3 Effective Tools for (Re)Branding Your Nonprofit

Have you noticed, in the last year or so, how many nonprofits have rebranded? The pandemic has caused many mission-driven organizations to re-evaluate their mission, reconsider their strategic plan to accomplish it, and then engage donors and advocates from this new position. No doubt, change is always in the works in the nonprofit world, but the pandemic forced many organizations to change more than usual; to pivot and regroup. In the face of sweeping changes, rebranding can be a useful tool to re-affirm the vitality of the mission, explain current operations and activities, and invigorate supporters, both old and new.

It is recommended that you form a Branding Committee of no more than 10 people, made up of a variety of your constituents — board members, senior and junior staff, members at-large, donors, and colleagues. Choose people that have different understandings and relationships with your (new) organization and whose influence with their peer group is notable. As the process unfolds, they will become ambassadors for the new brand as they share the progress with their contemporaries. A mix of opinions will ensure that many voices are included. This group should be given ultimate decision-making authority and will be responsible for reporting to your Board of Directors.

Soul Searching as a Launch Pad

From day one, you should collaborate with a design or marketing firm experienced in branding. Work with them to get input from a good cross-section of stakeholders to understand goals, strategies, and perceptions so that you can turn them into communications that make sense. In many cases, you’ll have to employ a bit of “institutional psychology” to probe the hearts and minds that shape your organization.

A good way to start is to send out an “identity questionnaire” to a variety of institutional stakeholders. Quantify their answers — along with qualitative interviews and industry research — to inform your messaging to the public. A questionnaire like this can also show any inconsistencies in stakeholders’ and board members’ readings of the organization, and it can reveal negative perceptions or challenges that might be addressed through branding.

Banner Image of the Identity Questions for Nonprofits

Below is a sampling of important questions to ask. For more questions, please download the complete Identity Questionnaire.

  • What specific business goals does your organization have that would be bolstered by rebranding?
  • Are any of these measurable? If so, please explain how.
  • What are some of the negative perceptions of your organization or its work that rebranding could dispel?
  • What might your target audience get confused about when they think of your organization?
  • What are the 3-4 key messages you feel it is most important for your audiences to know about your organization?

Banner Image of the Branding Word Exercise for Nonprofits

Along with the questionnaire, send a Branding Word Exercise that will help your design or marketing firm to understand the desired feelings to associate with the new brand. Ask participants to react to adjectives that could define the brand, such as:

Accessible                               Energetic                                 Provocative

Bold                                         Informal                                   Progressive

Bright                                       Kind                                         Reassuring

How to Evaluate the Options Objectively

Once you’ve gathered the qualitative and quantitative information, and worked with your design or marketing firm to translate what you learned into options for the new brand, an evaluation tool will help those responsible for making decisions zero in on the best solutions. When considering a new name, tagline, or logo for an organization, it is important to distinguish between objective and subjective responses. Objective comments take into account the audience point of view and desired outcomes. Subjective comments, along the lines of “I like it” or “that color bugs me,” are not particularly useful in the evaluation process because they don’t allow the options to be judged strategically.

Here is a methodology to objectively evaluate names, taglines, and/or logos using seven categories with a scale of 1-5 for each. This will help your organization weigh the pros and cons of each option and determine which ones will serve your constituents best. Ask your Branding Committee to set aside personal preferences and encourage them to put themselves in the place of an individual in the target audience — and then consider the appeal of the name, tagline, and/or logo.

Banner image for the Branding Scoring Tool for Nonprofits

Below are a few of the criteria in the evaluation methodology. For the full evaluation form, please download the Branding Scoring Tool.

Clarity — How clear or understandable are the name, tagline, and/or logo? Will there be any misunderstanding or confusion?

Credibility — Is your first impression of the name, tagline, and/or logo a professional and credible one? Or does it have qualities that are amateurish or not trustworthy? 

Positioning — How closely does the name, tagline, and/or logo correlate to your mission, values, and key messages?

In Summary

Having agreement around audiences, goals, challenges, and corresponding key messages — along with a strategic evaluation methodology — will help ensure that your new name, tagline, and/or logo are appropriate for the marketplace and that the combination has the power to support your organization’s goals for the future. These tools will also help manage expectations among those responsible for making decisions about the new brand and managing its stewardship. Good luck!

View: 6 Examples of Brands Developed Using this Methodology

Thumbnails of six nonprofit brands

Beth Singer is Principal at Beth Singer Design, LLC – a design and communications firm specializing in nonprofit organizations to help them fundraise, educate, and promote membership and events through design solutions.

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