. We’ll talk about what sticky practices means in a minute but things that basically make sure that voice gets infused into everything you do not just, you know, one thing, you know like not just your website. And you really want to bring that brand into your campaigns and brand-aligned experiences.
If your brand personality is fun and engaging and fresh and I walk into the place where you do most of your programs and it’s dark depressing and sad and the person who greets me at the front desk doesn’t make eye contact, that’s a bad brand experience. You’re not creating an experience that aligns with the brand personality you want to communicate. So doing that actually takes some time and some effort.
I wrote a blog a few years ago about the role of the chief experience officer which is a new job we’re starting to see in more and more nonprofits that are thinking about this where the chief experience officer is the person who’s actually auditing like, what is the experience of your clients or your donors? Are they experiencing your organization in a way that feels on brand and aligned with your goals?
So, let’s talk for a minute about the people you’ll need to involve in a successful rebranding process. And we’re going to look at this through two lenses. We’re going to start by looking at it through the lens of the skills you’re going to need. And there are four core skills I want to make sure that you begin to the team that is overseeing your rebrand. And then we’ll talk a little bit about buy-in and how to manage buy-in with the different constituencies you have like your staff and your board.
So first, the four core skills you’ll need begin first and foremost with project management. So somewhere, you know, usually at Big Duck when we go through a rebranding process for a nonprofit our client has a working group and we have helped them figure out who should be on that working group or they’ve got a committee that already exist like communications committee or maybe they started an ad hoc development committee.
And then the staff person who manages that working group who might be the director of communications or communications manager even a development staff person, they’re usually the person who have to coordinate and manage the working group and they are responsible from a day-to-day point of view
bring everything forward.
The project management function has got to be in-house. So you can hire an agency like us or freelancers or consultants or volunteers, but somebody on your team has to be able to coordinate when to bring in the board chair, when to bring in your executive director, etc., and that’s somebody’s got to be doing this in-house.
Strategy is probably the most easily overlooked skill you’re going to need in a rebrand and it can be easily overlooked if you don’t have anybody in-house with rebranding strategy experience and you end up hiring an agency or a freelancer or a volunteer who doesn’t have that experience either. So an example of that would be where it would be missing is let’s say you hire a graphic designer to create a new logo who’s not a person who think strategically. What they’re going to do is start designing logos they think are pretty not necessarily logos that communicate the right things and reflect a deliberate brand strategy.
So a great strategist and there are a lot of them out there who will do this work pro bono for you if you post an ad on Idealist, will conduct research. They’ll help you understand who your audiences are and how they perceive you. They can help you develop your brand strategy, that’s your positioning and personality. They can make sure that the work you’re doing throughout this process aligns with your strategic plan or your organizational strategy. And they can help you think through things like brand architecture. We’re not going to talk about brand architecture in depth today but that’s how programs that you have like you runs, walks and rides or other initiatives relate to the mothership.
One of the questions I actually think that got chatted in was what I would call a brand architecture question. It was a question about rebranding a specific program. So if you’ve got somebody with strategic thinking in the room what they can help you figure out is how much that program should look and feel and smell and sound like everything else. A good strategist will also help you figure out a messaging framework and do testing, etc. so they’re researchers, planners, etc.
You are likely going to need a writer. And what I mean by a writer is not somebody who’s comfortable with Microsoft Word and has a way with a pen. I mean somebody who’s actually got some real creative writing chops and preferably brand writing chops, somebody who can help you make things like your vision or mission statement come to life in dynamic compelling ways where when I read it, it makes me want to choke up a little bit. Writing is a great thing to outsource if you don’t have a great writer in-house.
If you’re going to go through a rebrand that involves a visual identity change, you will need professional designers. And I was actually just talking to somebody on my team who is invited to speak at a conference where they were encouraged to teach non-designers at this conference how to design and she was lamenting how challenging that is. Design and writing are really one of those things where everybody can do it a little bit but to do it really well, you probably want a professional in the room. And you can look to if you don’t have a budget to hire, look to schools in your community, look to organizations like the Taproot Foundation and see if you can get those things donated. But don’t skimp on great writing and design please.
So those are the four skills—design, writing, strategy, project management. Basically everything you do runs through that. And in the strategic planning phase strategy is the heavy lift. Strategy and project management and writing to some extent but then as you get into the identity level, it shifts more towards writing and design and so forth.
So the second way to think about people in the rebranding process is about buy-in and how you get people to swim in synchrony to use this image. And again, this is another place that boy we have seen a lot of projects not go well and we probably at Big Duck spend maybe a third of the time that we work with an organization now just managing this because we have found that this is almost like the secret ingredient to a successful rebrand.
It starts by thinking proactively upfront who has to be involved in this process for it to be successful and making sure that you involve them in deliberate ways, you know, at the right time. So I’ll give you some frameworks for that in a minute but certainly, there are a number of constituents that must be involved in a successful rebrand. First and foremost, the staff, staff have to participate in the process meaningfully. There needs to be one clear decision-maker on the staff that is usually the executive director or the CEO. And I would say that there has to be a decision-maker because at the end of the day even if you try to operate in that kind of consensus-driven way, it does have to be somebody who says, “Yes, it’s good,” or who, you know, breaks the tie.
The staff must facilitate some kind of meaningful board involvement and they’re the people who are going to really use that voice and do most of the writing and design on behalf of the organization. So if they’re not involved in the process, if for instance the board rebranded the organization just said, “Here, here’s our new name, our new logo, or our new messaging.” It’s going to be a little bit like asking the staff to work close if they didn’t pick out for themselves. They’re just probably not going to feel right and they’re not going to be comfortable using them.
You’re definitely going to want to have some board involvement although how your board is meaningfully involved is going to depend a lot on your board’s role in other things and how you generally interact with your board. We have been through rebranding processes where half of the working group or more are board members, and they’re deeply involved at every step of the way. We’ve also worked with organizations where the board is kind of just updated along the way and really not that involved but just kept informed.
But like the staff, they are going to need to write and speak on behalf of the organization and they certainly need to have, you know, some sort of say in the process, although there is no formal guideline about anything they must vote on or approve. Generally, our rule of thumb is certainly a name change. We would want the board to vote on. There might be legal implications for that that are significant.
Most boards are going to want to approve and sometimes vote on a logo but generally, things like taglines and messaging are not necessarily up for board approval. They’re more FYI for the board, most of the organizations we work with.
So what we recommend at Big Duck is that you form a working group early on in the process and ideally that working group has no more than 10 people on it just to keep the size of the group manageable. And includes key senior leadership and board members who are going to sort of represent the voices of different people in the organization and report back and bring those people into the process in appropriate ways.
We prefer that the executive director is acknowledged as the decision-maker although in some organizations, you know, there’s culturally that can feel strange. We also recommend that you keep your board updated regularly and kind of from the start let them know what their role will be so that you don’t find yourself in a gotcha situation where later on, you know, at the very end of the process somebody on the board says, “Wait, I don’t even know we were doing this. Why are we doing this?” And sort of puts the kibosh on the whole thing.
One of the biggest wildcards in your process would be the other key stakeholders like your clients or your donors or your volunteers and where they’re involved in the process. So typically in the projects we do they’re involved through research that might happen in strategic planning. They might be involved in the research qualitative or quantitative research at the identity level. And they’re also involved in testing. So if you’re creating a new name or a new logo or something you can actually do some field research and take it to your programs. Get a sense of how the people who are in those programs feel about it and you can surface if you’re heading in the right direction or not. We’ve seen some great examples of that over the years.
So there are a lot of frameworks that can help you think about who to involve and in what ways. Well, currently my favorite is DACI which hopefully the slide has caught up with me, but, so DACI is the idea that there is one person who was the driver that’s the D. They’re responsible for leading the process. They are sometimes the working group but ideally with a project manager, a staff project manager involved.
Then the A is the accountable who’s ultimately responsible for the success of this initiative. I prefer that to be your executive director or CEO because they will also be the decision-maker. In some organizations it’s the CMO or the chief communications officer.
Who’s consulted along the way? Who do you need to kind of hear from and get their input along either so they’ll buy-in or so that they’re kind of in the loop about what’s happening.
And who’s informed? Who gets updates at key junctures? Oftentimes, board members for instance who are not on the working group might be informed or might be consulted. Clients might be consulted along the way. Donors might be consulted. We often recommend that major donors like, you know, your largest handful of donors are informed along the way too. You don’t want a major donor to react badly when all of a sudden you’ve changed something significant and they didn’t know anything was going on.
So consider mapping before you go through your rebranding process who will be the driver, who will be accountable, who will be consulted, who will informed, and talking to people about those roles upfront so that they are in the loop and clear where and how they get to participate.
Okay. So we’re in the home stretch and what I want to do here is to share with you some practices that are going to help your brand thrive. So you’ve been through this whole rebranding process, and now it’s time to build the infrastructure that you’re going to want to have to make that stick. So when you hire external people, you know, an agency like us, a freelancer, consultants, volunteers, they’re going to do all this work with you but then hopefully they’re going to back towards the door. And it’s going to be up to your organization to really own it and make it work. And while going through that rebranding process probably feels like a bunch of work at the time. The real work actually happens when it’s over because that’s where you use that voice to communicate in new ways and bring it to life.
So we like to call this brand stickiness here at Big Duck, and we wrote an eBook about it that I’m going to sort of breakdown briefly here as a cheat sheet for you, but I’ll send you via Steven the link to the eBook if you want all of these in more detail. So the idea behind brand stickiness is that you’ve created some new resources, some new assets in your visual identity and your messaging platform. And you’ve probably put them in the brand guide and hopefully you’ve trained your team to write and speak on message.
So at the time your new brand goes live hopefully everybody in your organization understands why and knows how to, you know, write a speech, write a grant, maybe even write a brochure that uses all these things. But overtime that can kind of erode. The people who get hired after the rebranding process, for instance, what do you do with them? Or what happens when the external landscape changes and some of those things don’t feel right?
So when we did our research leading up to producing this eBook our Director of Strategy, Ally Dommu, identified that there are really four core things that help your brand stick. There is a process of reflection, of culture, how you integrate those things into your team and the assets you have to use. So I’m going to unpack each of these very briefly.
Reflection is really taking a step back from using the brand to observing what’s happening when you’re using the brand. That might mean doing some market research—qualitative or quantitative research in the field where you ask people how they perceive you. It might be monitoring the landscape of organizations in your peer area to see if maybe somebody new has come on the scene that it’s communicating in a way that’s confusingly similar to you. It might even be monitoring the external landscape in terms of changes in the world that might make the way you communicate start to feel dated.
You know, one of the interesting rebrands recently rest on the for-profit sector that got a lot of attention was “Weight Watchers,” changing their name to “WW,” and I haven’t been involved in that. I’ve no insider intelligence in that but from an outsider point of view it strikes me that that must have been at least to some extent in response to the idea that being a weight watcher, a person who watches their weight, no longer culturally feels as appropriate or relevant today as it probably did 30 or 40 years ago when they named their organization. So you can do a lot of different kinds of research and I encourage organizations to budget for external market research on an annual basis if possible.
Get feedback from your team and make sure that every year to three years you lay everything out on the table. You facilitate some really candid conversations about what’s working and what’s not, and you iterate. You make it better. You might need to update your messaging. You might need to make that font size a little bigger. The more you keep these assets alive and up to date, the more likely they are to last a long time and to feel relevant as opposed to, you know, sitting on the shelf.
The second element is culture, and culture is that kind of often inarticulated secret weapon. If your staff has not been educated about the importance of using these assets and why it’s important for you as an organization to speak with one voice, they’re probably not that likely to remember to use it or to find it important.
So we recommend that every organization integrate some kind of training about their brand into any onboarding trainings that new staff get into HR policies or all staff training or meetings. So don’t let it be something you train them once and then you never talk about again because they will forget it.
Create spaces for dialogue and empower your staff to own it by being a coach. We used to talk years ago about the idea of a brand police or a brand czar, but those have these very sort of controlling and punitive tones. Coaching I think is a lot better if, you know, couple of times a year you as a person who’s responsible for the brand, the driver of the brand, sit down with people and you kind of pull out everything they’ve written or produced on the brand over the last six months or a year. And you just talk about it, what’s working for them, what’s not, you can give them some feedback, that kind of proactive review we have found has been very effective with a lot of organizations.
How do you keep your team involved in the brand in the long run? I would encourage you to think about your team, mostly your staff in two categories. You will have people who will be activators. These are the people who are going to bring the brand to life in external communications so they’re the people who might actually write, design, and speak on your behalf. And then you have ambassadors who are people who might just sort of informally have to talk about your organization and represent it.
So who are your activators? They might need a little bit more training in how to write or design or produce materials and your ambassadors I think are mostly going to need to really be good at the elevator pitch and the talking points. But take a look at your senior leadership team, at your communications team, at your program staff and your development staff and think about who should your activators and your ambassadors be.
And lastly, remember that you have all of these new assets, anything you’ve updated or codified in your brand guide. And ideally, I would encourage you not just to have a brand guide that’s got the logo rules in it but your messaging, put your messaging in it, put your brand strategy in it. People are much more likely to have to write and speak on message than they are to design on message. So get all that written down and try to codify it in a brand guide and in any other processes or systems or tools that your organization uses to try to build institutional memory.
So a couple of quick tips and then we’re going to pivot over to questions. Hopefully, Steven has been getting some good questions in from you and we’ll have about 10 minutes for those. My first tip is be consistent. No matter how small or large your organization is consistency is kind of the secret weapon in any rebrand. When we look at the big organizations who have a lot more money typically than most nonprofits have, you see that they tend to use certain elements whether its color or typography or the logo. They use it consistently over decades, so don’t make change for change’s sake. You know, get it right and change it if it’s wrong but then really try to be as consistent as you can and make changes in very deliberate and strategic ways.
My next tip is to integrate whatever you do you, your voice, into all of your external communications. Don’t assume that just because you change these assets, you know, if you build it, they will come.
So I want to show you three quick examples from very small local organizations that I think did a really nice job weaving their visual identity in their messaging into everything they do. These are all organizations that Big Duck has not worked with but they all participated in a daylong capacity building workshop I gave and they brought their own materials they’ve produced in-house. So you can see here for instance People’s Theatre Project. When the built this website they used the colors in their logo which you see in the upper left-hand corner as a kind of a design element throughout everything they do. And they integrated pictures of the people they serve and kind of made the whole piece feel very warm and engaging and on personality.
Similarly, this small organization, the Rockaway Youth Task Force is really using orange as a color and they’ve integrated it into their website, into their t-shirts, into the actual program spaces where people get involved and just that simple consistent use of the color makes it feel professional and really sophisticated.
Here’s a kind of a zoom-in, that a screenshot I took from the website of an organization called the Brooklyn Youth Sports Club, also a tiny organization. And I love the way that on their website they spell out a kind of a really simple messaging framework. They have this little copy on the left, the challenge, why they exist, why basketball, and how to make a difference. And I love this example because it follows a messaging framework that works for a lot of smaller organizations which is problem, solution, action. They articulate the problem, they explain why they’re the solution, and they tell you how you can make a difference. So that’s a great simple framework.
Back to the idea of building mindshare though and how you get better known. You know what organizations do very well who build mindshare is they deliberately and proactively try to move people from the outside where they’re unaware of your work to becoming observers or lurkers to becoming supporters and advocates. And this is the kind of a conveyor belt that is constantly in motion. People go up and down.
And actually sometimes people become a supporter, they get aware of your work but then they kind of fall off the conveyor belt because time has elapsed and they haven’t heard from you. So it is not only the ways that you try to get people to take that next action but how frequently you remain top of mind or how frequently you touch them through email, through social, through other ways that you are able to reach and engage them that helps you establish mindshare.
And if what mindshare is about is their perceptions and their experiences, don’t forget to create those on-brand experiences. We recently rebranded the Center for Constitutional Rights and they did this great weaving of their new visual identity and messaging into a whole bunch of on-brand experiences including their podcast, they had a series of great parties. Everything you do with this organization just feels completely consistent and aligned with their brand identity.
So we’re kind of in the home stretch here and I want to make sure we get to your questions. We’ll send out some links afterwards with this but a couple of resources I want to flag. I host a podcast called “The Smart Communications Podcast.” It’s about nonprofit communications. Each podcast is usually an interview, and they’re under 20 minutes long each. They’re more like 10 minutes each. So you can listen to them while you’re walking your dog or on the commute. And then there’s a number of eBooks I haven’t mentioned today about the impact of rebranding or brand architecture. So if Steven doesn’t mind, we’ll send those all your way in an email so you can decide what you want to peruse.
So that was a lot of slides. Steven, do we have any questions?
Steven: We do. We’ve got some good ones. So I just wasn’t to say thanks to you first, Sarah. That was awesome. Good stuff. I knew it was going to be good, of course. I told you all she’s the best in the [business 00:53:23]. And Sarah, I also just chatted a link to the podcast to everyone [as well 00:53:28]. But we’ll definitely email all that good stuff to you later on. Yeah, we got some really good questions here. People have some interesting issues, Sarah. It probably won’t surprise you but pretty cool things in here.
Here’s one from Brian, interested to know who you should let know about a rebrand maybe before it happens. Like maybe major donors or maybe those kind of more significant supporters. Maybe kind of let them know that hey, this is coming down the pipeline so that they won’t be too freaked out when everything is different. Any experience kind of letting people know ahead of time. Is that a good idea?
Sarah: Yeah. It’s a really important question. Thank you for raising it. And, you know, one of the things I would encourage you to do in a rebrand is develop a launch plan. How you’re going to go live and part of what’s in your launch plan is that—who needs to be notified and how. A really simple way to think about that is to kind of loosely group the people you would want to reach into two categories insiders and outsiders. So insiders are not only your staff and board but people like your major donors or your key volunteers, people who are the kind of the people when they describe your organization they’re more likely to use the first person which is, you know, describe
their connection to it. And if I’m an insider, odds are good, I shouldn’t hear about your rebrand just when it goes live, you know, by accident. I should probably get some sort of special communication.
With major, major donors or really, really important relationships it probably should be a call or a more personal communication. With some organizations we have seen them have really, really nice success with using kind of webinar style formats to rollout a new brand. So let’s say for instance you have a lot of people who volunteer for you and they do runs, walks, and rides on your behalf. You might organize it like a webinar style conference call with the communications team or your executive director, talk them through the rebrand, why you did it, answer the questions, talk about how it might impact the way their race, run or, you know, ride gets communicated about.
For the general public and the people who consider themselves outsiders, I think it is okay for them to hear about it through just, you know, one email or your newsletter. They’re going to see it as it rolls out and they’re probably going to take it a little less personally to not be in the insider group.
Steven: I love it. I love the webinar idea. It’s a good stewardship opportunity too, very cool.
Sarah: Totally, yeah.
Steven: Here’s one from Stephanie. How would you approach a rebrand that has been upended by a board of directors? The board chose the name themselves without engaging the audiences and now communications is left to kind of make it happen. So know there’s a lot to unpack there but any quick advice for Stephanie on that situation? Sorry, Stephanie.
Sarah: Yeah, that’s a tricky one. You know, I think that you know in an ideal world obviously you’d probably want the boards to kind of take a step back and involved, you know, design a process that involves staff and your clients and other audiences. You know, when something is the [state of complee 00:56:53], it’s often best to just manage it as well as you can. And there are lots of examples of brands where you’ve got something that kind of feels not quite right in the mix whether it’s the name or the logo or the tagline or something but you can’t change it.
So if you’re stuck with it, my best advice to you is consider your brand assets, a kind of an ecosystem, and try to focus on making the other things in that ecosystem as strong as possible. If you can’t change the name, maybe you can make like just a great visual identity that will sort of compensate for the name for instance or write a fabulous tagline that fixes some of the damage.
Steven: I love it. Well, we’re almost out of time. I’ll take one last question out here. Here’s one from Ben. If an organization may missed a step or two in the process, is there a way that maybe you can kind of go back and retroactively take care of those things? So maybe they’re following your kind of roadmap, Sarah, but missed a step or two. Is it a totally lost process or can you recover from something like that?
Sarah: You can sometimes recover and what we see a lot is that sometimes you can just sort of go back in and fill in holes. The step that’s most likely to be skipped is a brand strategy step and you can go back and do that. We developed brand strategy through a very kind of collaborative one day process called the Brandraising Intensive which we’ve had a few organizations go back and do retroactively. You know, the challenge will be that sometimes you’re trying to sort of fit a round peg into a square hole. So as long as you’re sort of candid about the process and what did or didn’t work, you can. But I never encourage an organization that just rebranded to start over again. I mean definitely live with what you’ve got for some period of time before you upend things you just created.
Steven: Makes sense. Well, Sarah, there’s a lot of really good questions still here in the chat but I want to be respectful of people’s time. Would it be okay if maybe people got in touch with you one on one or offline?
Sarah: Yeah. I will send to Steven a bunch of the resources, links to the resources we’ve discussed and you can . . .
Sarah: . . . you know, my advice is if you want to ask a question that’s kind of broad, just email me. I may or may not have the, you know, depending on how many of those I get, you know, I may not have the ability to do it. But I do give a lot of webinars and workshops and things and so I’ll do my best to respond personally and if can’t I hope you’ll take the opportunity to come to something else. Come grab me at a conference. I’ll be in Fundraising Day in New York in June and all kinds of other places.
Steven: Yes. She’s out there, easily get in touch with and an awesome person obviously. Hopefully, you’ve gathered that over the last hour. So, Sarah, thank you so much.
Sarah: Steven, thank you.
Steven: You always give us good advice on your webinars. This is very fun.
Sarah: Thank you. Well, it’s been great.
Steven: Well, it’s about 2:00 so . . . yeah, look through an email from us we’re going to get all that good stuff in your hands this afternoon, lots of good resources obviously. Now we’ve got some more webinars, really good webinars coming out. Next one is next Thursday about nine days. We’re talking about grants. We got Margit Brazda Poirier joining us. She is awesome, always a good session from her especially on the topic of grants. So if you are an organization that maybe relies on grants or wants to be getting more grants then perhaps you are right now, check out that session. Going to be a good one, Thursday at 2:00 p.m. on the 28th of March. And we’ve got lots of sessions on our website that you can register for so hopefully we will see you again on our future webinars if it’s not the one coming up.
So we’ll call it a day there. Look for an email from me with slides, recording, eBook, lots of good resources. We’ll get some stuff from Sarah and definitely do reach out to her, find her on Twitter, visit Big Duck’s worksite, listen to that podcast because you can keep the learning going beyond just this webinar. So we’ll call it a day there. Have a good rest of your week, have a good weekend and hopefully we will see you again on the next session. Bye now.