Bring the Brand
Branding is a vital, yet often difficult to grasp, component to any nonprofit organization. Donors must know who you are and what you do in order to give. In a roundtable eChat, “Bring the Brand!” during the first-ever FundRaising Success Virtual Conference and Expo held on May 20 (and available on-demand until Aug. 24), Sarah Durham, founder and principal of Big Duck and author of “Brandraising: How Nonprofits Raise Visibility and Money Through Smart Communications,” answered attendees’ questions about branding.
Durham was joined by Maureen McFadden, former director of communications at the Women’s Sports Foundation, and Veronica Davey, senior vice president at NYC Charter School Center. Here are some highlights of the eChat.
Question: How do you brand a school when there are so many different attributes you want to crow about: arts, athletics, academics … many different constituencies and target audiences to try to engage?
Durham: Most orgs have complex missions/agendas. So the trick is often to boil it down to one big idea. I call it positioning.
When you think of Red Cross, you think “disaster relief,” right? So what do you want people to think of when they think of your school?
Durham: My advice to orgs who are getting started: Start by educating your leadership.
McFadden: By the time most organizations come to a real rebranding, they have a patchwork of looks and feels and messaging. In my experience both with the Women’s Sports Foundation and Legal Momentum, and recently the Everest Foundation Nepal, rebranding pulls together not just the look, feel and messaging, but tightens and focuses the mission, the internal work as well.
Q: So how do you go about it?
Durham: Most orgs I see have budgets too small for it to be a good ROI to create separate brands for separate audiences. Instead, try to create a “mother brand” that appeals to all if you can.
Davey: The NYC Charter Center set out to rebrand to reflect our revised vision and mission and most importantly to connect in a more modern and direct way with our “customers.” We spent about $200,000 — but I should say we also found lots of waste (at least $30,000 a month) in our old brand, so to speak.
Durham: A great exercise to get leadership on board: Try looking at your peers' websites together, then yours, and see how you compare.
Durham: Any organization (small/big) can rebrand — it’s a question of how robust the help you’ll get will be.
Durham: Hiring an experienced pro to facilitate the process may be smoother than doing it in-house with limited resources/experience, but both can work.
McFadden: Yes, but outside consultants often carry more weight with the board and executive director than insider, Sarah.
Durham: Types of useful research to inform branding: interviews with board and staff leadership, online surveys to all staff and volunteers, calls to donors, landscape of peers.
Be sure to ask your audiences how they like to communicate. For instance, do your clients use Facebook? If so, maybe you should reach them there.
Q: How do you know if your organization needs to rebrand?
Durham: Most organizations rebrand in times of change. For instance, when it’s time to reach a new donor base, programs have changed or strategic planning has shifted the focus of the work.
Durham: Too often branding is viewed as just a logo, but I’d argue that it’s the entire way your organization communicates … PLUS the reputation you’ve got.
Even the way you abbreviate your org’s name has branding implications. Acronyms are often bad — they are insider-speak.
Davey: Executive buy-in is critical. I was fortunate to have strong support, but I also saw attention can wander and some second-guessing after the rebrand was in action.
Durham: When considering rebranding, try to identify, through research, where you’ve got equity. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater by changing the parts that people know you for that are working. Instead, plug the gaps in your communications and refine the things that can be better.
McFadden: Rebranding requires discipline — toeing the line about look/feel/speak once the work is done. There must be a gatekeeper, preferably several to act as guard on what’s been developed, designed and launched.