Why your organization needs a rebrand

In my work with nonprofit organizations I often meet hesitation when I bring up the idea of a rebrand.

Those who are reluctant to consider a rebrand often cite two specific reasons:

  1. The organization’s visual identity and messaging is known in the community and they are afraid that people will no longer know who they are if they change it.
  2. They fear that by rebranding their organization, they are losing touch with who they are.

As long as you are staying true to your organization’s why, a rebrand can help with fundraising, recruitment and overall growth.

“Brands are like living things — they are born and they can die, but as long as they are carefully nurtured they will flourish and have a place in the consumer’s life. In order to have longevity, it is essential for brands to evolve.” — James Boulton, Creative Director of Claessens International

So how will a rebrand help my organization?

It is hard to get attention in an oversaturated market where everyone is competing for the same funding and using the same platforms (social media, website, email, print). Your nonprofit’s brand needs to be unique and professional to help you stand out amongst the noise.

In 2014, Big Duck and the FDR Group conducted an online survey with 351 nonprofit decision-makers to find out more about The Rebrand Effect.

They found that rebranding has a direct and significant impact on these organizations.

  • Increased revenue (from individual and corporate donors, as well as foundation and government grants)
  • Increased audience participation
  • Improved internal capacity (better board member recruitment, more efficiency in creating materials, confidence in staff to communicate, etc.)
  • Increased media attention

Is a rebrand right for my organization?

It is inevitable that at some point during your organization’s lifetime, you will need to rethink your brand. If any of the below apply, you might want to plan for a rebrand in the near future.

  • Your brand is scattered or inconsistent.
  • Your audience has changed.
  • Your services or offerings have changed.
  • Your existing brand is missing the mark.

Case study: Micah’s Caring Initiative

At the inaugural Make a Mark event in 2015, we accepted a local nonprofit, Micah’s Caring Initiative. MCI is the umbrella organization for five different outreach programs at St. Michael Lutheran Church in Blacksburg, VA. These programs include Micah’s Backpack (school-year weekend feeding program for children), Micah’s Mobile Backpack (summer weekend feeding program for children), Micah’s Garden (community garden program), Micah’s Closet (clothing donation program) and Micah’s Soup for Seniors (soup kitchen program for the elderly).

Jennie Hodge, former Director with MCI, applied for Make a Mark because, while the individual programs were recognizable, the community didn’t understand the connection between these programs. She was looking for a logo that could unify MCI and all of the programs.

“I knew I didn’t have the capability on my own [to design] so I wanted to partner with folks that have that skill. I knew it would make telling the story of Micah’s more effective and more beautiful.” — Jennie Hodge

When Jennie first met with us, she was not looking for an overhaul of her existing programs. She was hesitant at first because the original logos had been created by volunteers sharing their time with the organization.

However, Robin Dowdy, professional graphic designer, convinced her of the impact of a rebrand. According to Jennie, “Robin absorbed everything. The [new logos] had echoes of the originals and were transformed to look fresher and more unified.”

Robin and our team worked with the existing visual presence and the spirit of the organization. They created logos for each of their programs to unify the brand, keeping in the mind the core values of Micah’s Caring Initiative and connecting it all back to the tree of life and growth.

“I never would have imagined something could look so beautiful to help tell the story of what we do.” — Jennie Hodge

Micah’s Caring Initiative logos, before (left) and after (right). Select to enlarge.

Following Make a Mark, Jennie and her crew took the new branding and ran with it, working to create landing pages for each program. “It definitely helped us to tell a more uniformed story, and to tell a better story,” said  Jennie.

After this brand refresh, MCI was able to increase funding, clarify their image, align their visual communication, increase awareness of their efforts and set them apart from the rest.

Ok, I’m willing to rebrand. Now what?

Make sure that before you start the rebrand process you have buy-in and alignment from your staff, board members, volunteers and other stakeholders.

During this initial period, you will want to revisit the why for your organization. This might be your audience or the problem that you’re solving, but this is something that will remain unchanged. As long as you know your why and are willing to work with whoever is doing your rebrand, you’re on a clear path toward a quality brand.

Things that you will be looking at with a rebrand might include the following:

  • Organization’s name
  • Logo
  • Tagline/slogan
  • Fonts
  • Color scheme
  • Imagery
  • Key messaging

Some organizations want to try to pull together their visual identity on their own, but something as important as your organization’s brand should be left up to those with the training, talent and desire to help your organization. Many branding experts are willing to work pro-bono, and at Make a Mark, we take on several rebrand projects each year. But if you do need to spend some money, it is well worth the investment.

Sarah Obenauer is also leading an online course for NTEN on branding fundamentals for nonprofits, in early November.

Sarah Obenauer
Sarah Obenauer is the Founder & Director of Make a Mark, an organization created to provide resources and foster an environment where community organizations and visual communicators can engage with one another to better our world.