This transcript is from the February 6, 2019 Independent Sector & Prosper Strategies webinar, “Build a Better Nonprofit Brand By Aligning With Your Mission and Values.” Listen to the full webinar recording here.
Kristina Gawrgy Campbell: Many of you have joined us for the last two webinars in this series. We held one in December and January, this is the third, in a 13-part series that we are putting together, focused on the concept Prosper Strategies’ Nonprofit Marketing Manifesto, which lays out 10 commitments nonprofits must make to increase their mission impact through marketing.
In December’s webinar we introduced the manifesto as a whole, and then in January we went over the first commitment, which says that “we must recognize marketing as a tool to drive mission impact and social change.”
Today we’re taking a deeper dive into the second commitment, which says, “we will develop a strong brand image and identity in alignment with our mission and values.” Each webinar in 2019 focuses on those 10 commitments, and you can sign up for the rest of them if you are interested.
Alyssa Conrardy: Thank you Kristina. Really happy to be here, and as always, happy to partner with Independent Sector for this webinar series. We’ve really enjoyed the first couple of sessions in the series and also thank you, Erin for being with us here today.
Erin Walton is the executive director of Resilience, and she has a lot of really great thoughts on today’s topic. We’re going to spend the bulk of our session today in Q&A with her, but before we get there, I’d like to briefly introduce you to myself and Prosper Strategies, in case you’re new to the series, and share a few brief thoughts on today’s focus topic.
For those of you who don’t know me, I am the co-founder and president of Prosper Strategies, a complete marketing and communications consultancy for the nonprofit sector. Our firm provides strategy and marketing planning services for social sector organizations. And because we only work with nonprofits, we have the chance to do a whole lot of pattern recognition. We see a lot of similar challenges with nonprofits from, of course, the common limited budget, to a lack of understanding of the role that marketing should play in the sector, to a failure to measure marketing’s impact on mission outcomes. That’s why last year we decided to publish our Nonprofit Marketing Manifesto. It was really our first step forward, starting a movement that addresses those challenges head on.
If this is your first time attending one of our webinars and you’re not familiar, the big idea you need to know is that marketing can, and should, do so much more than just raise awareness for nonprofit organizations. It should contribute to every single goal that we set at our nonprofits. And when that happens, marketing becomes a true tool for mission impact and social change.
We really feel that to treat it as anything less is a disservice to the causes and communities that the sector serves, but that all sounds really ideal, right? Though, I think that vision is obviously a lot easier said than done. How do you take this big idea, this ideal of what marketing can and should be, and start to actually realize it within our organizations?
That’s what Erin and I are going to discuss today and hopefully some of the real world experiences that she’s going to share, that we’ll talk about, will help you start to envision how you might bring that big idea to life in your organization.
We’ll be focusing today on the second commitment in the manifesto, which is this:
We will develop a strong brand image and identity in alignment with our mission and values.
And for most of you in this webinar, I’m sure you have some experience that was to the contrary of this commitment. Right?
Far too often, brand is really undervalued in the nonprofit sector. If it’s pursued at all, it’s put in this box of raising awareness. More often than not, brand is seen as this consumer marketing tool. Nonprofits shouldn’t need a strong brand because they’re doing their work. That’s something you might hear from donors or funders, people who are uniformed. But in reality, our brands really are the key that unlocks our mission and our values for our stakeholders, and it’s so critical to treat them accordingly and to start to bring others — funders, donors, supporters — up to speed about what we need from them to create our brands.
So, this commitment says that it’s time to stop making our nonprofit status an excuse for weak, unrecognizable, and unremarkable brands. When we make this commitment, we’re committing that we’re going to believe and get others who we work with and who support our work to believe that our brands should be among the most revered brands in the world, mentioned in the same breath as giants like Amazon, Tesla, Google, and Apple, the brands that everyone loves to talk about.
This might sound crazy at first, but I don’t believe it’s impossible. Their budgets might be greater than the average nonprofits or the vast, vast majority of maybe all nonprofits. But your aims are far higher, and your value to society is far greater, and I don’t see any reason why nonprofit brands shouldn’t be among those most revered, both put up on a pedestal, and talked about in the same breath.
To truly make this commitment stick, you need to start from within, and not just each of you on this webinar, but everyone you work with. You need to develop an internal sense of brand identity among your staff, your board, and your volunteers. And that brand identity needs to be rooted directly in your mission and your values. There cannot be a disconnect, which we’ll talk about more in a little bit.
Then you need to evolve your internal brand identity into a powerful external brand image. You have to get your house in order internally first before you can have this colorful brand externally, but once you do, the visuals and the words and feelings you use to represent your organization need to be the most concise and compelling and readily understood encapsulation of your mission and values that you can possibly find that’s available to you.
You really need to commit to strengthening your brand image through every interaction. So that means getting everyone in your organization at every level up to speed on how they talk about your brand, how they represent their work, and making sure that those individual stories that everyone likes to tell about their work, come back to it in a consistent way.
So, if you’re thinking that this ideal sounds pretty far off from your current brand or where your organization is today, do not worry. You’re not alone. We’ve really experienced, over the last few years, that nonprofits seem to be choosing to rebrand now more than ever. There’s a major trend in rebranding going on in the nonprofit sector right now.
Largely because their missions have outgrown their current brands. It’s also a big turn away from –– and we’ll talk about this with Erin in a little bit, I think –– very descriptive and literal names and brands, to more evocative and far-ranging, able to be adaptable with mission brands, which is sort of what Erin went through with her organization.
Now, we’re about to tackle a little bit more with Erin here, about her experience with branding and with the organization’s mission and vision coming into sync, with her name change through a rebrand. Erin’s just fresh off of her rebrand, so a lot of good insights to share.
But before we jump into Q&A, Erin, we’ll love to give you a chance to introduce yourself.
Q&A with Erin Walton, Executive Director of Resilience
Erin Walton: Thank you. As you’ve already mentioned, I’m Erin Walton, I’m the executive director of Resilience. And I’ve been with our organization just shy of two years, April will make two years. We are a leading, or the leading, rape crisis center in Chicago. And my super short elevator speech is our tagline, which is our work is to empower survivors and end sexual violence.
We are a small team. Right now, we’re in the tune of about 34 staff, about 250 volunteers work with us every day. At the core of the work we do is inside our local hospitals. Right now, we’re partnering with about 15 Chicago hospitals, with one actually more under contract per se. But right now, we partner with 15 hospitals. In those hospitals we’re the first line of defense. When someone comes into the ER and identifies as having been sexually assaulted in some form, those hospitals contact us, and we are the resource and partner with that hospital to support that survivor. That’s the core of who we are. But what we also do is prevention education work and other content.
Conrardy: Trust me when I say that she has a wealth of knowledge on this topic and firsthand experience. So, without further ado, let’s slide into the questions, and I’ll make sure we leave some time for our audience questions as well.
I like to start every Q&A with this question, and just hear your take on improvement commitment number two. What does it mean to, Erin, in your work at Resilience, in the sector in general?
What does Commitment #2 mean to you? How are you living that, or how has it impacted your work?
Walton: Well, quite simply, my perspective about mission and vision and brand is what your brand image is really about from an external lens, what people say or think or know about you, and your mission is actually who you are. So the two have to align in order for you to be your best selves, you really want what people think they know about you to be exactly who you are, and I think it’s every organization’s responsibility to know where they’re likely gaps, and to identify how to close those gaps.
In order for you to have your biggest impact with those who you serve, as well as with partnering organizations, and the opportunities for growth, you really do want your external identity to match or align with who it is that you are and where you see yourself going as an organization.
Conrardy: It seems so obvious, but so often you find that our brands have fallen out of sync with their mission and our values or at least one of those elements.
How did you know it was time to rebrand Rape Victim Advocates?
Tell us how you knew when it was time to rebrand your organization away from the name Rape Victim Advocates? What was the epiphany or the “ah-ha” that told you it was time to rebrand?
Walton: From a personal standpoint, I knew when I interviewed for the job. I knew that the position was something that I really connected with and I wanted to be part of the mission. But the name in and of itself, for me, it instinctively was just a little … I wouldn’t say off-putting. I think that’s strong. But I thought it was a little problematic.
For one reason, it didn’t roll of my tongue, saying Rape Victim Advocates. I had to say it nice and slow, it didn’t roll off my tongue. But when I was interviewing, I was asked a question by a member of our board of directors, and I don’t remember what the question was, but in my response, I simply, I used the term victim in my response, and I was immediately corrected and said, “Just so you know, we don’t refer to our clients as victims, we refer to them as survivors,” and instantly I said, “Well we have a problem.”
If your name is Rape Victim Advocates and you can’t use the term victim, instantly that’s problematic. That was my enlightenment for sure, and the board of directors were already in sync with that understanding and perspective as well. That predated me, and I think we just kind of met and aligned at the right time to make the change.
Conrardy: Such a great story. It’s clearly problematic if you’re being told in an interview that you can’t use one of the three words in the organization’s name. And another word in the name was problematic in some ways, too. Right?
Walton: All three of them. All three of the words were problematic. For example the first word is rape. For some people it’s a super strong, in your face word that some people are attracted to and others are not. What I later learned, after joining the organization, was that when we first meet survivors in the ER, not everybody wants that word thrown in their face immediately. But in some instances, not everybody actually experienced rape. It may have been another form of sexual violence. So, to instantly introduce yourself to someone and say, “Hi, I’m from Rape Victim Advocates,” someone may not be ready to own that. They may not feel as though they’ve been raped, or understand that that’s what happened, if it indeed is what happened. Nor will they necessarily want to be termed as a victim.
And then even the term advocates. I mean, that’s a positive word. Right? But it’s not comprehensive of who we are and what we do. It doesn’t encompass our whole mission.
The entire name was very fitting when we started 45 years ago in 1974, it was a very descriptive name of our role and our intention at the time. But we’ve grown and expanded. So, it was a time to kind of take another look at that.
Conrardy: We have a chat from an audience member that says: “This is a great example, we’re facing word mismatches like that.” She runs a 40 year old organization. And there must be something about 40 years. We’ve had several inquiries recently from organization that wanting to rebrand right around the 40 year mark, and it’s almost like that’s the point at which your mission fully outgrows your previous identity and it’s time for a change.
Walton: Yeah, it might be something to that landmark for sure. For us, it’s also about just what was happening in the 70s around gender issues, and it was important, I believe, at the time, to really be clear about who you are, which is by introduction, someone would know, “Oh, you’re Rape Victim Advocates, I clearly understand who you are and what you do.”
Conrardy: Yeah, just label us, because it needed to be labeled at that time. And now times have changed, that’s for sure.
How did you discuss the need to rebrand with your board?
You mentioned this a little bit, but how did you discuss the need to rebrand with your board? Did you get any hesitation, or pushback from members of the board who we’re worried about taking this path? How did those conversations look?
Walton: Well, I think that there’s always some hesitation about whether it was the thing to do, fully. Do we simply, because we also go by our acronym RVA, do we simply just continue to push the acronym, or do we do a full rebrand? So in the conversation with our board, they all knew that we were ready for something.
We decided to establish a task force to dive a little deeper into the subject matter, to learn more about what this whole conversation is about. Did our brand identity really connect with our mission and focus for the organization, and then to kind of close the gap, or to have the conversation about what closing the gap looks like. It started with us just kind of agreeing to say, before we make any firm commitments, let’s get a task force, or form a task force to do some of it, to ask some of the questions that need to be asked before you move forward with a full decision to rebrand.
Conrardy: Right, so smart. I definitely applaud that decision, and any organization, anyone who’s here today who’s thinking about going through a rebrand, an exploratory process with a task force, an internal task force, and possibly consultants too, is absolutely a first step that you should take if it’s at all possible. Don’t rush the process. If you have a name for 40-plus years, another couple of months to do the exploration and make sure that you’ve made the case, or not made the case. You might find out that you were wrong. So it is really, really critical, because this is a major change that will have implications for 40 plus years to come, and hopefully longer.
Take us behind the scenes of the rebrand. What did the process look like? What challenges did you face?
So, please take us behind the scenes a little more of the rebrand. What did the process look like? What challenges did you face? Take us into your shoes as executive director.
Walton: The process, as I alluded to, started with a task force. And what we did was make the decision to have members of the task force across our stakeholders. So we had one or two members from our board. One or two members from our staff, and one or two members from the broader community –– our partners who were invested in our organization.
That’s where the process started, with a group of people who are intentional about finding out whether we were ready, or needed a rebrand. And so the task force went about the business of assessing our reputation in the community, and it started for us with us creating a survey that we distributed to maybe 3,000 constituents.
My volunteers, our clients, our donors, our partners. We sent out a questionnaire, essentially not asking them about a rebrand, but asking them, “Who do you think we are? What is our reputation?” And giving them a series of options to choose from, so they came up with descriptive words. We asked them about our work.
From that, we learned a lot. The majority of which was that people only associated us with doing one thing, and that was that core work in the ER. They knew us to be advocates, medical and legal advocates for survivors that we met in the ER. And of course that’s the core of who we are, and that’s the foundation of our work, but as I mentioned earlier, we’re beyond that, and we want to continue to grow beyond that.
So that was one of the first things that we learned along the way. From there, one of our board members who was a member of that committee was also a marketing expert, so she kind of drove the conversation and the process from that point forward, and so once we had kind of the audience’s perspective of who we are, simultaneously, and we didn’t do this in a conscious way, but we were also developing our strategic plan, and so we knew, we had a three year forecast of where we wanted to be, and where we wanted to go.
The two just were not in sync with each other, where we wanted to go and what people knew of us were not consistent. And so we took that information back to the full board with the recommendation to rebrand, and they voted to do that, and then that’s when we were on the hunt for a partner to come with us in the process.
Conrardy: No small decision to make, right?
Walton: No small decision to make.
Conrardy: No small project to engage in either. So, it’s still going on?
Walton: Yeah, it took us just both that exploratory time, probably took us about six or seven months, just that. And then finding the right partner, and going through that RFP process took another two or three months. Then we actually started the rebrand itself. So, it was more than a year’s time.
Conrardy: I would say that’s pretty typical on other projects like this that we’ve experienced. And just a brief shout out to our partners at Substance Strategic Visual Communication. That’s the lead firm on this rebrand, we also worked on it. They were the masters of, and brought us into the project. That’s a time consuming component as well, finding the right firm to take you through the process. And Matt and his firm did a fabulous job, and we were lucky to get to work with them.
How did you choose the name Resilience? What does it do for your mission that RVA did not?
Walton: That’s a good question. So, let me back up a little bit, and say that Matt and his team at Substance started off with a word bank, or kind of a name bank, where maybe there were, I don’t know, 70 to 100 names. But we scaled down thinking about where it is, what our vision truly is for ourselves. We were able to scale down to about five names pretty quickly from that.
And so, to be frank, we initially started off with a different name. We chose a different name, and presented that name to our staff, and it did not go over well. And for all the right reasons, our staff are so committed and mission-driven, and passionate people, and they had all the right perspectives as to why the name was just not the right fit for us.
And we listened and they were right, which is my biggest takeaway, that we could have done in retrospect a better job of enfolding more staff perspective from the onset so that we would have had that voice at the table all along.
But we ultimately landed on Resilience because we felt like it spoke to the clients that we serve, but that’s really the message that we want to give them, that this is not, the process, having being sexually assaulted in any form is a very traumatic thing, and it alters the course of your life, there’s no doubt about it. But our role is to help them find that resilience within themselves to know that life can go on, and life can be good.
So the name itself, we want it to be an empowering name, so that instead of walking into an ER saying I’m from Rape Victim Advocates, and kind of meeting people at that place of this is the experience that you had, we really wanted to elevate that to say, this is where you’re gonna go. You’re resilient, and we’re going to help you own that, see that, and live through that experience.
Conrardy: So there’s a little more hope that comes from that conversation.
I was just sharing with Erin before we got on the line that we actually hadn’t spoken about this before, but my husband works in one of the ERs where Resilience is active, and he’s experienced them both before and after the new name, and I think he said something along the lines of, “When they walk in now, there’s just more of a lightness to the way that they present themselves in the room,” and I think there’s a lot to be said for that. When someone’s in a really difficult situation, to be able to come in with an air of, “Yes, this is difficult, it’s a challenge, but I’m here to help you,” and there’s some positivity in that, can change someone’s experience entirely.
Walton: Absolutely, absolutely. You’re the first point of contact, and the biggest impact towards their healing. And so to come in with such an empowering name as Resilience, in and of itself, it’s a big deal for those that we’re serving.
And not only does it kind of reflect the energy that we want survivors to have, but it also speaks to and honors the staff and the volunteers that do this work. Right? Because they have to be resilient over and over and over again, to do this work in such the impassioned way that they do. Some of them may have had their own experiences, so this could be a re-triggering experience every single time. But the name is a reminder for them as well, that we too are resilient.
Conrardy: Absolutely, and that continues throughout their whole journey. It’s really powerful.
Many of your team members are survivors. How did you get them on board with the idea that you needed to rebrand and with the new name that was selected?
You’ve spoken to this a little bit already, Erin, but I’d like to go a little bit deeper. So, many of your team members, or at least volunteers, are survivors. Or have personal experience with survivors. So there’s a personal undercurrent to this name change and the rebrand, and a lot of personal opinions in the mix.
You talked about with your task force, and the process of bringing the staff up to speed with why you were making the changes. But tell us a little bit more about the challenges you faced there. What might you suggest other organizations could do to mitigate some of those challenges –– although I’m sure there is never a rebrand that’s without staff challenge. It’s just part of it.
Walton: There’s always going to be some challenge. Ours was with staff, but others could be with board members, or other stakeholders as well, because change is hard, it’s a little uncomfortable for everybody. What I learned through the process is that for those staff or volunteers that have been with us over time, over an extended period time, really had an endearment to the name, and felt as though changing the name might have represented more change within the organization.
So, I think it was important for us to really make it clear to staff that our mission and vision, the core of who we are, was not changing. We’re still here to do this important work for survivors. We just want to do more, in that we want our name to be reflective and help open a door for us to do more. So a big part of it is the way you create the message for those that are involved.
Giving people the why behind it, not just this is what’s happening, but this is the why, this is the rationale, and this is what we’re hoping that it will help us do. Once you get people to understand that, buy-in is a little bit easier. And even if you don’t get initial buy-in, you do get understanding and appreciation. And then over time buy-in or acceptance happens.
It was a little difficult, because I think people had a misunderstanding as to why we were making the change, and felt as though we are advocates, we are on the ground fighting for the rights of survivors, and the souls of survivors, and our name is in your face and we want to keep it that way.
And I certainly understand and respect that perspective as well, but what we hadn’t done initially was really kind of create the real message about the need and the rationale for change.
Conrardy: And there were probably years of preconceived notions about why this might take place, and it’s hard to break some of that.
I agree that there’s a certain case to be made for having your mission be very straightforward in your name. But there’s also a case to be made for having a name that can evolve as your brand and your mission continue to expand and evolve. I think, to your point, if at least you can get, if not acceptance, understanding that there was a rationale, that this has been thought through, that there’s more than just one single-minded motivation for this. It makes a big difference.
Walton: To speak just a little bit further into that, we have two main initiatives. One is to empower survivors, and the other is to end sexual violence. That’s who we are, and our identity that we want to grow. And so to do that, there’s a lot of prevention education work, a lot of training that has to happen with professionals in this field, and beyond this field, and there’s a lot of public policy work and influence that we are here to do. Well, our previous name was not reflective of the direction of growth that we have for the organization, and so it was really important for us to connect those dots and for our staff and other stakeholders to say: this is the rationale why we need to do something different.
Conrardy: So helpful to hear that, and I hope that this is ringing true with others who are thinking about making some large changes, just about the similar challenges you are already facing or might begin to face.
And Erin, you mentioned kind of the two-pronged mission. That’s also the tagline now of the organization. So, you haven’t lost entirely within the brand, the descriptive nature of the brand. It’s just come into the tagline rather than the name, and given you a little bit more flexibility. And that’s a great strategy. If you’re making this transition from the very literal descriptive name to the more evocative name, having that tagline that is still really descriptive is helpful. It’s much easier to change the tagline down the road than your entire name.
Walton: Than your entire name, that’s right. And it helps us so much. First of all, it helps it just be succinct and descriptive of who you are and what you do. And then secondly, the term, the word Resilience, because it’s more provocative, you don’t really know what line of you’re doing, what industry you’re in, what it is … what service you’re providing.
And so that tag, as you just mentioned, kind of connects the dots for people, and gives a much easier way to describe who you are, and as you mentioned, if for some reason, which I don’t foresee at all, but if for some reason the core of who we are was to go in a different direction, eliminating that tag is so much easier and cheaper.
Conrardy: Yeah, exactly. And I don’t remember if you said this at some point, or if Matt did, or who, but one of you said Resilience raises the question. And then the tagline is the answer. It piques your curiosity, “What is this organization? I want to learn more. I’m intrigued by this name,” and then the tagline is right there to back it up.
What are the biggest changes you’ve noticed since you rolled out the new brand? Have new opportunities come your way?
So what else changed? Obviously your marketing materials, and your identity itself changed. But what else had to change as the result of the rebrand, the way that shows up in conversations, the way that your staff talked about the organization? Talk us through that.
Walton: A lot of things changed from the very tangible things. The website had to be updated, our marketing materials had to be updated. All of our branding on our presentations, and all of those more tactical pieces had to change.
We also had to have conversations with our staff to give them language about who we are and to be able to answer the questions like, “What does your logo mean? I don’t understand it, could you describe that,” and, “Why Resilience?” We had to give staff real language, so we could make things more comfortable for them, and ensure that there’s some cohesiveness as to how we’re all representing our organization.
We had to reach out to all of our partners, our hospitals, and our universities and schools to give them the same rationale. Basically, this is what’s happening, this is the why. But at our core was still the same organization, and we’re still just as a reliable partner in this work with you.
Some of those conversations had to happen over coffee, and some happened via email, or over phone. Some are still happening.
Conrardy: In your hospitals, for example, there are a lot of levels of conversations that need to happen. It might be your main point of contact that you facilitate or work with who understands, but does that then carry on to all healthcare providers, do they understand? Because all of those people theoretically are spokespeople for the organization in some shape or form. Right?
Walton: That’s right.
Conrardy: It’s a lot of work, making sure that this carries through, and then I’m sure it’s not over.
Walton: No, it’s not over. And I actually asked the question, I don’t know if it was of Matt or someone else to say, generally speaking, how long is this transition? And I was told about 18 months. Sometimes it’s less, sometimes perhaps it could be longer. But about 18 months is that sweet spot, to make sure that you’ve contacted everyone, and given yourselves an opportunity and time to be introduced under the name, and for it to flow as your name now versus the previous name you used. It’s about 18 months, and people should be prepared for that as well. It’s not that we switch over the website today and all of the sudden things are different.
Conrardy: Well, and I’m sure there’s some education with staff that needs to be done on that side of things as well, especially if there’s skepticism about your brand, it’s very easy to, in three months, point to lack of adoption, or confusion, and say, look, this isn’t working. But you’re only at the very beginning of an 18-plus month process of making sure that this brand really takes on.
Walton: That’s right. We have to share that with staff, because none of us really had a strong perspective as to what to expect and how long would it take. And people would say, “Well, people still call us RVA,” and I’m like, “Well, it’s only been two months.” You have to continuously change the narrative, and make the correction, and people will catch on, and now it really happens.
Conrardy: That’s good, because you’re not that far along. You’re how many months in?
Walton: It’s been about seven months.
Conrardy: So that’s pretty good, You’re ahead of the curve.
And did you do anything major as a flashy brand rollout that we might picture from a consumer brand, to make sure that there was splash when the new name was released, or did you quietly roll it out?
Walton: Somewhere in the middle. Ours was a little bit more quiet. Every spring, we have our major fundraiser. Last year we were really fortunate in this line of work to have Tarana Burke as our keynote speaker for our event. And for those of you who anything about the #MeToo movement, she was the founder of that movement
At our annual event, with her in tow, we did a soft roll out to that audience. We had about 350 of our donors and our partners there. We gave them a soft sell on it. That was in May, and it officially happened in August. Beyond that, we sent out a lot of emails to people who we knew were our key stakeholders, and did some stuff via social media. But I would consider all of those pretty low key.
Conrardy: I would say that you kind of mixed of all tactics that are typical of organizations that we work with. I think the big splashy, “we’ve rebranded!” and you’re seeing us literally everywhere, and there’s all this buzz about why we’ve rebranded, what you see in the consumer or corporate world is just not a sensible approach for many nonprofits. Of course there could be cases for it.
But with the sensitive nature of our brand, you do want to take things a little bit more slowly, a little bit more deliberately, and contact your stakeholders with the appropriate amount of information, in the right order, at the right time. It’s important to not be too in your face and aggressive about reacting all at once, to every audience.
Walton: That’s right. Even before we had officially made the change, I had those coffees and those lunches with some key partners to say, “This is what we’re thinking about. What do you think?”
Some of them had some concept of what we’re doing, because as I mentioned earlier, we didn’t send out a survey. So even though we didn’t say, we’re asking these questions because we’re considering a rebrand, some of the people did connect the dots and say, “Why are you asking this? What’s going on?”
But yeah, it was a softer rollout for us.
Conrardy: Thank you for sharing that.
What’s the one most important piece of advice you’d give to another leader considering a rebrand for their organization?
If you have to choose just one piece of advice. Another executive director is sitting in your seat back when you started this process, when you first came on to the organization. What was the one piece of wisdom that you would share with them to make their process as smooth and effective as possible?
Walton: Well, once you’ve gone through the process, and have made the decision that some form of rebrand is going to happen, I think my biggest point of advice would really be to engage your strongest stakeholders. For us, our strongest stakeholders are staff and volunteers. I will admit that we just did not do it right. If I had that to do over again we would have had a stronger representation of our staff in those initial conversations we would have brought them along throughout the entire ride.
Ultimately, things like this are a board decision, and they get the ultimate call. But we know that our volunteers and our staff are the most invested emotionally and literally, and so I think getting there, even if you don’t have their buy-in to get their appreciation for the process, their understanding of the process, and hear their voice somewhere on the way, is the most important thing.
Conrardy: What we’ve started doing with every rebrand that we manage at Prosper, and this is somewhat based on our learnings and working with Resilience and other organizations that have faced similar struggles, they’re not the only one, is we’ve begun to suggest a task force that includes staff from every sort of department, or level of the organization, because you want to make sure that you are really getting that representation of employee voices and also recognizing the role that they then play in taking what they’re hearing and learning in those sessions, and going back and being that voice that disseminates information to the organizations.
So that’s your level, is also really important. Right? Especially at a larger organization, you want to think about departments too, but having those advocates, even if they don’t necessarily 100 percent agree with the decisions that are being made, that they’re there, they hear the rationale, and they can be the voice that then goes and spreads it.
Walton: Absolutely, you want them to be the champions for you with the staff, and they’re your biggest allies in that. So you definitely, as you mentioned, even if initially they’re not super excited about change, you want them to be able to be descriptive with their peers about, this is a process, this has been comprehensive and inclusive, and let’s jump on board.
Conrardy: Hopefully everyone can learn a little something from that if you haven’t yet gone down this road fully but you’re considering it, think about the ways that you might engage your staff and really at every level and from every department.
What advice would you give to an organization that can’t or doesn’t want to go through a full rebrand but needs to bring their messaging into sync with their mission?
What advice can you give to an organization that can’t or does not want to go through a full rebrand, but needs to bring their messaging into sync with their mission? I think this relates a little bit to the question that one of our viewers asked, which I’ll come back to later. But she asked, “Does a rebrand always need to include a name change,” and the short answer is no, we’ve supported many rebrands that do not. But Erin, what would you say if you’ve decided that your name maybe works, but other aspects of your brand do not?
Walton: I think that’s a good question. I think the the biggest takeaway for me, or my biggest point of learning, was really around what our audience knew of us, and thought of us. What our identity was externally, and so even if you don’t do a full rebrand, to know how your stakeholders identify you, and then to be able to connect that, whether it’s through your strategic plan, or your own vision statement, to be able to connect that with who you think you are, is the biggest, most important part of the process.
And then, if a full rebrand is not the key for you, maybe it’s just around, alright, in order to close the gap, let’s have a marketing campaign where we’re really introducing people to the vision that we have of ourselves. Or let’s change our logo to be a little bit more interesting, or reflective of who we are. Or maybe it’s a tagline change, or maybe it’s an up-scaled website that has the right messaging, or there might be some other kind of marker. There are many ways in which to do it.
But the biggest opportunity to learn is to really ask your most invested stakeholders about what they know of you and what they think of you. And then I think the ideas will flow from there.
Conrardy: Right, it’s a gap analysis, potentially who are we, what do they think, who do they think we are, and where is the gap between those two things, and then your brand becomes that bridge between where you are and where they think you are. I totally agree with that. I think that’s really, really great advice from Erin, and to go back to our viewer’s question a little bit, definitely not, a rebrand does not need to include a name change. Erin mentioned some of the alternative kind of elements of a rebrand.
A really good example to look at, there are countless examples, but a good one to look at from our series is, on the last webinar, we had Kristine Brown from Big Brothers Big Sisters, and they just went through a rebrand that did not include a renaming. They have a lot of equity in their name, and it still aligned with their mission, it’s very much the core of what they do.
But they had a really major gaffe in that they were understood as an organization that requires relationships to last basically for a child’s entire childhood. That you were expected to be as involved as an actual big brother or sister in that person’s life, and they had a really major gaffe, and that was an understanding between women and men. They were attracting a lot more women into the organization, and they had a lot of boys who were having their need for a male mentor go unmet, because men were not attracted into the organization.
So, they went through a rebrand that made their logo, one, just modernized it a bit, they were kind of in that 70s purple logo with the star that everyone seems to have. They were in that era, so they modernized it.
And then behind the scenes, what went on, and will continue to play out, is that they completely revamped their messaging. And that’s something that we work on with organizations all the time. If they’re not going through a full rebrand, or even maybe not a logo change, or a materials revamp, it’s just a messaging revamp.
So, we’ll do a study of stakeholders, like you said, Erin, it could include talking to them in the most just natural and normal ways, or it could include more formal things like surveys and focus groups, but from those conversations then, we create sets of key messages that help the organization bridge that gap between how they’re understood and where they need to be.
So it doesn’t need to be as full scale as that full rebrand. It’s a challenge for sure for them, they have a lot of history, but an important time I think for them too to evolve. So, if anyone’s curious to learn more about that, go and check out the webinar from last month. She spoke just briefly, the rebrand was not the focus, but she spoke briefly about that and it would be insightful. And there’s many, many other organizations as well that have gone through that sort of rebrand.
Okay, so I think this is our last question here, before we transition to audience questions.
How do you think Resilience’s mission will continue to expand now that your new brand is in place?
How do you think Resilience’s mission will continue to expand, now that the new brand is in place and you have the freedom to move in some different directions unconstrained by the name?
Walton: Well, I don’t even know if I can really answer that question. I think having a name that really broadens our opportunities gives us a way to really think more about that. We’re actually in the process right now of taking a look at our literal mission statement, and to see how we might want to make it a little bit more compact, or succinct with our name change.
But I think the name itself just gives us broader opportunity. It doesn’t speak to one specific opportunity. So, if we were to want to expand our core services, or if we wanted to expand our target audience, or switch our target audience, I think our name allows us to do that with a lot more flexibility. And I’m not saying that any of that is underway, but if we wanted to even consider it, we have some flexibility to do that.
Conrardy: So what I’m hearing you say is it’s an open-mindedness to possibility that you didn’t have before, and even though you don’t know exactly where that will take you, you don’t feel as constrained or limited by this is the identity that we have to stick within, stay in your box and don’t try to go outside of it.
Walton: That’s right.
Conrardy: We are ready to get to audience Q&A here. So thank you Erin, so far, for all the great insights.
Audience Q&A with Erin Walton
On the task force, do you include internal or external stakeholders, or just current staff and volunteers?
Walton: We included external stakeholders too. So let me clarify that just a little bit. So our task force, I think we had about six people. We had two board members, two external stakeholders, and then we had staff, initially.
And so we did have the voice of staff at the table. We lost our representative from the staff for other reasons, she got pregnant, she had a baby. And yeah, exactly, life happens, and so we did not have the perspective to replace that voice. So we lost our staff perspective really early on in the process. And in retrospect that was the biggest, unfortunate mistake I would say.
But yes, but we did exclude external partners. We had on a donor, and we had a partner.
Conrardy: And that’s a best practice I would say. We are working on a couple of these rebrands right now where we have about an equal number of external and internal stakeholders involved in our task force, but we are involving them in slightly different ways. There’s parts of the conversations leading up to the rebrand that really are appropriate to happen internally, and parts that are only appropriate to happen externally, and then there are areas where we’re bringing everyone together for conversation.
And those areas where they’re brought together are really critical. You’ve got to have everyone in the same room, but I think you also want to feel the freedom to talk to your external partners. In their case, they have some funders and sponsors, as well as some other external stakeholders. They want to talk to them separately. Right? And get some insights from them that the entire staff isn’t hearing and some members of the committee.
Did you see any difficulties in long-time supporters and stakeholders breaking the habit of using your old name versus your new one?
So not necessarily getting onboard with the idea, but actually remembering to use the name. And this viewer says, “We’ve had that problem since we rebranded three-plus years ago,” so they’re outside of 18 month window. Any advice would be helpful.
Walton: Well, I don’t know if I have advice per se, but to say, yes, we have experienced that. I think it’s natural. Short order is just to kind of make the correction to people and identify your brand as often as you can. So if you know that you’re going to meet a client or if you’re going to see some stakeholders at a function externally, maybe a little pin with your new name on it that you can wear on your lapel or your shirt can help. Something that just continues to put your new name in people’s face in a soft sell kind of way.
And continue your messaging. So with your social media and your website, continue to maybe bring up this is a three year anniversary for us and we’re so excited, we continue to be excited, and maybe give people reminders of the rationale for the change.
All you can really do is continue to be in people’s faces about it, but you don’t want to browbeat people. I think you do want to continue to ensure that it’s catching on.
Conrardy: I’ve seen some organizations do funny things that I don’t think should come from leadership, but funny things among staff where they’ve created competitions to remind each other to not use the old name, and when they do those competitions, you have to buy me ice cream, or you’re getting the next drink at happy hour, that it should come from staff, not from the highest level of the organization, that can be effective, but only internally. Externally is a whole other story.
Have you lost any board members or stakeholders following the rebrand?
Walton: Our board members were completely on board with the process, so we did not lose any board members. We quite honestly, did have some external partners and stakeholders that said, “I don’t really like the fact that you’ve changed your name.” We didn’t lose their support, or their partnership, but they were vocal enough, and felt comfortable enough to share that truth with us, and that’s okay.
For those that shared it with me, I simply said, “I appreciate that, and I hope you understand that we’re still the same organization. We still have the same expectation for excellence, and we continue to rely on your support,” and just kind of switched it around that way. We had a couple of staff that similarly weren’t in love with the name, but they eventually kind of got on board with that. We anticipated one or two people to not really want to continue it, and that’s okay.
Conrardy: Yeah, you would have to know that there might be some attrition somewhere as a result of change. Change is challenging and there is never a 100% positive reception, so don’t set that standard for yourself.
We need a serious look at our brand. I would just like to know where to start.
I’ll actually point back with something that Erin said. I would start with a analysis in some shape or form of your stakeholders. So, that can be informal conversations. Better yet, you would conduct some sort survey or focus groups or research to understand how do they perceive you, what do they know of the organization, what are they missing about what you do, and what matters, just to get that insight about how you’re showing up in the world outside of the organization.
At the same time I would consider doing interviews with staff and board members about their perceptions of the brand, the organization, and an audit of your current marketing materials. So that’s something that we do frequently at the beginning of these sorts of engagements. We lead those types of research, and surveys, and focus groups, but we also do a full-scale audit of marketing materials.
And it can be really insightful to get an outside eye on all of your marketing and communications, and have someone else point out serious areas where your inconsistent: here’s your areas where you’re harming yourself because you’re talking about what you do in different ways, and it’s clear that either your idea of what your brand stands for has evolved, but the brand hasn’t caught up, or you were not clear on your key messages.
So those types of audits are really, really useful, and I think from there you’ll get some insights about what needs to happen next. Really, if you feel that you need to take a serious look at your brand, that’s because of some pain point or problem. So you want to go into that sort of research with a hypothesis about what the problem is, and see if you can either prove or disprove the hypothesis, and then decide what to do from there.
And your vision and mission are part of your brand certainly, but they’re deeper than that, they’re strategic touch points for your organization, and if you don’t have your vision and mission as clear, solid statements and guiding principles that you really, truly feel the organization can live by, your brand and your marketing can’t help with that. Certainly, communication consultants can help you strengthen the language you use in your vision and mission, but you have to have that strategy and that vision for the organization straight before you go on to this work.
Hopefully that was helpful, Erin. Anything to add there? You spoke to it a little already.
Walton: I completely agree with everything that you said. Even though it’s a slightly separate conversation, I do think that if you haven’t done a strategic plan recently, I would almost recommend starting there first before you even look at your brand to know where it is you’re trying to go. And part of that strategic planning process, you probably are taking a look at, maybe not necessarily the mission statement, but the mission itself: What is our mission? What is our vision? And where do we see ourselves moving?
And then, after you kinda make that concrete decision, then you can do that assessment with your stakeholders to see what it is they know and think about you, and identify that gap.
Conrardy: Totally agree with that, absolutely, and you’ll see, if any of you attend future webinars, I think commitment number five talks about the importance of aligning your marketing strategy with your strategic plan. And that’s absolutely essential. Your marketing and communications should be a direct outgrowth of a very solid strategic plan and clear vision for the organization.
Those plans should either be developed in sync with one another, or the marketing plan should come as a result of the strategic plan, and your brand is part of the marketing plan, really. So you want to think about that relationship and not try to fix a brand if the true problem is a strategic problem and a mission problem.
Can you give some examples of some of the questions that you had on your survey?
Walton: One question we asked was simply about how would you define us. And we had a list, how would you describe us. And we had a list of adjectives, like are we sympathetic? Are we forward-thinking?
So we had these questions around how would you describe us, and we actually gave people options, versus just leaving it as a open-ended question. We literally said, “What services do we provide?” And people even got that wrong, because we had multiple services, and some people might check off one or two, but we had more. And so we even asked people that question. “What do you know about our services?”
We asked people, “Would you recommend our services? Why or why not?” Because that also speaks to the reputation that you have in the community. “Do you consider us a leader, the leader, or … ” and I think it was another option, ” … in this work.”
So, those are some that pop to mind. But it was a pretty brief survey, because you don’t want people to get taxed completing it. I would say we probably had six or seven questions.
Conrardy: That’s about right. You don’t want more than that. And there’s so many different ways to go about the questions. I think you really want to come back to this idea of: What’s your challenge? What do you perceive as a challenge, or the reason that you’re exploring this? What’s your hypothesis about what you want to do, and then what questions do you need to ask and have answered to prove or disprove that hypothesis?
And sometimes, Erin was lucky in that her board was on board, so to speak, with this possibility of change from the beginning, but that’s not always the case. You might be fighting an uphill battle with your board. So some of your survey approach maybe focused on what do we need to do to make the board feel comfortable, or help the board feel comfortable.
If we’ve already proven out that this needs to happen through other methods, through interviews, through conversations, what can we do in our survey to just have that hard data, that gives some board members that little bit of extra bit of confidence.
Do you have a chair of the task force? And if not, who was the designated task force leader?”
Walton: We had two. We had a chair and a co-chair. They were both members of our board, but it just happened to be that way. We were open. Other people just didn’t want to assume that responsibility. So they were the most invested as board members, and so they assumed those two roles. But yes, we did have a chair and a co-chair.
Conrardy: And importantly, it wasn’t you.
Conrardy: Some executive directors think it should be them.
Walton: No, no, no. You’ve got enough to do.
Conrardy: Yes, absolutely. Enough to do, and I think you also run the risk of more problems than good coming out of that with your staff.
How do we keep our social media platform up to date with our rebranding process?
I will try to answer that. But Erin, I’d like for you to speak to your experience with that if you know what you all did to make sure that your visuals and language on social were going live at the same time as the website and kind of syncing everything up.
Walton: Well we did some pre-trial testing with our social media platforms, because we wanted to make sure that on the day that we officially went live –– we named a date, August 1 as our official rebrand date –– we were ready. On social media, the week or two ahead, we had some messaging around great news is coming and things are changing for our organization, stay tuned, August 1. We kinda prompted people that way. But we also ensured on the backend that the social media visuals were all in synced with our rebranding visuals.
Conrardy: I think what Erin said is what we’ve experienced too. You have your assets ready to go, and you have a planned date at which you’re going to switch things over, and then you’re making the switch in sync with your website, your social, etc. You think about the digital properties first because that’s the most readily available. And then you want to have your marketing materials ready at the same time.
But I’ll also tell you, I think people are understanding if there’s a little bit of a lag time and not everything’s perfect at the exact same moment. It’s more a process.
Walton: It’s bigger to you than it is to other people, so no one is glued to their computer saying, “Wait a minute, their rebrand is today, and their logo isn’t up yet,” like no one is doing that except you.
Conrardy: It’s so true, it’s so true. And no one has like four tabs open, one with your Twitter, one with your Facebook, and one with your website saying these don’t match up. You certainly don’t want to be a month in and not have them match up, but it’s okay if there’s a little bit of lag time.
In terms of kind of priming your social media audience for the rebrand, I’m not sure if that’s also a little bit of what’s in your question here, but I do think there are some things you can do to tease that something big is coming, and tell the story that won’t be able to be fully completed until you launch the new brand, but how your organization has evolved. Because usually an evolution in your mission is part of the motivator for a rebrand.
So start to tell that story, chart the course, and then your announcement of the rebrand on social media can be the turning dime in that story. Because then you’re going to show how the brand continues to evolve. So I suggest you do some build up so that it doesn’t come out of nowhere.
Do you worry your name was not specific enough to share your mission? Were donations impacted?
Walton: I was not worried. I think there may have been some other key stakeholders, maybe on our staff, or even on our board, that felt as though the name should be a little bit more descriptive. But those people that had some concerns were easily brought along, in part because our tagline was so descriptive.
So, in our actual logo itself, when you see our name, you see our tagline attached to it, and in most of our prep materials and digital materials you do the same. I think that addressed some of the concerns of other people. As long as we had the messaging right, attached to it, because your name, if it’s not as clear to someone, what you do, people are gonna ask that first question: “Well, what do you do?” As long as you have a succinct way of being able to answer that question, and everybody is on the same page and feel comfortable with what that message is, then I don’t think you’ll have any major concerns.
And I don’t think we lost any donations. That’s always hard to tell, but our recidivism with donations this past year were consistent with what they’ve been in the past. But we also have a lot of new donors too. And so what exactly is that attributable to, I think our name is part of that process, because certainly with the work that we do and the time in our culture, all of that played musically together.
Conrardy: I think at some point you have to go scared, as they say, into this process, knowing that you might experience in some area of your organization a negative impact, at least temporarily, whether that’s donations, it’s staff, there’s some different areas that can be positively or negatively impacted.
But if you’ve done the research, and you’ve done the work, and you’ve gone through this process in the appropriate way, you should have a fair amount of confidence that overall, for the long-term future of your organization, you’re making the right decision even if you have a momentary dip in donations or anything like that.
Walton: I think that’s important to go into that knowing that not everybody is going to be fully in support and there might be some dips, but I think those dips are probably short-lived, as long as you really have the data, and the perspective to know that this was the right decision.
Conrardy: And you have to have your eye on the future, and sometimes there may be a year of losses for a future of much bigger gains.
How does rebranding change when there are multiple organizations connected through an umbrella group with similar names and different geographies?
The short answer to that question is it becomes much, much more complex and challenging. So, we’ve supported a couple of rebrands for umbrella organizations with other brands below them and the most common approach is to get the umbrella organizations’ brands straight from the start, and make sure that that takes priority before then, moving on to a focus on the organizations under the umbrella.
But that’s not always the correct strategy. Sometimes the umbrella group wants to take more of a backseat approach or more of a silent approach to the overall organization’s brand structure and identity, and they want the individuals under the umbrella group to really have that more major seat at the table. So, it’s very much dependent on your goals, and here we would point back to your strategic plan for the umbrella organization and the groups below it, and figure out what the appropriate approach is based on where the organization’s looking to grow and how.
But ultimately there needs to be some uniting elements between the umbrella and the organizations underneath it. There needs to be some sort of visual marker, or language marker that helps you see that there’s some sort of commonality or relationship between these organizations or what was the point of having an umbrella brand? Right? Might as well just have it be a silent partner.
So, I would say umbrella branding situations almost always require the expertise of a firm, and I’m not just biased saying that I hope. I really do think it’s complex enough to require a firm. Hope that answers the question.
We’re having that issue with our branding, too. We work for an umbrella organization, and we want our members to carry our brand with them.
This is a challenge that we faced before. We’re talking to one organization right now that is an umbrella brand, and they are working on their own brand strategy that they’re facing a lot of pushback from their subsidiary, so to speak, because they’re worried that the umbrella brand is going to begin to overshadow their own brands. There’s a lot of fear there, and lack of support, and there’s a lot of education that will need to be done before we can really be effective with the umbrella rebrand.
Ultimately, the message with them is that the rebrand of the umbrella group is intended to make all the organizations stronger, the other organizations under the umbrella will maintain their current identities, but the tag that’s associates them back with the umbrella group will be changing a little bit. And ultimately the hope is that they’ll get more resources as a result of that.
How do products in those brands impact the main brand? Sometimes I feel in the nonprofit world, product brands are things people go to because it’s easier to get funding for, something that seemingly stands alone and is new. But sometimes I feel it competes with our main branding.
This is really common. Product brand is one way to talk about it. I think there’s also a really common way to put it, which is either service or facility brands. We work with an organization that’s a senior services organization. They have extremely well-known facility brands, but the organization brand is not as well-known. It is easier for them to get support for those facilities.
We’ve experienced the same with specific services that are branded in their own way. It’s easier because they have brand equity, not necessarily because their brands are more colorful and more understandable than the parent brand, but because that was the brand strategy that the organization maybe inadvertently took from the beginning.
We encourage you all to continue building toward your own marketing revolution.
You can catch the rest of the webinars in our series alongside those have been recorded already, and the ones that are upcoming, in the link here. Our next is going to focus on commitment number three, which says that “we’ll communicate with consistency internally, and build cohesion externally.” So, that’s really about getting everyone on your staff onboard, on the same page about your messaging. That webinar will feature Valentina Parissi of the Great Books Foundation, and it’s going to be a good one.
And of course, if you haven’t already, we’ll just remind you to download our Manifesto, distribute it to everyone you can at your organization.