Rebranding a nonprofit that has outgrown its identity [case study]
For 25 years, the name “Illinois Maternal and Child Health Coalition” was right for our organization and its founding mission. But by 2012 we had a new executive director, new programs and an expanded vision. It was clear that the organization was growing beyond the confines of its existing brand. Our board and staff collaborated for almost two years to identify a new name and identity that describes our organization as it is and as we envision it will become.
Practical challenges of rebranding
Staff, board and supporters all struggled with our existing name. “The Illinois Maternal and Child Health Coalition” was such a mouthful that few people ever said it correctly. We confused supporters with a patchwork of individual brands for the different projects within the organization. Our logo featured a mother and child, which explicitly excluded several of our new target audiences such as teenagers and men.
Years ago, our organization tried to find a new name and that campaign failed. We kept this past failure in mind and proceeded with an added layer of mindfulness. This rebranding campaign had to succeed.
We faced two significant challenges: resistance from stakeholders and limited resources. Founding board members and long-time supporters advocated for preserving our core values of collaboration and community… and some expressed concern over potential problems with a new name. We were also worried that our rebranding campaign would require more time and money that what we had available.
A step-by-step rebranding process
(We didn’t find much information about the nuts and bolts of nonprofit rebranding campaigns, which is why I’m sharing all the details of our experience with you!)
Here’s what we did and why it was important:
|Rebranding step||Why it was important|
|Formed a marketing committee that included both staff and board members||Saved staff time and created brand champions by having staff members be ambassadors to the board|
|Reached out to other nonprofit organizations who had successfully rebranded and asked for their advice||Identified a few of the best practices that you see listed here|
|Held a joint board/staff retreat and discussed vision, mission and brand||Created the shared goals of our rebranding campaign|
|Collected feedback from stakeholders via surveys, focus groups and individual conversations (over 100 responses)||Identified core values that our community wanted to preserve (core values also helped influence ideas for potential names)|
|Reviewed the rebranding campaign at every board meeting||Reassured all board members that rebranding campaign was implemented strategically and intentionally|
|Sought board feedback and approval at significant milestones||Guaranteed that final name selection would reflect the organization’s values and be embraced by all stakeholders|
|Hired a facilitator for significant discussions in the final six months||A modest investment that helped us push through critical conversations with board and staff|
|Brainstormed names in person, via email, over lunch, in the shower, at the grocery store...||Created investment in both staff and board. As we neared our deadline, everyone helped generate name options (within the guidelines of our core values)|
|Researched potential trademark conflicts for finalists||Saved us legal headaches down the road. Our health-related mission meant that many of our favorite potential names were already trademarked or established. We worked with a pro bono trademark attorney to identify which of our finalists were viable options.|
|Staff and board voted for their preferred finalist||Gave all staff and board a voice in the final decision|
|Final name decision was made by Executive Director, staff, and Marketing Committee, and approved by unanimous vote of the board||Blessed the new name with board approval and gave board an opportunity to reflect on a long campaign|
Once we had a new name we:
|Rebranding step||Consideration, observation or lesson|
|Passed a board resolution documenting the name change||This was the domino that set off all the other legal and financial paperwork.|
|Updated the organization’s bank accounts||For the first few months, donors continued to write checks to the “old” name.|
|Hired a designer to create a new identity, including a new logo, new color palette and new collateral||It was important for us to reveal the new name at the same time as the new identity.|
|Requested an updated determination letter from the IRS||Tip: Start this process as soon as you can!|
|Created new everything: signage, domain, social media accounts, business cards, brochures, voicemail messages||Tip: This process will take longer than you expect.|
|Revealed the new name at annual celebration||Our Executive Director did an incredible job explaining the reason for the change and the values behind the identity.|
|Gave away notepads with new logo to attendees at annual celebration||This idea from the staff generated excitement among supporters.|
|Created a version of the new logo that includes a reference to our old name||For the last year, we’ve used a new logo that includes a note about our former name. It helps previous stakeholders recognize us.|
Rebranding lessons learned
If you’re considering a rebranding campaign for your organization, I recommend you include these components which we found helpful:
Listen more than you talk
Pay attention to what staff, board, supporters are saying when they talk about the “old” name, the “new” name and your organization. Look for the values that connect your many target audiences. Use those values to guide your new brand.
Have too many conversations
Sometimes I felt like we were rehashing the same rebranding conversation at our board meetings. Looking back, I realize that what I called “rehashing” is also known as “building support.”
Include time for reflection
We sought board feedback at every board meeting and that opportunity proved useful at several steps. For example, seasoned board members requested that we pursue additional feedback from specific stakeholders.
Set a firm timeline
We started the campaign with a goal of announcing the new name at our 25th anniversary fundraiser. The firm fundraiser date guaranteed that our campaign launched on time!
Generate ideas as a group
In those last few weeks, as we approached our looming deadline, everyone contributed ideas for the new name: staff, board, consultants, spouses, friends, even our trademark lawyers. Looking back, I realize that as we contributed ideas, we were also each becoming more and more invested in the final name. By the time we found “our” name, we were all on board.
A few additional lessons learned; if I was rebranding our organization again, I would:
- Build in more time between choosing the new name and the launch event
- Document ongoing decision-making to help avoid repetitive conversations
- Reach out to a trademark expert early in the process
A year after we announced our new name, we are still implementing! One significant source of delay was a long wait to receive vital administrative paperwork. A new website is the final remaining component (and one of the biggest).
Results: a new brand, warmly welcomed
“EverThrive Illinois” has been welcomed warmly by our community. At our recent staff and board retreat in July, everyone instinctively introduced themselves using our new name and there was no mention of our old patchwork of confusing program brands. Most important, the new name fits our growing, ambitious organization.