An Honest Behind-the-Scenes Look at a Nonprofit Rebrand

8 min read

If you’ve recently realized that your nonprofit’s current brand is no longer aligned with your mission, if you’re struggling to differentiate from other organizations that do similar work, or if your name or messaging uses outdated –– and potentially even harmful –– language, it may be time to consider rebranding.

We know rebranding can be an overwhelming undertaking no matter the size of your organization and its budget, but hearing and learning from other organizations that have successfully rebranded can help answer some of the questions that may be keeping you up at night. That’s why we’ve devoted this post to giving you an inside look at a recently completed nonprofit rebrand.

In partnership with Substance Strategic Visual Communications, we recently completed a rebrand and brand rollout for the Chicago-based nonprofit Resilience, formerly known as Rape Victim Advocates. Resilience is dedicated to the healing and empowerment of sexual assault survivors through non-judgmental crisis intervention counseling, individual and group trauma therapy, and medical and legal advocacy. Ultimately, they decided their former brand was no longer suited to the work they do because “rape” too narrowly defined their focus, many survivors do not resonate with the word “victim” and the word “advocates” no longer accurately described the broader mission of the organization.

Our teams found, however, that there was one constant throughout the organization’s history: the resilience demonstrated by survivors. Ultimately, that became their new brand’s focus. Here, using Resilience as a case study, we’ll pull back the curtain to give you a look at what a nonprofit rebrand really entails.

How should your organization prepare before going through a rebrand?

Resilience’s rebrand began with an analysis of current brand perceptions, and yours should too.

Before you begin the rebranding process, it’s critical to understand how your current brand is seen by your stakeholders. How do your staff and leadership explain your organization to those who aren’t familiar with it? Are there major inconsistencies between members of your team or between how your team explains your brand and how you want to be perceived? How would other stakeholders, such as beneficiaries, volunteers, donors and policymakers describe your organization? Are they accurate or off-base?

You should also consider how well your brand is known by those who don’t already support your work, but could in the future. Is your brand a recognized entity among groups of potential future donors, beneficiaries, and your general community? Could these people explain how your work is different from other, similar organizations? Does your current brand present any challenges to their willingness to work with you? These are the sorts of questions we asked when beginning the Resilience rebrand, and for them, the answer to that last one was yes. The word “rape” in their former name made it very difficult for them to build partnerships with schools as many school leaders did not feel comfortable with using the term in a school setting to describe all types of sexual violence.

Observations and anecdotal evidence can help your organization understand how its brand is currently perceived, but many organizations choose to conduct a Brand Perception Study in order to prove (or disprove) their hypotheses about brand perception with data. This type of study uses surveys, focus groups and interviews to identify gaps between how your organization is currently perceived and how you want it to be positioned in the minds of your stakeholders. The results of Brand Perception Studies often bring surprises for the organizations that choose to conduct them as they frequently challenge long-held assumptions and biases. In some rare cases, a Brand Perception Study may even reveal that a rebrand is not as essential as your team initially believed.

If you do choose to move forward with your rebrand after evaluating brand perception, communicating about the process with your team is another critical preparatory step. Take care to ensure your staff and other internal stakeholders are involved from the beginning and informed of your intentions for your rebranding project. Clearly communicate that your mission will not change as a result of a rebrand, but that your identity and image will be better aligned with it once the process is complete. Establish timelines and checkpoints during which you’ll keep your team updated on the rebranding process and gather input.

Who should be involved in your nonprofit rebrand process?

Having the right people involved during a nonprofit rebrand is crucial. Every rebrand needs a leader (typically the most senior marketing/communications professional at your organization, with final signoff from the CEO), but that leader should not act as a dictator. We suggest developing a cross-functional rebranding committee with participants from your leadership team, board and staff. Don’t limit involvement exclusively to senior staff or those from a specific department. Instead, aim to develop a committee that is representative of your organization itself and includes a diverse range of experience levels and types of expertise. If possible, you may even want to include a few donors and beneficiaries of your services in your rebranding committee to ensure their opinions and input are integrated into the process more deeply than focus groups, surveys and other research tools would allow.

Having the right people involved during a #nonprofit #rebrand is crucial. Click To Tweet

In Resilience’s case, we quickly realized that a new brand would not be accepted or embraced by staff members, many of whom are survivors themselves, unless they were involved in the rebranding process. While their rebranding committee was made up primarily of board members and leadership staff, we were able to engage staff through interviews and focus groups to make sure their opinions were heard. We also actively sought to engage sexual violence survivors beyond the board and staff to find out if the new names our teams proposed actually resonated with their experiences and identities. Ultimately, the selection of the name Resilience was based on staff and survivor preferences, with the board’s approval.

In your organization, you may find there are two distinct mindsets within your staff: those who do want to change the organization’s name or undergo a rebrand, and those who do not. To address this challenge, we recommend continuing to actively involve those who are resistant to a rebrand to understand their concerns and work together to find a solution that satisfies your organization’s needs.

What might the outcomes of your nonprofit rebrand look like?

Every rebrand is different. Some rebrands result in a new name and logo (as was the case with Resilience), while others keep one or both of those brand elements in place but focus on refreshing messaging and other visuals.

As you know, your nonprofit’s brand is more than just the visuals you use –– it’s also the language and touchpoints through which people engage with your organization. The most effective nonprofit brands are those that encapsulate an organization’s mission and values in an unforgettable manner that stirs emotion and moviates action. If your rebrand achieves that lofty aim, you’ve succeeded.

As we noted in our recent blog on nonprofit renaming trends, many organizations are shifting from literal names to more evocative names that encompass a wider range of initiatives. Resilience is no exception. While it can be challenging to decide on a name or brand that perfectly encapsulates the image you want your organization to convey to the world, an evocative name and brand image can prove more flexible as your initiatives evolve over time.

Research including stakeholder interviews and anonymous surveys should inform every potential new element you consider through your nonprofit rebrand process. As part of their rebranding exercise, Resilience conducted both interviews and surveys, and we analyzed the results to find patterns in the way people described the organization. Many survivors noted how the organization helped them feel empowered, and that insight has driven the messaging and tone for all rebranded materials.

When designing the new logo, building new messaging and crafting a new color scheme, we provided multiple options and showed how those could be repurposed across materials like websites, letterhead, business cards and more. We strongly recommend considering multiple use cases for logos to ensure the final selection will be suitable for all applications. And as we did while working with Resilience, we suggest presenting no more than two or three final options for logos, color schemes and foundational messaging to the your rebranding committee in order to allow for comparison while avoiding analysis paralysis.

After your organization has made a decision on its new brand, the work of rolling it out begins. Again, this looks different for every organization, but typically includes internal and external announcements, brand usage training for staff, media relations activities, a marketing collateral refresh, signage updates and more. All of these activities were part of the Resilience brand rollout.

A nonprofit rebrand is a major undertaking. But as evidenced through Resilience’s successful rebrand, when you ask the right questions and get the right people involved, the process can be effective, insightful and ultimately, lead to greater mission impact for your organization.

But is it really time for your organization to rebrand?

Before you make the decision to embark on a rebrand, you should first get crystal clear about what problems you need to solve. With our newest resource, you can take a self-assessment to determine whether you’re considering a rebrand for the right reasons, or the wrong ones.



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