Tag: branding

At nonprofits, we know how important it is to understand your audience. To listen deeply, and to understand the motivation of everyone in your ecosystem—from the constituents you serve to the volunteers who help make your work possible. Some call this human-centered design. We prefer to think of it as following the need.

The emphasis on listening has been in Empower Work’s DNA from the very beginning. Before launching the organization, founder Jaime-Alexis Fowler sought out to validate a hunch: challenging work situations are universal, but access to resources is not.

We conducted quantitative surveys with 140+ responses; market research; and more than 100 interviews with career coaches, workforce trainers, HR professionals, executive coaches, diversity and inclusion specialists, labor and employment attorneys, managers, labor organizers, and most importantly, people who have faced tough work situations. We saw a tremendous need for confidential, accessible, and immediate support for work issues—and designed Empower Work based on the needs of the people we serve.

This practice of deep listening has continued as we’ve grown. What creates the best experience and drives the best outcomes is at the heart of our organizational decision-making. We strive to apply human-centered design principles to every element of our work, whether it’s choosing a prefered mode of communication (for our users it’s SMS!) or launching our first public service announcement (PSA) campaign.

Launching our first PSA campaign

In late 2018, MUNI and Clear Channel donated ad space on buses and bus shelters across San Francisco. It was an opportunity to capture attention during an optimal time: a work commute. We worked with our pro-bono partner Odysseus Arms to create a human-centered ad concept that would speak to the people we serve.

Knowing that the ads would be featured on a moving bus, the visual and accompanying copy needed to be concise, direct, and effective. The team at Odysseus Arms drafted a concept that reflected our community’s needs and could be processed quickly by busy commuters.

One of our consultants introduced us to PickFu, an instant polling service. Through PickFu, we were able to survey 50 respondents between the ages of 18 and 54 and ask whether, upon seeing our ad, they would text us if they were facing an issue at work. The results came in lightning fast—it took exactly 31 minutes.

Poll results screen capture

The response to our ad was largely positive. Many remarked they would welcome a fresh perspective or even just the opportunity to vent. People who said they wouldn’t use the resource generally fell into two categories: they already had people in their lives they could confide in (which is great!), or they weren’t clear on what type of counseling services we offer, and whether it was truly confidential and free (which it is!).

Since the imagery seemed to resonate, we kept it as-is. However, after reading through the reactions, we adjusted the copy. Rather than focus on usage (“Free, confidential peer counseling.”), we focused on hurdles (“Navigate tough work issues with free, confidential peer counseling.”)

Empower Work bus ad

As we test more concepts in the future—from ads to landing pages—we’ll continue using survey tools to ensure we’re listening to and resonating with the community we serve. One of the biggest advantages is that we can target poll respondents based on traits such as gender, age, income level, and even their primary mode of transportation—so the next time we test a bus ad, we can test it with a group wholly made up of bus riders.

We’ve received an overwhelming positive response from the bus and bus shelter ads. Many people told us that they had no idea a resource like this existed, and they’re so grateful to have found support. “I have spent years looking for actionable advice for my work woes,” one texter expressed after seeing our ad on a bus. “Have a wonderful evening and know that you have made my journey a little bit easier.”

Deep listening and empathy can go a long way.

Tips for creating human-centered ads and content

It’s not enough just to test.

Testing isn’t a goal in itself. Rather, it’s a three-step process:

  1. First, clearly define what you’re looking to learn. Once you’ve laid out the question you’re seeking to answer, determine the optimal means to test for it. For example, what’s the best survey question to pose? How much information should we provide to those surveyed? Who is our target audience for this test? What software or services do we need to employ?
  2. Only after you’ve completed the first step should you proceed to the testing itself. The more you integrate testing into your day-to-day operations, the better you’ll get at it, and the easier it will become.
  3. Once the test is complete, critically examine the results. This is the most important step in the process. It’s not enough to gather data just to have it; what good is analytics if they sit in some esoteric report that nobody looks at? Instead, discuss what learnings can be derived from the test. Put an action plan into place for how to implement changes, whether they be in your operation itself, your ads, or your website.

Not all feedback is created equal

When you hear negative (and even positive) feedback, ask yourself whether it’s coming from your core constituency. If not, you don’t have to weigh it as heavily as feedback that comes from, say, a client or previous donor. It also means that friends and family are usually not your best sounding board for testing. They may be too close to you or your organization to give an opinion that is aligned with our community. Don’t solicit feedback in an echo chamber.

Testing should be a help, not a hassle

Don’t think of testing as a speed bump that gets in your way. Feedback should clarify the process, not hinder it. If you find a testing method too difficult or burdensome to employ, look for an easier solution. With so many software platforms to choose from, it’s simpler than ever to incorporate testing and idea validation into your nonprofit. Remember, testing isn’t just another thing to do. It’s a compass that points you in the direction of what to do.

If you thought something looked a little different on NTEN’s websites today, you’re right! We’ve got a new logo and we are happy to have it out in the world. Here’s your inside scoop on what’s new and what isn’t changing.

First, the name.

We’re NTEN! We have been and we will keep being NTEN. What’s new? Well, we’re embracing further the name that you, our community, have always used to describe us. Once upon a time, we used some variants of a full name but no more. Why? Well, those extra words don’t actually do all that much work to explain the awesomeness that is the NTEN community nor do they demonstrate the programs NTEN offers. So, we are just going to stick with what works: NTEN.

We also wanted to turn our three strategic pillars into the public tagline. Connect, learn, and change have been used to delineate our programs and strategies internally for years and it felt like the right time to put them front and center with our name.

Now, for the logo!


New NTEN logo

There was a lot we wanted to change even though the new look may not “feel” all that different. First, we didn’t want one letter of the name to be pulled out or separated from the others – the old logo had a circle around the first N (the “nonprofit” N so to speak) and that didn’t feel aligned with our work or our community where the nonprofit side of things isn’t less or more important than the technology side.

We also wanted something that was friendly, welcoming, and open – like this community – while also being clear, honest, and straightforward – like our communications and programs. This new logo is a more friendly lowercase, and has round edges and true corners, with just enough open space to hold all of us.

For those really interested, our process took about a year. We had the benefit of some pro bono consulting from Farra Trompeter of Big Duck (who is on our board) and you can get some resources if you are thinking about doing branding work by checking out the collaborative notes from the 18NTC branding session Farra led. We actually started by updating our mission and vision statements last year. We didn’t change the direction of NTEN’s work but updated those foundational statements to match the language and values we use today.

The branding work started with developing a positioning statement and personality words. From there, we worked on the name and tagline, realizing it was time to drop the full words and integrate our tagline prominently into the logo. And then we were ready to start working with a designer – Melissa Delzio – to find a new look and feel. And the final touches were applied by our new Graphic Designer, Sonya Min.

We hope you like it! And if you’re coming to the 2019 Nonprofit Technology Conference in March you’ll be among the first to get NTEN goodies with the new logo.

With the light still with us to mid-evening and the pumpkin spice barely dusted, it’s hard to think about the negative wind chill and frantic fundraising that is coming in December. But as one of Big Duck’s resident fundraising mavens, year-end campaign season–often dubbed “a nonprofit’s most financially rewarding time of the year”–is always on my mind. So why do I want it on yours? Well, it’s really never too early to get started, and I want to help make it easy—so let’s focus on the tools you already have: your brand and your donors.

Use your brand strategy to guide your fundraising

If you’ve read Brandraising, or attended one of our sessions at the NTC, you know that the heart of your brand strategy is positioning and personality. Positioning is the big idea that you hope supporters associate with your organization. It’s also what sets you apart. Personality is the set of attributes or feelings you want people to associate with your organization. With your organization’s positioning and personality in hand, you can develop or judge different creative themes for your fundraising campaign.

Farra Trompeter quote: By tailoring your approach to the people who already know you, you celebrate how they have helped you accomplish your victories and invite them to continue partnering with you.Because your year-end fundraising should be an extension of your work year-round, these communications should feel like an extension of your usual communications. Yes, your year-end campaign should be special, and this may be a time of year where you invest more time and money into what you send out. But if your year-end fundraising does not sound, look, and feel like you, your current donors may be confused and less likely to give. Use year-end fundraising to accentuate your incredible work and reinforce what they already know– and love– about you.

As you develop the campaign theme and roadmap to connect all campaign elements, don’t forget to start by breaking down your fundraising goals into SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound) objectives. Once you have crafted those objectives (download this handy worksheet), it’s easier to hone in on the strategies and tactics that will achieve them.

Appeal to your core donors – and acknowledge them too

Fundraising campaigns typically focus on renewing or appealing to existing donors, reinstating lapsed donors, and/or acquiring new donors. For year-end fundraising campaigns, we often recommend organizations focus first on renewing past supporters, either recent or lapsed, rather than running a major acquisition campaign to get new supporters. That’s because less than one of out of every three new donors renew their support (based on the latest data from Fundraising Effectiveness Project summarized by Bloomerang)–but when they do, they are 15% more likely to keep on giving–so the value of a donor retained can be far greater than that of one acquired.

By tailoring your approach to year-end fundraising to the people who already know you, you celebrate how they have helped you accomplish your victories and invite them to continue partnering with you into the future.

As we enter the season of giving, be sure to give donors other actions to take beyond giving and remember to say ‘thank you’ to all of your supporters. This can be a great time to make phone calls, send handwritten notes, post a video message or thanks, and let donors know that you love them. Not sure what to say on a thank you call? Try this thank you call guide so that staff, board members, and volunteers go into each call with a game plan.

If you do want to acquire new donors through your year-end appeals, consider running a mini-campaign for #GivingTuesday. While some organizations just send out one email on #GivingTuesday, many nonprofits find success sending out multiple emails before, during, and after that day, as well as posting on social media channels and their website. If you acquire new donors on #GivingTuesday be sure to engage them once they give via a welcome series or a more segmented approach in your follow-up communications.

Still hungry for more tips?

My colleague, Ally Dommu, Big Duck’s director of strategy, shares these five high-value tips that you can put in place now and test before year-end season.

As technology users ourselves, we know that it’s not just during the high times that you need to feel the love but also the lows. So when it came time to refresh our broken link pages, we jumped at the opportunity to show our personality and lift the visitor at a moment that could be upsetting. They say: Thank you for visiting, I’m sorry you didn’t find what you’re looking for, and here’s a little joy for your day.

For years, NTEN has used an illustration of a hamster spinning in a wheel to show broken links. It was a great opportunity to show our personality while also offering the option for visitors to search for what they needed. However, now that we’ve added lots more content with an expiration date – ads on our jobs board, for example – we needed to diversify our broken link images to communicate different messages. And, of course, we had to make it adorable – because we’re NTEN.

NTEN’s old broken link image was a hamster spinning in a wheel.

A tiny lift for the greatest of joys

Previously, when a visitor clicked on a broken link to a job posting, they were served a broken link page that looked just like all our others. We realized that we were missing the opportunity to engage the jobseeker further by customizing that broken link page with links to other jobs.

A similar situation would occur when someone came looking for a defunct link to a blog post. If we could engage them with other related options, we get the chance to keep them interested and hopefully, help them find what they are looking for.

And, of course, we also needed an updated broken link illustration for the rest of the site.

Still working on it: NTEN’s new 404 hamster.

We engaged a designer at VaVa Virtual to create a character based on the now-familiar hamster illustration that could convey those three messages and include related content, while also making our visitors smile. The pages were created and segmented by our Web Development Manager Dan Fellini. Because every connection is an opportunity to show a little of ourselves and make sure that our visitors feel the love.

It’s the little things

If you’ve spent a bit of time with NTEN – thank you, longtime members! – you will know that personality is at the heart of everything we do. Our staff are always looking for ways to show you who we are, even in places you won’t expect it.

Dan recently rewrote our cookies code so we could offer you the best experience and maintain our compliance with relevant statutes. There, at the head of the code, are the usual signals that identify who wrote it, plus an ASCII Cookie Monster. Dan included it because he knows that one day, a developer will be looking at his code to see how it works, and that Cookie Monster will bring a little joy to that person’s day.

NTEN Web Development Manager Dan Fellini added an ASCII cookie monster to NTEN’s cookie code.

Help us name our 404 hamster

We are currently looking for a name for our 404 hamster friend. Tweet us at @ntenorg with your suggestions and we will choose two suggestions at random to get a free year’s worth of individual NTEN membership. Who has a name for this little squeaker? We’re all (tiny) ears.

The battleground

Early in 2017, the Trump administration proposed the removal of LGBT elders from the National Survey of Older Americans Act Participants, a survey that measures how well federally-funded aging programs like Meals on Wheels are reaching older adults.

This effort would effectively erase LGBT elders from critical data collection and decision-making, and there was a limited window of time to comment before the changes were final.

For SAGE—the country’s largest and oldest organization dedicated to improving the lives of LGBT older adults—the threat demanded an urgent response.

Joining the resistance

SAGE had always focused on both advocacy and services, but their advocacy occurred largely behind the scenes; in describing their work, SAGE talked mainly about the services they offer.

Enter Siegelvision—the iconic branding firm, and SAGE’s partner in a new rebranding effort. To Siegelvision, this moment was the perfect opportunity to showcase SAGE’s new look and messaging: the threatened erasure created the perfect storm of circumstances for SAGE to both lead a resistance movement, and redefine the organization in the process.

“We Refuse to Be Invisible,” a statement that resonated early on, became both the rallying cry for this effort and the activist voice SAGE had been looking for.

Creating a movement

SAGE’s task was to fill the commenting period with as many voices as possible demanding that the question on sexual orientation be added back to the survey. Siegelvision dove into thinking about how best to galvanize and activate allies. A high-profile Midtown billboard was floated. But would the right people see it? Would it lead to action? This limited window of opportunity was too critical to leave those questions to chance.

A call with the team at Craft & Commerce—an outcomes-focused digital agency specializing in cause campaigns—yielded a different option: Bring “We Refuse To Be Invisible” to life in the form of short, inspiring social media content, and use paid social to rapidly test, optimize, and scale an online petition call-to-action.

The #WeRefuseToBeInvisible campaign was born.

The effects were immediate. Within days the goal for petition signatures had been reached and then surpassed. By the end of the commenting period, 10,000 allies had signed the petition, and, for greater impact, these digital petitions were printed and delivered to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Printed signatures ready for delivery to HHS

The social media campaign dovetailed with SAGE’s offline advocacy—including op-eds, lobbying, letter-writing parties, partner mobilization, and an impactful presence at Pride marches across the country. This widespread awareness and a critical mass of action was achieved within a relatively scrappy budget, and orchestrated by an organization whose advocacy had heretofore flown under the radar.

Outcome: An unlikely victory

The public outcry of the #WeRefuseToBeInvisible campaign was swift and fervent, and pushed the Trump administration to reverse course. The question on sexual orientation would remain.

For SAGE, the fight isn’t remotely over. LGBT elders are still fighting to be seen and better understood in the context of aging, and new threats to LGBT rights continue to arise. But thanks to a clarified brand voice and a well-run resistance campaign, there now exists a broader, more aware coalition to activate when the next challenge comes along, and a road-tested set of tactics to deploy for success.

Resistance checklist:

  1. Define and streamline the message.
  2. Run a simple campaign (KISS).
  3. Marry great creative with paid digital media for big impact.
  4. Find your most engaged supporters through persona building and testing.
  5. Optimize for results (ads and landing pages).
  6. Rally support of leadership and board.
  7. Be nimble to capitalize on the moment (right time, right place = perfect storm).
  8. Integrate digital with offline (lobbying and in real life).

Branding is the creation of a unique name, image, and brand voice that aims to resonate in the minds of your audience. It encompasses your logo, content creation, and how your organization interacts with and contributes to the community. Branding has the power to turn the masses into loyal, lifelong advocates of your organization and its mission.

Nonprofits often make the mistake of thinking a branding strategy only applies to for-profit businesses. However, awesome branding can elevate your organization to new levels of success and recognition you’ve never dreamed possible.

Traits of a great nonprofit brand

Developing a strong brand for your nonprofit can allow your organization to have a larger social impact and also reach a larger audience with your message. So what are some traits that should be present in your nonprofit branding?


Nothing about your brand should be half thought out. Every little detail from your logo, the colors on your website, your slogan, the social media channels you use, and more should be critically and strategically thought out. Your brand will evolve over time but always have a plan in place for why you are doing something. Just because you see a similar organization has success with something doesn’t mean that it is appropriate or viable for your organization’s goals.


If you aren’t proud of what your organization is accomplishing, why should the public be? Don’t be afraid to shout your successes from the mountaintop. Your brand should take pride in what you’ve accomplished and the people you’ve helped, in your values, and in your partnerships, big and small.

Emotional appeal

It’s human nature to remember things that make an emotional impact on us, so make sure that your branding will tug at the heartstrings when it needs to. To this day, many of us can’t hear that Sarah McLachlan’s song without immediately feeling the need to rush out and adopt every animal at the local shelter.

5 nonprofits who rock their branding

Lots of nonprofits, big and small, are recognizing the value of strategic branding. Some of our favorite examples are:
"This little pink ribbon is present on all of their communications and has now become the worldwide symbol of the fight against breast cancer" -Aliza Epstein

World Wildlife Foundation

The World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) has managed to turn a little cute black and white panda into a symbol for all endangered animals. WWF has strategically tied their logo to one of the most endangered species in the world. This has served a dual purpose in helping to elevate the panda bear into a popular and easily recognizable animal with a publicized plight the public can sympathize with, but has also associated it closely to the WWF. One is almost synonymous with the other at this point.

Doctors Without Borders

Doctors Without Borders is a great example of a nonprofit that has risen to international prominence. Their name alone is brilliant: right out of the gate, you know what type of mission they’re focused on. They have set themselves apart as a thought leader on health issues across the world. The content they share on their website and social media channels is both informative and aimed to create an emotional reaction to the medical plights of the people they serve around the world.

American Red Cross

The American Red Cross has established themselves as the expert on blood donations and blood supplies in the United States. They have strategically created a presence in cities both large and small throughout the entire country. Though their logo is simple—a single red cross—it is instantly recognizable. And over the past 150 years, their international brand has adapted to be responsive to different cultural contexts, while still remaining memorable.

Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation

Odds are good that if you’ve seen a random person wearing a pink ribbon you know without even thinking about it that it’s associated with breast cancer. Can you say the same if you pass a person on the street wearing a purple ribbon? Or a yellow ribbon? Probably not. The Sugan G. Komen Foundation has strategically positioned themselves over the years so that people (both those who have been affected by breast cancer and those who haven’t) instantly recognize their symbol. This little pink ribbon is present on all of their communications and content and has now become the worldwide symbol of the fight against breast cancer.

Best Friends Animal Society

Not only does the bright, cheery simple logo for Best Friends Animal Society make you think of a pet’s face but the prominent “SAVE THEM ALL” tag line manages to hit you right in the feels. Their most genius strategy, however, has to be in popularizing the term “purrito.” To draw attention to kitten season, they shared adorable photos on their website and social media of their shelter kittens all wrapped up like little furry burritos…or purritos in this instance. It tugged at the heartstrings and enabled them to significantly grow their social impact.

What can you do to improve your nonprofit’s branding?

Now that you know the value branding can provide nonprofits, how can you get started or improve upon your strategy?

Create engaging content

Create engaging content on your website and social media channels that will attract and engage people online. Appeal to their emotional side and share what your organization has been doing to further its goals. People want to see what you’re doing. You’d be surprised at how quickly content can go viral online. Why not yours?

Highlight what makes you unique

What makes your organization so special and distinguishes yours from the others in your niche? Once you can answer this question you’ll be well on your way to standing out from the crowd instead of fading in the background.

Establish your organization as a thought leader

When there’s an issue that arises in the news related to your mission or field, you want to be known as the source that people should turn to for answers. Rather than using your manpower to try and get the media and public to pay attention to you, they’ll come to you for answers once you’ve established yourself as a thought leader.

Know your target audience

This should be a no-brainer but we’ll say it regardless. You can’t truly begin to build your brand until you have a firm understanding of who it is that you’re trying to serve through your nonprofit and what they will need and expect from you as an organization.

Try a communications audit

If you are still running into roadblocks and just can’t seem to nail down successful branding for your organization it may be time to consider performing a communications audit. A communication audit is an intensive evaluation of your organization’s communications practices that will allow you to determine how the public perceives your organization. When performing a communications audit you’ll want to ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What are your current communications goals and objectives?
  2. How well is this current communication plan working?
  3. What has been effective and what has been ineffective with your communications?
  4. What does your audience think of your current messaging?

These are just a few of the questions you will want to answer during a communications audit. When you know the answers you will have a more strategic understanding of how your communications plan can aid in your branding.

Rebranding: It’s no joke. For anyone working in communications, the idea of a rebrand is a dream. Ok, well, maybe for some. For me, it was huge. I was excited about my organization changing its name after 35 years, because I knew a better name and sharper logo would help me better explain our work. Our new name and logo does just that.

And more selfishly, I was thrilled for the opportunity to manage a website rebuild, design new collateral, and get into the weeds in places where I’d only scraped the surface before.

Before I could dig into the fun stuff, I had to get our house in order. We hadn’t had a major website refresh since late 2014, and while our site was technically up to snuff, we were up against a harsh reality: with consistent, year-over-year growth of about 25%, other measures of success were not also rising, most notably transactions.

Using data to drive decisions

I started by looking at Google Analytics, Optimizely, and Crazy Egg. How are users navigating our site? Where and why are they dropping off? And importantly, what is it that makes them sign our petitions, join our email lists, and ultimately open their wallets to power the work we do in 56 countries?

The great thing about sites like Optimizely and Crazy Egg is that the data is straightforward. Either people clicked on a headline or they didn’t. We found that users read more of a story when there was a big image at the top, not when we put an image a few paragraphs down into the story. And while we clocked great traffic to our disability rights and country pages, we couldn’t harness those streams of traffic for action.

It’s important for charities like ours to dig down and see where we’re doing a good job of encouraging our users to take an action. Analyzing where and when they donated was key, because if we can crack that nut, we can amp it up a notch.

Yet the more we dug, the more we realized that we had a disconnect. We could see donations coming in, we could count more petition signatures, but because our Google Analytics account had some major disconnects (for reasons unknown to our team), we were unable to see the big picture and answer those important questions about UX (user experience).

Finding consultants

Like any other organization going through a rebrand with a comms team of two, I searched high and low for a consultant and outside contractors. Funnily enough, it was at the 2017 Nonprofit Technology Conference that I met some Google Analytics gurus from an exhibitor there, Forum One. Since then, they’ve managed to clean up the account and installed E-Commerce, which accurately tracks document downloads, petition signatures, and donations, and populates a pretty dashboard on Google Studio that shows us the data above the weeds.

Then came the fun part: the website rebuild. We considered a few different options for our CMS, but ultimately stuck with NationBuilder, our current system (though some of our colleagues abroad ended up choosing another platform), since it has worked well for us as a user-friendly site that looks good, doesn’t break the bank, and helps us manage our growing database of online friends.

After an RFP process, we opted to continue working with our trusty developers from Liberal Art. We’ve been happy with their work over the years and knew that they would deliver a clean, modern site.

Building and testing

Three months before the launch, we started going back and forth on wireframe designs, what the footer should include, how we want users to consume our news, where we should put that big orange donate button, and so on.

I got into the weeds again on things like colors. WebAIM’s Color Contrast Checker was one of my best friends throughout the process. Humanity & Inclusion works alongside with people with disabilities and other vulnerable groups, so the site had to be built around accessibility. The Color Contrast Checker helps ensure that people with low vision can read our headlines based on Website Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

After weeks of testing and ensuring a mobile-friendly site, the site was ready to launch! Our brand launch date in January came and went. Our team shared the news of our new name and more-accessible logo (it even won an award!) over email, across social, and beyond. Our donors, supporters, friends on social, and other friends we met along the way all seem to approve of the change and some have even used the word “love” about our new name and website.

For the most part, everything we had planned in advance throughout the rebranding process went off without a hitch. Of course, there were a few minor glitches along the way and some limitations when building the site, but this wasn’t surprising and we were able to adjust.

Managing post-launch

For weeks, I planned on sharing the big news on social with a countdown GIF (“5, 4, 3, 2, 1…here it is” sort of thing) and it failed miserably. It barely had any likes or retweets and the shares compared to other posts were just sad. In fact, the simple post we shared on a Facebook event had way more likes and shares than that silly GIF that I spent time designing. Who knew? Overall, the post the prompted the most engagement was our Be a Lifeline campaign video.

So what happens after a rebrand? People start flocking to your site to click on that big orange donate button so they can make a tax-deductible gift. Ok, so that’s not quite how it works, but you will spend the first few days tightening loose ends and ironing out wrinkles—because there will always be a few wrinkles once everything goes live. And there will be things you decide to change just based on UX.

Since the launch, we’ve already made a few minor changes like making headlines clickable based on data from heat mapping. And over the following weeks and months, I’ll continue testing as much as I possibly can to see what’s working and what’s failing miserably. I’m sure there will be a few surprises but that’s what makes digital communications work so much fun.

One of the many updates we had to make was on our Google AdWords Grant account. That was easy. What wasn’t easy was Google changing their rules around the same time that we launched. I’m still on that learning curve.

Last thoughts

A bit of advice: don’t go it alone. We worked closely with our colleagues in other Humanity & Inclusion offices, especially those in Canada, the UK, and Belgium, to ensure that before, on, and after launch day, we were drumming a strong, unified beat. I also leaned on friends from NTEN. Fellow NTENners who’ve been in the weeds of a rebrand before helped me navigate updates on our social accounts (tip: contact Facebook about your name and URL change weeks in advance!), testing the website for accessibility, and more.

Like I said, rebranding is no joke. But with a plan in place and support from colleagues, friends, and contractors, it can be incredibly rewarding.

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.

Knowing who you are as an organization and how you are perceived is a critical part of the branding process. Once you’ve got a handle on your mission, vision, values, and messages (congrats!), you’ll want to start disseminating your brand identity to the world. But do you really know who you’re trying to reach?

A critical step in branding is becoming crystal clear about who your audiences are. But the playing field needs to be narrowed so you can tailor how and what you want to communicate with them (and where).

Note: Instead of using phrases such as“key audiences” or “target audiences,” I’ll use those words interchangeably with PSIs (Participants, Supporters and Influencers), Kivi Leroux-Miller’s alternative term from The End of the Target Audience at Nonprofit Marketing Guide.

Why Can There Be Only One?

There are several schools of thought about how to determine an ideal PSI, but the one I like is the simplest. It involves choosing one person, one individual, to represent your whole audience group, and all marketing messages are directed at that person. I know this is tricky, since nonprofits often have a highly diverse constituent base. But hang in there with me, because there are three really good reasons why choosing one individual to represent all PSIs works well:

1) If you can narrow communications so that you’re just communicating to one person, it’s much easier to communicate on a personal level, and your authentic brand identity—your character and personality—will shine through. You’ll avoid sounding too vanilla or corporate-y, and instead create engaging copy and design.

2) Personal and engaging communication has a better chance of resonating with an individual participant, supporter, or influencer than with the masses, so if you can gain him/her as a fan, s/he may influence others to follow suit with word of mouth, social media mentions, etc.

3) When your nonprofit gets used to communicating to your ideal PSI, it makes it easier for you to recognize your best audiences and focus on them. As communication naturally becomes more targeted, it also makes it easier for your most loyal fans and followers to recognize you as being the best choice for them in terms of donations, volunteering, and other types of support.

Do This!

Try this exercise with your colleagues to figure out that one type of person you’re trying to reach. If it’s impossible to limit it to just one, two to three personas will work. You’ll need my Ideal Audience Persona worksheet.

  1. Work as a group, or break into smaller groups if you have a larger team. This exercise is great to do in groups of 2 to 4 people
  2. Allow 10 to 15 minutes to complete this exercise
  3. The questions in the worksheet focus on goals, attitudes, and behaviors. You do not need to answer every question or fill in every line—pick the ones that seem most relevant in describing this person as a member of the larger group you are trying to reach
  4. Remind the group that a) the attributes you’re listing are fictitious, based on the best of your knowledge about each audience segment; and b) YOU/YOUR organization, by definition, are NOT the same as your audience
  5. Have a variety of magazines or catalogs available, plus tape and scissors, to clip and add a believable headshot for this person and make it more real (optional)
  6. Have a representative from each group present their Ideal Audience Persona. Compare the results and decide on one of the profiles or a combination of profiles as the Ideal Audience Persona for the organization
  7. Discuss the exercise as a group:
    1. Did any light bulbs go off?
    2. Does the group find that they feel closer to their Ideal PSI?
    3. Did a real understanding of the needs of your audience members sneak into the conversation?
    4. Does the group feel more focused about how to reach him/her, about how to assist him/her?
    5. What else did the group learn?

Marketing to Everyone = Marketing to No One

An Ideal Audience Persona represents the kind of person you want to communicate with. This can help you make marketing decisions that attract, inform, and engage—everything from which communications channels to use, to which words and graphics to choose, to how to set up your web pages—with that person in mind.

Learn More!

For more on audience personas: Marketing persona templates: 10 options for nonprofit communicators.