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Rebranding helps orgs erase outdated geographical boundaries, market smarter, and better reflect their work.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

6 Nonprofit Story Types to Tell:

There’s so much content around on storytelling, lots of its focused on why stories are so effective.

But there’s far less guidance on helping you know what your story possibilities are, and building your skills in shaping and sharing your stories. That’s what most of you said you wanted to know to become 5-star storytellers, and that’s the focus of this article.

Storytelling starts with finding the stories your organization already has. But, most of you tell me you don’t know where to find your stories. Here’s how..
Great news here—there are 6 types of stories you can tell, and you’re likely to find all of them in your organization. So start thinking about what stories you have to tell in each of these categories:
  1. Our Founding: How your organization was created
  2. Our Focus: The core challenge you tackle
  3. Impact Stories: This most-told nonprofit story features the before and after—shows impact of your organization and supporters
  4. Our People: Donor, staff, volunteer, client/participant profiles
  5. Strength Stories: How your particular approach adds value to the services you provide, and moves your mission forward
  6. Our Future: The change you want to make in the world or what your work will lead to.

#1: The Typical Nonprofit Founding Story

Is yours as deadly as this one? Because you have all the ingredients to make it far more effective.

Typical Founding Story

Read more

Name Change Why, When & Hows: Case Study—Part 1

It’s rare to see an organization change its name and that’s a good thing. Name changes are a delicate matter.

Assuming you’ve done a good job of building relationships with supporters, partners and others, your org’s name has equity. Members of your network—donors in particular—have established ways in which they relate to your organization, and your name is the most memorable trigger you have. When you change your organization’s name, you upset the status quo and draw attention to what has been a smooth and productive relationship.

But there are moments in an organization’s life when a name change is appropriate and in fact, may be absolutely necessary. These include:

  • New or expanded scope of work, and/or mission
  • Expanded geography served (if your name includes a location)
  • Change in meaning or popular use of you organizational name.

Green Media Toolshed was launched in 2000 to strengthen communications impact within the environmental movement. But when the organization dramatically changed the type of issue-based organizations it works with, renaming became a must

Green Media Toolshed is now officially Netcentric Campaigns. Our new name reflects our expanding work to help foundations, nonprofit organizations and grassroots leaders mobilize advocacy networks that will achieve change for the greater good.

Netcentric does a great job of explaining its name change, reassuring its community that its strengths and values will remain constant as its focus grows AND reframing the value of the organization’s work! Here’s how they link the past with the present:

When striving to achieve change, sometimes you need to change something about yourself…Although we’ve got a new moniker, we aren’t completely abandoning our roots.

Our team of 10 is ready for this transition. We know how to build networks that work and we’ve have been doing this work for years, after all…Bigger mission, bigger impact.

Well done! You see, no one really cares if you change your name, or your messages or launch a new website. These changes are news only when 1) you link them to the underlying moment of change (new online service for clients, providing service to new groups, a new leader); and 2) make that connection crystal clear. Netcentric has done a great job of doing so.

Name Creation/Change Guidance: Case Study—Part 2

What are your questions on name and message changes? Please share them here.

More Nonprofit Name Change Case Studies

Name Creation/Change Guidance: Case Study—Part 2

Part 1: Name Change Why, When & Hows

Naming and messaging are so tricky, yet so vital. I saw that again last week with your strong response to the Green Media Toolshed -> Netcentric Campaigns case study. So I reached out to the Netcentric team to learn more about their process and tips on shepherding a name change, or creation, for your organization, program or service.

Thanks so much to Bobbi Russell, Netcentric’s COO, for sharing experiences and tips.

Nancy: How did you kick off the name creation process?

Netcentric:  We had a head start, knowing that we wanted the new name to incorporate Netcentric. We’ve been running projects as a division of Green Media Toolshed called Netcentric
Campaigns for six or seven years, and that name synthesizes what we do and our unique value perfectly—building networks of people to move change forward.

Most importantly, we knew we couldn’t (and shouldn’t) do it all ourselves. We’re just too close to our work and history. For example, we couldn’t filter out the less important elements tied to our  history that weren’t critical to carry forward into the new brand (and in fact would have diminished it). We did keep a tie to our green roots by making sure that our logo integrated the color green.

First, we hired Edge Research to do an objective situation analysis of the environment we’re communicating into. They conducted in-depth interviews with past, current and prospective clients to gather feedback about how we are perceived.

Their findings were vital, highlighting the ideal approach and skillset for communications firm we would choose to guide us through the balance of the process. It wasn’t a surprise that we needed more than a new logo and website. But the feedback about our messages, work and kind of help we needed most was a bonus.

So we hired GALEWill to help us fine tune our brand (our personality, voice and tone), mission statement, messages and logo.

Nancy: What was the naming, messaging and design process from there? 

Netcentric: The lengthy process we took from there had been developed and tested by GALEWill with some of their other clients, so we were very secure in that. They started by reviewing a huge range of background materials and interviewing Marty (Martin Kearns, our president) and me at length.

GALEWill used those insights to draft the mission statement, brand architecture and other language. We very much embraced the process of establishing a brand architecture and seeing that much of our other language would flow from that.

At that point, we looped in the full staff and Board.We wanted our full team to be a part of the process and to emerge feeling ownership of our new name and brand.

Then we worked with a separate designer on website design and print collateral.

Nancy: Sounds like a smooth path. Any glitches?

Netcentric: We had to learn, after some tough times, to let go of the small things that were taking up a great deal of time. For example, some of our team members really wanted a snappy tagline but we just couldn’t come up with one that we all loved so much that we were ready to commit to printed collateral or wear it on a fleece!

Instead, we’re piloting a few tagline variations using our email signatures and we’re hosting a launch party later this month during which we’ll all be testing out the messaging in conversation with our Board of Directors and others. We’ll hone our tagline from those insights.

Nancy: How will you support your Board and colleagues in becoming effective messengers of the new brand? That’s the step I see SO many organization leave out of naming and message development.

Netcentric: We want to ensure the entire staff and Board is up to speed in sharing our mission, discussing our new name and model case studies plus able to deliver that 30-second elevator speech.

We’ve asked for their help (this has to be an all-org effort) and will train folks via a series of messaging boot camps.

To smooth the way, we’ve created a style and tone guide for easy reference. And we’ve designated  our content strategy manager to edit most outgoing materials to align to guidelines, as we continue to work with staff to get them up to speed.

We’re on our way, and it’s exciting!

What are your questions, or tips, on name and message changes? Please share them here.

Part 1: Name Change Why, When & Hows

More Nonprofit Name Change Case Studies

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?

Ask Yourself 4 Questions for Effective Nonprofit Taglines

Welcome to guest blogger Allison Van Diest. Allison, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Blackbaud, prides herself on being not only a marketing “artist” but a marketing “scientist”  able to measure the marketing impact. She has some terrific guidance to share with you on shaping a tagline that works…

What has less than 140 characters and tells the world what you’re up to?

Yes, Twitter does.  But how do you think the Twitter folks got the idea that a short, punchy phrase or two can be among the best ways to communicate?  Decades ago, taglines showed the world that a few well-chosen words can mean more to a reader than pages of advertising copy.

The purpose of a tagline is to create an impression that is meaningful and moving, as succinctly as possible.  And in today’s landscape of light speed communication, with constraints on readers’ time and attention, a well-written tagline is critical.

It is your best tool in capturing the imagination of a prospective supporter and also arms them with the perfect message to send to their network (through Twitter, perhaps!).

Sold on the idea of taglines, but not sure yours is prize-worthy? Enter the Nonprofit Tagline Awards program anyway, there’s nothing to lose. And every entrant will be invited to join me in a special free webinar on building leadership support for critical marketing projects. But back to taglines…

If you’re not satisfied with your tagline, consider sending it through a quick positioning refresh to make sure it truly captures your spirit.  As a reminder, a strong positioning statement answers these questions:

  1. Who (what group) does your organization serve?
  2. What does the group you serve hope to accomplish?
  3. What does your organization provide to the group you serve?
  4. What is the outcome if the group you serve accomplishes its goal?

Consider how how this information is conveyed by TexasNonprofits, a 2009 Nonprofit Tagline Award winner:  “Building community deep in the hearts of Texans”

  1. Who (what group) does your organization serve?  Texas nonprofits
  2. What does the group you serve hope to accomplish? To encourage higher levels of giving so they can do more good in Texas
  3. What does your organization provide to the group you serve?  Resources and support to aid the nonprofit community
  4. What is the end state if the group you serve accomplishes its goal?  Texans are even more philanthropic and nonprofit impact goes even further

With its tagline, TexasNonprofits conveys mission and impact in a clever and memorable way.   This year’s Taggies will once again celebrate well-crafted taglines and – hopefully – inspire other nonprofits to follow suit, so please enter yours today (deadline is July 28).

 We can’t wait to see what you’ve been up to!

The 2010 Nonprofit Tagline Awards program is made possible thanks to the generous sponsorship of Blackbaud, Event360, Eventbrite and See3 Communications.

P. P. S. Follow the tagline award news on Twitter via the hashtag #taggies


5 Steps to Jumpstart Your Tagline Development Process

Developing a high-power tagline for your nonprofit can be a daunting task, especially with so many competing priorities.  Whether you are creating a first-time tagline or revitalizing an existing brand, here are five steps to jump start the process:

  1. Confirm that the tagline (or lack of one) is a problem. Feature a few talking points about your organization (or your tagline, if you already have one) in conversations with colleagues, members and volunteers.  Make a note of their reactions.  Does your messaging inspire people to dig in and ask more questions or get involved, or does it create confusion about your organization’s work and impact?
  2. Get your colleagues on board.  Let your colleagues know that it’s time to develop stronger messaging for your organization based on what you’ve heard in your listening research, and that you’ll need their help. Be as specific as possible about your goals and outcomes, and how you’d like them to help.
  3. Uncover some audience intelligence, Sherlock Holmes.  Ask colleagues (and volunteers, if you need to) to insert your organization’s messaging (or current tagline, if you have one) in their own conversations in the field and report back to you what they find. Make it easy for them to report back in a way that’s easy for them and useful to you.
  4. Summarize the feedback you get and your recommendations for moving forward.  What does and doesn’t work? What does that suggest about revising existing messaging or shaping  a new tagline?
  5. Is more research needed? Decide if you need to take your audience research one step further or you’re ready to kickoff the tagline creation process with a brainstorming session.

These five steps are a proven stepping stone to developing a strong tagline for your organization. Supplement them with our free guide to powerful messaging for your organization: The Getting Attention Tagline Report features don’t dos, must dos and over 2,500 nonprofit tagline examples to kick-start your message brainstorming.

By Amy Kehoe, Manager – Getting Attention

Flickr photo: Jeff Carlson