When to consider a charity rebrand
Originally published: January 2017
Your nonprofit's brand says a lot about you as an organization. It's the impression that you give to your stakeholders, donors, funders and potential supporters when they visit your website, pick up a leaflet or see one of your posts on social media. Is that impression an accurate reflection?
Charity brand — a charity's identity
"A brand is about more than a visual identity and a logo," says Matthew Reed, CEO of The Children's Society. "It informs everything we do as an organization: our vision, our mission and our values and behaviors. It reflects the history of our charity and will determine our future."
A strong, defined brand is critical for every nonprofit. However, many nonprofits have outgrown their brand or lack cohesive branding. One example could be a nonprofit that was established to work in one specific area but now, years later, has expanded to other areas and the name no longer reflects what they do.
Rebranding can be costly. However, not investing in your brand could cost even more in the long run. Your nonprofit may miss out on vital funding or support if there's confusion about what you do or your visual identity is out of date.
Companies may decide not to partner with you purely based on an old fashioned brand that would look out of place next to their modern branding. They may also think that your branding reflects how your nonprofit works — that it's not innovative or modern.
Rebranding is costly both in monetary terms and in time and resources, so it's important to be clear about whether you really need to rebrand. Ask the following questions:
- Does our name reflect what we do?
- Is our logo outdated and tired?
- Are we consistent in our look and feel across offline and online materials?
- Does our brand reflect our mission and values?
Charities need to connect with stakeholders, beneficiaries and partners in a vibrant and engaging way in order to further their mission. Does your key messaging build awareness of your mission and values? Does it enhance your credibility and create an emotional connection?
If you conclude that your nonprofit needs a rebrand, be prepared to convince others in your organization to make the investment.
Charity brand — making the business case
Most nonprofits looking to rebrand will need to get approval from their board of directors or trustees. Before you approach your board, it's important to be prepared. Here's how to make the business case for a rebrand:
- Do your research. Board members are likely to ask why there's a need to rebrand, so come armed with answers based on evidence. Create a survey for your stakeholders, staff, volunteers and possibly even funders to ask what they think of your current brand: do they like it, do they think it reflects what you do and so on. Try to create survey questions you can use post-rebrand and as an ongoing benchmark.
- Have a budget in mind. Look to other nonprofits that have recently rebranded and find out what it cost. You may be able to find this out online. If not, give them a call or find an appropriate person to contact. You could look up the nonprofit on LinkedIn, see who works there and approach the right person that way. If you know that your budget will be limited, bring costs down by looking for pro bono support from a creative agency. You could also look to university students or interns with a creative or project management background to help with the rebrand.
- Know what success will look like. How will you measure the success of a rebrand? Options might include an increase in web traffic or calls to your helpline, more media coverage, improved staff engagement or anecdotal feedback. Remember to set key performance indicators at the start of the project. Then, create a pre- and post-rebrand survey to gauge if the effort has been successful.
- Know who will be involved. Think carefully about who needs to be involved in the process. Too many people could cause delays in decision making, while too few may not provide a holistic perspective. Consider forming a working group that includes at least one decision maker (executive director, chief executive or board member), key staff, volunteers, and possibly even a supporter or two.
- Set a clear timeline and stick to it. Whether you have a key anniversary or event that you're working toward or simply a date that seems reasonable, set a deadline to launch your rebrand and create a timeline of key dates to ensure you stay on track.
Charity rebrand next steps
So you've made the business case and the budget to rebrand has been approved. What are the next steps?
- Enlist creative support. A rebrand requires branding and graphic design skills. If you'll need to enlist the help of an agency or freelancer, put a detailed brief out to tender. Then shortlist the agencies or freelancers and invite them to pitch for the work. Consider factors such as experience, portfolio, professionalism, price and whether they'll produce brand guidelines.
- Create a project plan. Create a working document to keep track of essential details, such as who's involved, specific assignments, deadlines and expenses.
- Nail your messaging. A rebrand is about more than just a new color palette, name change or updated logo. A brand is who your charity is and what it stands for, so be sure to set aside time and money for messaging workshops. Sometimes a creative agency will do this as part of their service. If not, organize your own workshop — being sure to include people from different teams, a volunteer or two, a service user and a member of your board.
- Make a list of materials that'll need to be updated. This may include leaflets, posters, pens, event t-shirts, social media profiles, your website and so on.
- Create a communications plan. Think about how you'll communicate your rebrand to your stakeholders, supporters and staff. Perhaps you'll use a range of methods, such as email, a news story on your website and posts on social media. Be prepared for feedback and questions, particularly regarding the cost of the rebrand. You may want to put together a preapproved statement regarding cost.
- Pretest your brand. Before launching your new or refreshed brand, do a pretest to gain feedback. Set up a focus group to look at it through the eyes of certain stakeholders — such as beneficiaries, staff, partners and the community at large.
Maintaining your charity brand
You'll likely breathe a sigh of relief once your rebrand has been launched, but don't assume that your work is done. You'll want to:
- Send your post-rebrand survey and collect any anecdotal feedback or feedback from social media
- Share the feedback among your colleagues and stakeholders
- Use the feedback to measure the strength of your new brand against the original
- Share the brand guidelines with your staff
- Train staff in how to use the new brand
- Update any relevant processes (such as the approval process for new marketing materials)
Your brand has a life cycle, so you'll need to review your brand every few years to ensure it's still fit for purpose as well as looking fresh.
MissionBox editorial content is offered as guidance only, and is not meant, nor should it be construed as, a replacement for certified, professional expertise.
CharityComms: Top tips to overcome brand barriers when on a small budget (2015)
CharityComms: A rebrand that tells hard truths to inspire change (2015)
Knowhow Nonprofit: How to make a rebrand work for you (2016)
Forbes: How to successfully rebrand in 5 easy steps (2015)
Imagebox: 9 things to consider in your rebrand by Jessica Brown