Within the first five minutes of meeting Leili Khalessi last year, I learned that she and her colleagues were in the process of renaming/re-branding their organization. As Marketing and Communications Manager with (what is now) Red Rover, Leili was right in the middle of that challenging project. So I jumped on the opportunity to ask if she’d share the organization’s experience in this marketing adventure.
Now, a year later, I’m pleased to share with you the story of how Red Rover developed, launched and implemented its new name and brand. You’ll find specific tips relevant for your organization—whether you’re considering a first-time formal branding project or naming a new program—as well as insights on effective engagement of non-marketing colleagues and choosing the right consultant or firm to help. Read on!
Q: Tell me about Red Rover. What’s your focus and how do you carry it out?
A: RedRover’s mission is to bring animals out of crisis and strengthen the bond between people and animals through emergency sheltering, disaster relief services, financial assistance and education.
We use three main strategies to get there—engaging volunteers and supporters, collaborating with others and maximizing the use of online technology.
Q: What are your roles and responsibilities at Red Rover, and how long has each of you been on staff?
- Nicole Forsyth, President and CEO for eight years
- Leili Khalessi, Marketing and Communications Manager for two years
Q: When did you change the organization’s name, and what was its original name?
A: We changed our name from United Animal Nations (UAN) to RedRover in June 2011.
Q: What was the problem you were trying to solve, and how did you come to rebranding/naming as the solution?
A: Well, our previous name was a real barrier to making and sustaining supporter and partnership relationships on many fronts. So rebranding/renaming was the clear solution
We have evolved a great deal since our founding in 1987, having narrowed our focus over the years to focus in on a few key issues affecting companion animals in the United States and Canada, rather than addressing a wide range of animal issues internationally.
But our initial name (United Animal Nations) and globe-like logo conveyed that we were international in focus (which we weren’t). In addition, the name sounded politically charged although, legislative and policy work have never been a priority for us.
Additionally, we heard consistent feedback that the name United Animal Nations sounded militant, extremist and activist. That’s a huge deterrent to building relationships with supporters of all kinds.
Staff and volunteers were asked, “Are you like PETA?” After hearing descriptions of our programs, an emergency management official who visited our office a couple of years ago sighed with relief and said, “I thought you were a terrorist organization!”
Finally, since we work so closely with government agencies and schools, it’s particularly important that we remain (and are perceived as) politically neutral. United Animal Nations failed on this front.
As a result of these multiple problems, our name (United Animal Nations) continually bubbled up as a real problem (and weakness) during our annual strategic planning. It was constantly getting in our way, and just didn’t represent the kind of organization we were.
Q: It’s crystal-clear that your previous name and brand was a deterrent to engaging supporters and partners (one of the worst marketing problems an organization can have).
Were there any other factors that pushed the name change? I ask because renaming and branding are steps most nonprofit folks (esp. leadership) are deathly afraid of!
A: That’s a long story!
We knew that although the name United Animal Nations was familiar and comfortable to many people, it caused the problems we already mentioned. But there was even more:
As United Animal Nations, our splintered program brands created a confusing environment that got in the way of reaching our communications, outreach and fundraising.
Over the years some of our programs—Emergency Animal Rescue Service (EARS), the Humane Education Ambassador Readers (HEAR) and LifeLine—had developed identities of their own that were absolutely disconnected from each other and from the parent organization itself.
For example, some people didn’t realize that the Emergency Animal Rescue Service was a program of UAN—including some of our volunteers. You can see what a huge problem that was.
Q: So you went right to renaming?
A: Nope. We tried something much easier first (and we’re glad we did).
We began using UAN as an acronym to attempt to correct our brand misperceptions, but being a small group without a lot of name recognition using an acronym like UAN didn’t help us develop a stronger brand (despite the fact that most of the nonprofits that we work closely with and who would be considered “competitors” for donors attention and money use acronyms as well).
Note from Nancy: Acronyms are so popularly used by organizations that have moved away from the implications of their initial name. In my experience, in the majority of these cases, using an acronym as your organization name fails to deliver an engaging, memorable and easily repeatable brand.
Q: What were your initial hopes in implementing the change?
A: Clarifying who we were as an organization, developing a compelling, distinctive and memorable brand and, ultimately, attracting new donors and partners were our initial aims.
Q: Did you do the renaming work all in-house, or did you hire outside experts?
A: We knew we didn’t have the time and expertise to do this in-house. And, perhaps most importantly, that we were too close to the organization to lead this project.
So we began by researching communications firms, solicited proposals and then selected a couple to present their proposals to us face-to-face. That process enabled us to the select the firm we felt most suited to do the research and creative work in terms of working style and relevant expertise.
What worked – and what didn’t – last time you branded your nonprofit? Or what are your questions if you’re considering it? Please share your experiences and/or questions here.
More Case Studies & Guidance: Nonprofit Branding and Renaming