Nonprofit Rebrand: Getting Beyond the Logo

How to Rebrand in Today's World

Group discussing how to rebrand their nonprofit.
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Silos Come Down

In Breakthrough Nonprofit Branding: Seven Principles to Power Extraordinary Results, I found a consistent theme, suitable for our age, of breaking down silos within organizations.

Branding, according to these authors, does not reside in the marketing department. It belongs to everyone, from fundraising to programming.

Gregory Boroff, VP for External Relations for Food Bank For New York City (one of the case studies in the book), tells why he joined that organization:

"I have worked for organizations where fund-raising was in a corner on its own and marketing engaged in totally different activities, and neither area connected with the programming. When I joined the Food Bank, a crucial consideration for me was the deep internal integration that already existed between various functions." 

Branding is also intimately connected with the mission. Indeed, the two almost become one. Mission commonly drives a nonprofit organization, helps it to set priorities and keeps the nonprofit on task.

With breakthrough branding, the mission becomes part of a "brand platform" which then infuses the entire organization with its ultimate meaning.

The Seven Principles

It's quite a breathtaking vision that the authors set out in Breakthrough Nonprofit Branding, but it is one that does work. The proof is in the many case studies presented in the book.

But, let's go back to basics.

Breakthrough Nonprofit Branding sets out seven principles that guide the branding process:

  1. Discover the Authentic Meaning of Your Brand
  2. Integrate Brand Meaning across the Organization
  3. Rally Internal Brand Ambassadors
  4. Develop 360 Degree Brand Communications
  5. Expand Your Brand by Mobilizing an External Community
  1. Cultivate Partners to Extend Your Brand Reach and Influence
  2. Leverage Your Brand for Alternative Revenue and Value

The authors, Daw, Cone, and Meranda, take a deep dive into each principle (a chapter to each), using examples from 11 nonprofit case studies showcased in the book. They include large, small, old, and new nonprofits that range from the American Heart Association to Goodwill Industries and Susan G. Komen for the Cure to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. 

All of these organizations went through rebranding.  Small nonprofits are included just in case you might think that only large, well-financed groups can accomplish the revolutionary changes involved in "breakthrough nonprofit branding."

What Are You Really About?

The first step is for each nonprofit to discover its "authentic meaning," involving a lot of research.

These organizations did not sit in a room and just examine their opinions but made sure to find out what people both close to the organization thought and people who were casual observers.

Many preconceived ideas were dumped, and a clearer view of what the organization truly stands for became the basis for everything else. As Lisa Fielder, of College Forward, says:

"Our rebrand coincided with what might be called an organizational recalibration....We needed a better name and more exciting visuals. But equally inmportant was our shift in focus from admission to college....College persistence was becoming as important as college admission. Our new branding reflected this broader role for the organization."

UNICEF, on the other hand, discovered a renewed commitment to what they had been doing all along...saving the lives of children throughout the world.

But they pumped up their brand and mission with an aspirational goal: "Whatever it takes to save a child." As Director of Marketing Kim Pucci put it:

"Literally, there is a daily holocaust that goes largely unrecognized....We're asking our supporters to 'Believe in Zero' by joining with the organization that does 'whatever it takes' to reach a day when the number of children dying from preventable causes is zero. That's the new heart and soul of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF."

Brand Building Through Community Building

Pretty heady stuff and far beyond our old ideas of branding.

Principle five was my next favorite: Expand Your Brand by Mobilizing an External Community.

Here is where "old school" completely breaks down as branding is joined to a community, and we enter the realm of new media. Using new media to build community is well described in Beth Kanter and Allison Fine's book, The Networked Nonprofit.

When Susan G. Komen for the Cure was begun in the 1980s, however, "new media" wasn't even on the horizon. That organization, from the beginning, built a community around their breakthrough events, building a communal foundation runner by runner.

Over the years, the organization has provided deeper personalized benefits and rewards and experiences that bind participants to the mission.

Today, with multi-channel opportunities, Komen turns casual participants into champions. Susan Carter Johns, of Komen, explains:

"Our philosophy is to be the catalyst to connect people to the brand meaning. We want people to feel a sense of community, that there is a place for everyone here....We don't start by asking for anything. We don't lecture. We give people information they want to hear and let them get involved on their terms. The relationship and support builds from there."

Canadian-based Stratford Shakespeare Festival decided to think really big. They knew that they couldn't rely on just a local audience to build a world-class Shakespeare company. They had to go international but particularly needed to appeal to a U.S. audience that makes up 30% of its audience. 

Creating a great experience was the key. Today, the Festival offers a broad range of theater experiences from Shakespeare in the park, broadcasts to Cineplexes, and online through streaming media. It has also developed an "immersive" experience at the festival itself, offering free concerts, preshow talks, and classes to patrons.

Anita Gaffney of the Shakespeare Festival says:

"We produce events that get people talking, and make it easy for as many people as possible to be involved....It's tempting to assume that Shakespeare's plays, however well known, are something that only a small and elite group of people would be interested in experiencing. Yet, it could be that nobody has approached them with ways that Shakespeare can fit into their lives. Our goal has been to change attitudes and build a broad community of paople who believe in the power of classical theater."

So, Should You Read This Book?

Absolutely! The authors have been thorough in their research and truly break new ground for branding nonprofits.

Besides the case studies, there are practical tips and a process for rebranding that any organization can use to find their authentic mission and brand.

The most important lesson from Breakthrough Nonprofit Branding may be that branding and strategy go together.

As the authors point out, "Breakthrough nonprofit brands have an unmistakable sense of direction. They understand that a focused, distinct brand meaning makes the organizational strategy clearer, more motivating, and attractive to all stakeholders."

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.