11 Steps to Rebranding an Annual Fund
Rebranding any type of product, service, company or school can be extremely challenging work, but one of the most difficult pieces to rebrand is an annual fund. Fundraising of any type can be very difficult to brand because there are so many working parts to consider as you piece together your graphic masterpiece. Not only do you have to consider your donors, but you also have to consider your alumni, other graphics being used by the university and the image you hope to encapsulate, as well as many other elements.
When beginning the process, so many questions encircle your mind: What should it look like? What about color scheme? Wording? Font? Layout? All of these elements are merely details. The three most important questions to ask yourself are as follows:
1. What do we want our brand to communicate to our constituents?
2. Does the design integrate well into the overall brand of the university and follow their graphics standards?
3. Do our major constituents like the design and messaging?
If you can successfully answer these three questions, I think you definitely have a chance to make your rebranding effort work. In my time with the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford, I have been able to successfully rebrand our annual fund—and now that I have completed the process, I thought to myself, why not share my findings?
Here is my 11-step process to successfully rebrand any annual fund:
1. Who are you?
This phase is key to being able to successfully complete this process. As with any major changes, you need to take a long hard look at yourself in the mirror and figure out who you are as an institution and what you stand for. What are your values? What are your mission and vision? Without having an honest understanding of who you are, you will never be able to successfully rebrand.
Reality is made up of three parts: what you believe to be true, what others believe to be true and what is actually true. Apply this concept to your brand: What do you believe to be true of your brand, what do your constituents believe to be true of your brand and what does your brand actually stand for. Once you have those answers, it's time to go shopping.
2. Idea shopping
One of the most fun parts about rebranding and designing a new look for a fund is seeing what others are doing. Idea shopping refers to researching, benchmarking and shopping around to find what you really like in a brand.
I also refer to this stage as the "Pinterest" phase. This phase is just like a soon-to-be bride pinning what she wants her wedding dress to look like. You want to be able to see what is out there, what is currently trending, what is completely outdated, and pick out the pieces you like, as well as what you don’t like. You should try to keep everything you like in one place and should be able to clearly articulate what you are envisioning to the rest of your team.
3. Key Elements
After you know who you are and what you like, it's now time to choose the key elements of what your new brand needs to have in its design. Is there a famous landmark on campus that truly connects with your constituent base? Is there a new name you would like to call your fund? Is there a color scheme that you need to use as prescribed by your university's graphic standard handbook? Are there certain elements that are restricted by your university, as prescribed by your university's graphic standard handbook? These are all things you must be conscious of as you continue to work on your preliminary design.
4. Mock It Up
You've got all of your ideas and key elements, and you've gone idea shopping. Now it's time to create a rough mock-up of what you are envisioning to help effectively communicate your idea to a graphic designer. I am no Picasso, so this stage was a little difficult for me. My first design seriously looked like a toddler had gotten into their parents junk drawer and decided to make an "art project" with scotch tape and some old magazines. My design literally looked like a ransom letter the Joker would leave Batman after kidnapping the entire Gotham City beauty pageant. But, it was still good enough to communicate clearly to a designer what I was envisioning.
5. Stage-Five Clinger
In this stage you have to prepare yourself not to become so attached to the design that when it is corrected between 50 to 100 times you don't die a little bit inside each time. Your design is fluid; it's constantly changing and adapting to the circumstances and critiques of those judging it. Graphic designers have an eye for design. Let them design. The only things you should hold on to like there is no tomorrow are the ideas behind the design. Regardless of the product that the graphic designer produces, it still needs to capture the mission, vision and values for which your institution stands.
You have just received the initial files from your designer. It's time to work with the leadership within your office to really rip the design apart, and then clearly articulate the changes you wish to see to your designer. This probably will go on for about three to four weeks, like a kind of back-and-forth tennis match, and each email you receive with the new look is like Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa wrapped up into one. Each adjustment is one step closer to what you initially dreamed. When you think you've got something workable it is time to bring in your tagline.
Some funds don't need a tagline, but others do. Some logos cannot evoke an emotional appeal in the hearts and minds of their constituents solely by themselves. These logos are like a great MLB pitcher without a great team. The pitcher can pitch the game of his life, but without his team scoring any runs, they could still lose the game. A tagline acts as a supporting piece to the overall graphic. Choose a tagline that again encompasses what you want your brand to stand for and something that makes sense with the overall brand of your institution. As soon as you have a few options, it's time to get the opinions of the people that truly matter: your constituents.
8. Constituent-Opinion Gathering
Your constituents must be able to connect to your brand, and the ideas behind your logo must resonate with them. Without connectivity, you have failed to produce something that reminds your constituents of their experiences with your institution. Evoking nostalgia and reminding your constituents of their experiences with your institution will generate more donations in the long run. This part of the process can be stressful at times, but it is key to the entire process being a success. In order to see what your constituents think, you need to bring them into the conversation and ask them to share their opinions on the design. If you have time, I would even suggest having two concepts for a logo and two concepts for a tagline and letting your constituents choose which logo and tagline they like the best. This step gives the constituents a chance to express their opinions on the subject and acts as a touch point in cultivating them into a more engaged donor. Once a clear favorite has been chosen, it's time to get a nearly final design together.
9. Close, But No Cigar
Within this stage in the process, you now have a logo and tagline that your office and constituents can stand behind, but you still need to make a few minor changes to be close to the end of the process. This is when the minute details matter the most: how close words are from each other, how certain elements line up with one another, what fonts are used, etc. This part of the process can be extremely frustrating for the designers involved because after all of their efforts, they still need to take the time to make tiny adjustments that do not seem major but do effect the end product. I would suggest taking your designer out for lunch or buying him or her a nice, cold brew. If your designer can get through this stage in the process, he or she truly deserves it.
10. Cross Your Fingers
At this point you have a logo and tagline that is ready to roll and needs to get approval. It is now time to ship your proposed logo off to the right people and cross your fingers that they like it. Some minor changes could come out of this step in the process, but overall it should be readily accepted if you have done your due diligence.
11. Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner
You have gained the approval from the necessary individuals and your logo and tagline are up and running. Give yourself a pat on the back, do a little victory dance and get back to work. The work of a fundraiser is never done.
I hope this process helps, and happy fundraising!
Ryan K. Sowers is the Assistant Director for Annual Giving at The University of Pittsburgh at Bradford. He earned his Bachelor's degree in Individualized Studies with a minor in Marketing at Bowling Green State University in 2015 and would like to pursue a Master's degree in Business Administration. Before joining the University of Pittsburgh in 2015, Ryan worked in Corporate and Foundational Relations with Bowling Green State University, and was the Chairman and Founder of BGSU's Undergraduate Capital Campaign from Spring 2012 to Summer 2014.