Make Your (Re)Brand Magical!

I’m so eager to share with you the incredible learning experience I had at the recent Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC) . I learned all about nonprofit rebranding via Farra Trompeter, Vice President of Big Duck, and Will Nolan, Senior Vice President of Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy (PPMD). Here are a few key takeaways to help you understand the potential of brand for our causes, and knowing when it’s time for a change.

First Things First: What’s a Brand?
Your nonprofit’s brand represents your identity, your promise to donors and constituents, and the consistency of your work. The principles outlined here are relevant whether you’re shaping a first-time (intentional) brand for your organization, or you’re rebranding.

Whether we’re talking Red Cross or Coca-Cola, brands that work connect with our hearts and minds to trigger emotion and action. The difference, Farra says, is that with companies, we have a transactional relationship; with nonprofits, we have a transformational relationship.

Brand Positioning vs. Organizational Personality
These two terms are tossed around a lot, but what do they really mean? If positioning is the big idea, personality is the feeling in your people’s hearts, says Farra.

Effective  positioning ensures that a big idea is consistently associated with the brandÚ For what expertise or service are you the go-to? Your personality should answer the question: What do you want them to feel?

Zero in on what your organization is trying to do or be before jumping to positioning & personality. Get clear on who you are—and who you’re trying to reach. It’s the only way to get relevant. Beware, there is no such thing as “the general public.” If you try to reach everyone, you’ll fail, and you’re likely to alienate the folks you really want to engage.

Why Are SO Many Orgs (Re)branding?
Rebranding helps orgs erase outdated geographical boundaries, market smarter, and better reflect their work. A rebrand bridges from the before to what’s new when orgs shift focus or restructure.

Your nonprofit’s brand is a powerful way to synchronize your efforts across programs and channels. Clear branding, guidelines, and communications tools actually make it easier for everyone to speak on your behalf. This is particularly important for organizations that have many staff, as well as external supporters, acting as spokespeople.

Shoring up your brand can also help you recruit better board members and staff, improve your internal capacity, and attract more media coverage. Your people ARE your brand!

But Your (Re)brand Does Even MORE
Done well, rebranding (OR first-time branding) enables your org to more clearly define and share your niche, which makes it easier for your people to connect with you, and ultimately increase revenue through

Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy’s rebrand helped the org become more direct and consistent in their communications. They shifted their tagline from “Leading the Duchenne muscular dystrophy community” to a bolder statement: “Leading the fight to end Duchenne.” Their new colors, logo, and positioning now reflect this strong vision.

This change allowed them to reframe their communications around a clear mission. As a result, PPMD increased community participation and its email list size.

Ok, We Want to (Re)brand! Now What?
First, understand that your brand—whether the first brand or a (re)brand—is a sum of many individual parts, not just a name or logo.

When it comes to (re)branding, updating your organization’s brand identity often has the most impact. Identity includes the visual elements of your brand (such as logos, colors, imagery) and your key messaging (tagline, boilerplate).

When Should We (Re)Brand ?
Good branding helps your cause break through the noise. This is important for many organizations, as the environment in which they’re operating can change over time. If your organization has changed its focus, or the environment has shifted, consider updating your brand.

When Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy kicked off its rebranding process, staff thought hard about the  the equity in the existing name. Keep in mind that brands can be fluid (although you wouldn’t want to rebrand more than every five or ten years, and that’s even a lot). Over time, your organization’s essence may not change, but elements of your brand or structure may need to.

Is it time for your nonprofit to rebrand? Big Duck’s brand flowchart will help you decide.

What Do High-Impact Nonprofit (Re)Brands Have In Common?
These are some of the factors likely to lead to (re)branding success can include:

  • A clear, focused, understood-and-acted-on throughout the organization strategic plan (a must!)
  • New leadership
  • New fundraising strategies.

BTW, if your organization is currently going through a strategic planning process, complete that process before (re)branding. You’ll have better alignment, as your organization’s vision will be clearer.

To learn more, check out Big Duck’s The Rebrand Effect

Your Annual Report’s Opening Message:
6 Ways to Motivate Readers

Thanks to guest blogger, Kimberlee Roth, one of our team’s valued writers. Kim has written for the Chicago Tribune and The Chronicle of Philanthropy among other publications, and provides writing and editing services to universities, health systems and other nonprofits.

I harbor no ill will toward opening messages. In fact, I believe they can be an important component of a nonprofit’s annual report. When done well–well being the operative word–they provide context for the rest of the publication. They personalize it and make it more immediate, and they help point readers to key information and calls to action.

That said, most opening messages, those “letters from the executive director,” make me want to get out my figurative red pen and edit away (at best) or, at worst, put the publication down or close my browser window. Of course you want your annual report’s welcome to excite readers and motivate them to read from cover to cover. Here’s how:

1) Keep it Short
I can’t emphasize this enough. Short is a few succinct paragraphs, a half page, 200-300 words. Short is not asking your graphic designer to “make it fit,” leaving audiences to squint at six-point font. Assume your reader is scanning. Make it easy to read. Use subheadings and bullet points. Hit the high points and move on.

If this sounds impossible–if you feel like it’s your one chance to say everything to everyone–then it might be a good time to revisit your communications plan. That feeling, and the resulting letter that goes on forever, could be a clue that you’re not regularly and consistently talking with all your constituents the rest of the year.

2) Keep the Salutation Simple
“Dear Friends”–or something similar–is great. You don’t need to spell out each audience, unless you want to waste several lines of valuable real estate (your letter is brief, remember?).

3) Keep the Tone Conversational
Keep it professional and formal, yes, but not stilted or distant. Somewhere between, “Hey, what’s up?” and “Dear Sir or Madam.”

Don’t be afraid to let some personality shine through either. Conveying the director’s sincere excitement about a particular accomplishment, his or her sense of humor, or a personal note or observation–these all make your opening message and, as a result, the whole report more engaging.

4) Show Awareness
I once edited a “letter from the director” for a client who had a fantastic year. Unfortunately, though, colleagues at similar organizations did not fare so well. Talking about all the great things that happened without acknowledging others’ challenges during the long, hard recession felt wrong. It was nearly a missed opportunity to show camaraderie and gratitude. Phrases such as “In spite of difficult economic times, we were fortunate to … ” can go a long way.

5) Keep it Candid and Transparent
Not a good idea to say how great the year was if it wasn’t. You can highlight the good while still being honest about areas you know need addressing. Your donors and other supporters want to know that you’re working to improve and that their time and/or money isn’t being wasted.

6) End with a Positive Note and Call to Action
Hint at a few things you’re excited about for the coming year, keep your ending hopeful but not artificial, and invite readers to do something–join you on social media sites, sign up for your newsletter, make a donation before the year ends, volunteer at an event, respond to a survey. Instead of making them drowsy, get them engaged–not only in reading your annual report but supporting your cause.

What techniques do you use to engage readers with your annual report’s opening letter?