Don’t Make This Mistake: A Branding Cautionary Tale

We’ve all seen it. A company seeking to change their image decides to rebrand their offering, maybe change their logo, or perhaps they even go for a total name change. But does it work?

When nonprofits refresh their offer, it can invigorate their target audience. In our company's work I’ve seen first-hand that offer variety lowers donor fatigue and improves retention. You also get insights into what donors really like. But what happens when an organization does a full re-brand and changes their name?

What Not to do: a Case Study

At Focused, we love to innovate—especially when it comes to offer development. Because of this skill set, we are often approached by organizations that want unique solutions to better retain their donors and improve response. So we dig deep into their data—we analyze what’s working, and tailor specific solutions for what isn’t.

A rescue mission approached us for help funding a women’s rehabilitation center. They had been focusing heavily on their meal offer in communications with donors, and this was the first time they would be asking donors to contribute to the women’s program. The campaign kicked off, and results were exceeding projections. For four months, average gifts were increasing, retention was strong, reactivation was improving, and our client was thrilled. Then came the announcement to us from our client that they would be changing their name and launching a re-brand.

Uh oh.

What’s the Problem?

Our client was passionate about focusing on long-term recovery. They felt that the rescue mission brand was generally synonymous with “soup kitchen,” and they wanted to communicate to donors that they offered so much more. A community member with a branding consultancy approached them, and a re-brand was born.

Fundraising revenue immediately fell off a cliff.

We found truth in the adage You can’t spend enough money to communicate a name change. Our client put ads on the radio, on billboards, and a year later, donors were still confused. “I didn’t know you changed your name,” they’d say. “I just thought you had stopped communicating to me.” In the current climate, an email or letter in the mailbox with an unfamiliar logo just won’t get opened. We had to spend a lot of time and money on educating people about the name change and why it was happening, instead of spending that same time and money on raising revenue to help the people who needed it. It comes down to stewardship. It’s ok to do a brand refresh, but there’s no need for you to change your name.

It’s one of my biggest regrets that I didn’t fight the rebrand aggressively early on. There’s always someone in the for-profit community who gets a nonprofit organization really starry-eyed about their expertise, but they don’t have experience in the nonprofit world.  I second-guessed myself because of the branding agency’s credentials, but I learned a hard lesson: there’s always someone in the for-profit sector who touts their expertise in the for-profit world and thinks the same success will apply to nonprofits. The results just don’t carry over.

What’s the Takeaway?

First, you can’t effectively communicate a name change through direct mail. It’s amazing how much time and money it takes to build a brand and increase recognition. If you’re one of the 20 largest nonprofit organizations in the nation, you can afford to do brand work. Everyone else really can’t afford a brand campaign because your brand is the work you are doing, your contribution to making the world a better place.

Additionally, although some organizations might not always like the association, people know what a rescue mission is. If you turn your back on 100 years of equity, you don’t benefit from all of the positive associations people have for the great work rescue missions have done in the past. Removing the rescue mission image, as our client did—may only serve to confuse and alienate your most loyal donor base.

In his book, The Fundraiser’s Guide to Irresistible Communications, Jeff Brooks discusses the effect of changing your brand or your name in fundraising. He found that changing your brand doesn’t have a negative or positive effect on fundraising, but a name change can hurt you up to 35%. Unfortunately, we found that to be true for our client.

When Should you Re-brand?

If there’s an irreparable scandal within an organization, a full rebrand and name-change may create the distance needed to rebuild the reputation. It communicates to the donors that the name is tarnished, and that you’re trying to distance yourself from that brand recognition. This can also create an unintentional assumption when you change your name withoutscandal as a catalyst…people may automatically think your rebrand means there’s been an issue within the organization.

We Can Help

A full re-brand likely won’t solve your problems, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t innovate. Nonprofit communication shouldn’t be trendy, it should be based on some proven principles. That means innovation should come from an organization’s results and work, proving your effectiveness to your target audience. For your innovation to be truly successful it needs to be based on something that comes from the inside—not a fresh coat of paint on the outside.

If your organization is considering a re-brand or name change, I suggest a focus on donor retention instead. Rather than potentially alienating or confusing your donor base, figure out why they have stopped giving to you. Hard data analysis can give you these answers, and we can help!

Brian TuckerComment