Before even embarking on the journey, you may have plenty of questions and concerns. Do we have the budget? How will the board react? With our already limited resources, can staff take on yet another project? Do we really need a new logo?
For any business, a change in identity is a complex, involved process, with unforeseen obstacles that must be carefully navigated. For nonprofit organizations, there’s an added layer of complexity. The pressure to stay on (let’s face it, under) budget, paired with a group of passionate, personally-invested stakeholders, makes it critical to express your organization’s mission and vision in the right way.
Having led a number of nonprofit organizations through successful brand launches, we’ve developed a guide to help you navigate this voyage.
1. Determine Your Budget by the Distance You Want to Travel.
The total cost of updating an identity depends largely on the degree of change from your current brand. There’s the fixed cost of the process itself, but there’s also the price tag that comes with applying the new brand across all touchpoints. For many nonprofit organizations, a rebrand can make up a significant portion of the annual marketing budget. That’s why it’s critical to plan responsibly, with a clear vision on timeline, outcomes and results.
Work with your development team, who can assist in budget forecasting and getting your needs into the grant cycle. Certain grant projects include line items for marketing or branding, and can help cover or defray the costs associated with a rebrand.
There are two extremes when it comes to making changes to your identity, and they come with different price points, pros and cons.
If your brand has significant brand equity and recognition, you might choose to evolve what exists. Launching evolutionary change is more cost-effective, as existing assets aren’t very different from the updated brand—you could start by refreshing your website and one to two other major touch points. All other updated touch points can be produced on demand or as needed, leaving previous inventory in stock.
Designed to leave old perceptions behind, a revolutionary rebrand might include a name change, new colors or even a completely new mark. If your organization has recently gone through a merger, mightily rebooted the mission, or created drastically new offerings to meet the needs of the community, this might be your direction.
Revolutionary updates can be costly—if the new and old identities look very different, you’ll need to put in tremendous effort and resources to replace outdated materials. It’s wise to take stock of all brand assets or touch points that will need to change before moving too far into orbit. No one wants to re-fuel before cresting the outer cosmos.
2. Think Inclusively when Staffing the Mission
Your organization benefits from a small army of people who’ve dedicated their time and talent to your cause. Donors, volunteers, the board, your staff—all of your stakeholders—want to help shape the brand and see a small part of themselves reflected in it. Give them the chance to speak up! Often organizations only invite top management and leadership to make brand-level decisions, which comes with the risk of a final product that doesn’t connect with your teams and outside audience. So, who do you include and in what capacity?
We suggest staffing this initiative using the following framework. You want to be inclusive while keeping the team small enough to make decisions.
2-3 members of the leadership team, including the board chair
Start by recruiting the people that already lead the creative team or marketing department and add in the final approver(s) for any major change. As the high-level decision-makers for both the rebrand project and your organization, they will be the first to review work, help reconcile disparate feedback, and champion a final decision.
10-15 managers and/or employees representing cross-functional areas of the organization (includes the core team)
This team’s function is to review the work, check for blind spots, share opinions and weigh-in to narrow options. Team members could include department leads and members of relevant board committees. Rarely will a clear decision be made from a larger team like this, but the goal here is for these folks to understand the process, share updates with their respective teams, and eventually champion the final decisions.
Additional 15-20 people, not comprised of the core team or brand team (e.g., full board, volunteers)
Meant to advise and give additional feedback in the process, the role of this committee is not to make decisions but to review just a few milestones and give feedback on problem areas. For example, they might give input into the final logo direction but not review all of the options that preceded that final direction. This team knows the brand well, and you may want them to provide input at multiple points along the way. Careful here. Be sure to communicate that their role in the process is to give input, not to make the decision. You want them to feel like they are part of the crew but not the flying the shuttle.
3. Don’t Lose Sight of the Horizon When Communicating the Change
After all of the hard decisions have been made and you have a new brand strategy, voice, look and feel, what’s left is sharing the results. The launch is symbolic of your new vision, signaling a strategic shift, giving clarity and direction for further exploration. All eyes will be on you, so make sure you’re telling a compelling story.
Share the perilous journey.
It’s easy to focus all of the fanfare on the logo, but reflect on all of the hard work that has brought your organization here. While the logo is a tangible piece that’s easily understood, if that’s all that’s visible, the symbol can also be easily misunderstood as an expensive exercise in vanity.
Change with real significance.
Make sure to tell the larger story and explain the strategic changes people are seeing. Change for the sake of change can fall flat; your rebrand should have an undercurrent of real business significance. Don’t be afraid to talk about what all of the updates truly represent and frame it all as much bigger than just a logo.
Communicate the updated brand story to folks who may not have been in the room as decisions were made, but have the same level of care and commitment as those who were. This is both an opportunity to show current donors how you’re better equipped to reach your audience, and a great time to re-engage lapsed donors and bring them back into the fold. Lastly, don’t forget to spread the word into your community and with the people you serve.
Your brand is a reflection of your nonprofit’s vision and looking ahead is one small step for your brandkind. Though the rebranding journey is long, it’s a step worth taking.