3 Guidelines for a Nonprofit Rebrand

by Sara Veltkamp


One of the most challenging projects we undertake at Minerva Strategies is rebranding an organization. Despite this challenge, or maybe because of it, rebrands are also a lot of fun. Change is difficult, but it’s refreshing; rebrands force organizations to stop and assess who they are, who they want to be, and how well these two things match up.


We recently worked with the Seattle-based organization formerly known as Literacy Bridge, and helped them through this process. Literacy Bridge started with the idea of using their proprietary audio technology – the Talking Book – to help people gain literacy in remote locations. However, as the organization tested this idea in the field, they found that their product was better suited to sharing knowledge about key topics like agriculture and health practices.  In short, their name and brand reference to literacy did not match the work they do.


So they made a change. We’re excited to announce that Literacy Bridge is now Amplio, an organization that strives to share knowledge through audio technology with people living in remote, rural areas. Amplio launched their new brand at this year’s Global Washington Conference – a gathering of Washington-based nonprofits, businesses, and academic institutions working in global health and development – during a fast-pitch-style talk. Attendees were then asked to vote on their favorite pitch of the day, and Amplio won the most votes!


While change can be challenging, rebranding does not have to be painful. To avoid some of the common pitfalls, here are three guidelines to keep in mind.


1. Assess the situation. First, back up: Is a rebrand the solution to your communication issues? Many organizations jump into a rebrand thinking that it will provide energy or a fresh perspective, when they really need something different, like more consistent messaging around their existing brand, a more focused fundraising strategy, or a clearer strategic plan.


With Amplio, our first step was to talk to many stakeholders – staff, donors, partners – to determine whether a rebrand would be beneficial to the organization. Our discussions with these stakeholders showed a nearly unanimous desire for a new brand. Not only that, but several people mentioned the existing name is a barrier to understanding the organization’s core mission, an issue that could lead to missed opportunities for additional partners and funding.


2. Align partners. This is a two-part guideline. First organizations must choose the right people, both internally and externally, to spearhead the branding project. These people must be decision-makers in the organization, or empowered to make decisions. Secondly, everyone involved in the project needs to be aligned on what to expect.


With Amplio, we worked with our frequent design and web development partner Eat.Sleep.Work. ESW understands the rhythms of nonprofit organizations in a way that many other design and web firms do not, and they work with us to provide our clients high-value products. Internally, we worked directly with the executive director of Amplio and the communications staff member to ensure that decisions made during our working sessions carried weight. This executive-level buy-in was key to a successful outcome.


Once we got the team in a room together, we worked hard to ensure that everyone knew what they were in for. We were clear that the rebrand process is subjective. It is difficult to choose a name and visual identity that everyone likes, or that will resonate with every audience. On top of that, many times the most liked, or universally appealing brand is not the one that will be the most effective if the organization is targeting a niche audience


We were also very clear that rebranding is time consuming. While Minerva Strategies is here to facilitate ideas, much of the fodder for these ideas needs to come from the people who know the organization best. Rebrands do not happen with consultants operating in a vacuum. It’s a messy, creative process of throwing around what could work and seeing if it sticks. Minerva does our best to organize that process, but we encourage clients to be prepared for how much input they will need to make.


3. Adjust. Flexibility is essential. Nonprofit organizations are often building the track as the train moves forward, so things change frequently. All partners need to be able and willing to shift, regroup, and move forward under new conditions at any time. This is true for all nonprofit work, but with a process that involves as much change as rebranding, it’s even more crucial.


The Amplio name and brand were the products of several rounds of brainstorming, designs, trademark research, and then repeating the process. Both Minerva Strategies and the Amplio team did several rounds of testing with various logo and name ideas until we found one that resonated.


I hope these guidelines do not talk you out of a rebrand. Like many things that are challenging, rebrands can be enormously valuable. In the right frame of mind, with everyone knowing what to expect, they can even be fun.