January 28, 2011
Seems like everywhere I turn these days, another nonprofit has reinvented itself and looking brighter and shinier than it’s ever been. Be it a new logo, a new name, a new website, or a wholly new positioning, organizations are changing to become more relevant in today’s crowded nonprofit space, and to get more people connected to a cause so they would take the right action. I highlight the words “relevant” and “action” because those seem to be the recurring themes as I look around at some major nonprofits that have rebranded themselves lately. Earlier this month, we launched a new campaign with Big Brothers Big Sisters called “Start Something.” This was the first time in the organization’s long history that a direct ask for donations (vs. an ask for volunteers) played such a front and center role in its communications. The strategic shift was needed because the organization’s funding has been decreasing despite an increase in interested volunteers. And more volunteers translated into more administrative costs. By highlighting the impact that mentors can make on kids (the “relevant” part of the equation), Big Brothers Big Sisters is connecting a new breed of donors to the organization with a compelling reason to give (the “action”). Another example is The Partnership for a Drug-Free America, which recently rebranded itself as The Partnership at DrugFree.org, with the website URL right there in the name. To me, this is the definition of becoming more relevant and branding your action. According to Steve Pasierb, president and CEO of The Partnership at DrugFree.org, they found in research that the old name was “confusing to parents … [it] showed that people assumed we were part of the government or an organization focused on drug policy.” The new name gives parents a clear action and drives them directly to the organization’s wealth of online resources around drug prevention and intervention. Perhaps an even bolder example of a brand becoming more relevant and action-oriented is America’s Second Harvest’s shift to Feeding America in 2008. The new name literally puts their mission and action right in the name—this organization feeds America. The story of their rebrand has been covered widely in the media so I won’t belabor it, but it shows the importance of research before embarking on any sorts of reinvention, repositioning or rebranding. Feeding America consulted extensively with experts, consumers, their food bank network, and external constituents. Only then, can a well-respected but mostly behind-the-scenes grassroots organization become a household name and the go-to charity for corporate cause marketing in two short years. While these examples show that a successful rebrand can engage more people to your cause, there’s no doubt that it can also be a huge undertaking and commitment. There’s no easy do-over without a significant mea culpa and long-term risks to the organization. Start by identifying clear objectives and goals, and conduct as much research as your budget and schedule allows. Consult with experts and include your key internal and external stakeholders—gaining their buy-in during the process will save a lot of heartache later. Most importantly, research your ideas with donors and prospects throughout the process to make sure you haven’t veered off track.