10 steps to modernize (and wreck) your nonprofit brand

Somebody thinks that all of your organization’s revenue dreams would come true if you’d just re-brand and make your organization look cooler, more modern, more on top of the latest trends.

That somebody could be the intern, or your board president — or anyone in between. Maybe almost everyone in between.

I get it. A branding magic wand that solves all problems and instantly moves you from point A to point Z without all those tiring steps in the middle would be nice. More than nice; urgently needed!

But, despite claims to the contrary, there are no magic wands for nonprofits. Worse than that, the branding magic wands either do nothing at all, or they are full of evil magic that sends you in the wrong direction, leaving your organization with a shrunken donor file, diminished revenue, and a demoralized staff who are looking for other jobs.

Why am I so cynical about this?

Experience. I’ve watched it happen. Many times.

And I’m not the only one.

Many others have watched the branding magic wand do its evil magic. Including Mark Phillips of Bluefrog Fundraising, who recently posted this wonderful list on LinkedIn: How to modernise a charity brand.

I present here, lightly edited for space, but I recommend you check out the full post. There are many hilarious comments.

  1. First hire a new Head of Comms. This is essential because the old Head of Comms will be too emotionally connected to the old brand to produce anything ‘groundbreaking’.
  2. Change all your distinctive brand assets. Ideally your name, but definitely your logo.
  3. The way to change your logo is to discard any ‘recognisable’ elements that anchors your brand to the past.
  4. Don’t make the mistake of doing market research, as this will only mislead you into orienting your brand towards what donors value, rather than what commercial industry fashions dictate.
  5. Similarly, avoid the trap of doing anything that might be considered ‘traditional’. You’ll never modernise your brand by focusing on factors that old people like.
  6. You will definitely need a new creative agency. Put together a shortlist of at least 10 agencies. The key criteria should be awards won for work that has nothing to do with fundraising.
  7. When appointed, work with your new creative agency in absolute secrecy. Hide everything from the fundraising team.
  8. Only when you are ready, present the work internally. Threaten to dismiss anyone who breathes a word about the new brand before the public launch date.
  9. When income falls blame the ‘recession’ or a scandal at another charity in a completely different sector from a few years ago.
  10. Return to step 1 and repeat.

Tomorrow: a narrative of this process in action.


Comments

2 responses to “10 steps to modernize (and wreck) your nonprofit brand”

  1. And now I’m having flashbacks.
    This was attempted at our organization a few years ago. In nearly identical fashion.
    Steps 7 and 8 are especially triggering.
    Fortunately a very large ‘sledgehammer’ was used to squash that bug. The effort died a very quick and well-deserved death.

  2. There is a time and a place for everything, and this post disregards the fact that many nonprofits desperately need rebranding. Having successfully led many organizations through the process, and having witnessed how it transformed their ability to convey their mission and message, raise critically needed funds, and attract people (board members, volunteers, program participants, donors, staff etc.) that previously didn’t understand what the organization did or why they should care, was satisfying and remarkable. Rebranding done right can be a magic wand. It doesn’t mean that every organization needs to rebrand, but to ignore the fact that some do, does a disservice to the sector.

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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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About the blogger

Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.