Photo by Clark Van Der Beken on Unsplash
5 min Read
December 21, 2021

Give old messaging new life with brand strategy

Is your nonprofit’s messaging feeling outdated, off, or perhaps a bit funky?

“Funky” as in it could use a little airing out or a refresh, rather than it’s out on the town bustin’ loose on the dance floor. There are many signs of funky or stale messaging.

Do you find yourself updating your nonprofit’s boilerplate every time you use it? Have you heard feedback that your mission statement doesn’t make sense? Has your nonprofit grown or changed a lot in the years since the messaging was created? Have you noticed language in your messaging platform that feels outdated or not inclusive to those closest to your work?

It may be time for a refresh.

What’s a messaging refresh?

A messaging refresh involves gathering key written materials—the vision and mission statements, boilerplate, elevator pitch, and any other organizational messaging—and editing where necessary.

Refreshing messaging is a good way to build on elements that are working well, to maintain accuracy, and to ensure your organization’s voice reflects the right feelings and ideas. Unlike a visual refresh, it’s also a bit easier to refresh and roll out new messages. All it can take is updating website copy, templates, and the brand guide, then letting everyone know what was changed and how to use it.

So, say you’ve gathered all the important pieces of your nonprofit’s messaging platform and have already updated the hard facts (e.g., numbers, dates, impact statistics, etc.). Now it’s time to rejuvenate some of that stale language with brand strategy.

What’s brand strategy?

There are many different models for brand strategy. It can look like a brand promise, a value proposition, or manifesto-type language. Big Duck approaches brand strategy in two parts: positioning and personality.

Positioning is a single sentence that expresses the big ideas your nonprofit hopes to establish in the minds of its audiences. Personality is a collection of 4-6 adjectives that direct your organization’s tone and style.

We wrote a free ebook about brand strategy that defines positioning and personality, and includes real-life examples. If you’re more of a visual or auditory learner, we recommend checking out a webinar Sarah Durham, Big Duck’s founder, presented on developing and using your nonprofit’s brand strategy.

The purpose of brand strategy is to ensure all of a nonprofit’s communications, including messaging and visuals, feel cohesive and unified. We’ve written before about ways to apply brand strategy to visuals, but let’s hone in on messaging.

How do you use brand strategy?

Brand strategy is your internal tool to guide what words and ideas should change—and which are fine to stay—in your external messaging platform. Having this yardstick is important. Without one, the process of refreshing your messaging could turn into a free-for-all. You want to make sure that there’s a smart reason behind the edits, rather than just making changes for change’s sake.

Take your positioning statement and personality words and ask yourself questions like:

  • Does our messaging evoke the big idea(s) in our positioning?
  • Is this word on-personality?
  • How can this piece better reinforce how we’d like our audiences to perceive us?

Use the answers to these questions to guide your editing process. There may be some parts of your messaging platform that are on-brand strategy as is and others that may need a little more attention.

For example, say your nonprofit’s personality words include inclusive and dynamic. It could be that the way your vision is expressed already exudes dynamism, but you noticed that the boilerplate feels passive and contains some outdated, dehumanizing language. Your messaging refresh could look like turning those passive sentences into active ones and updating the language to honor people’s dignity and humanity.

But enough hypotheticals. Here’s a real example.

What does a messaging refresh look like?

The Center for Constitutional Rights partnered with Big Duck for a rebrand. At the start of that process we developed their brand strategy, which we used as a yardstick for all of our creative work, including editing their mission statement.

Let’s begin with their positioning statement: We dare to fight oppression regardless of the risks—standing with social movements and communities under threat.

This positioning is succinct, feels fearless, and speaks to systemic change. We looked at how their mission statement stacked up against it:

CCR employs litigation, education, and advocacy to advance the law in a positive direction, to empower poor communities and communities of color, to guarantee the rights of those with the fewest protections and least access to legal resources, to train the next generation of constitutional and human rights attorneys, and to strengthen the broader movement for social justice.

Compared to the positioning, the mission felt a bit long and dry. The ideas in it laddered up to those in the positioning, but the expression needed some boldness to fully align with their brand strategy. Using their positioning and personality words as our creative benchmarks, we honed in on their refreshed mission statement:

Center for Constitutional Rights stands with social justice movements and communities under threat—fusing litigation, advocacy, and narrative shifting to dismantle systems of oppression regardless of the risk.

This expression mirrors some of the language in their positioning, but also retains some key ideas from their previous mission. It’s also a lot shorter than the original, which reinforces their brand strategy. For more information on our work with the Center for Constitutional Rights, read the case study here.

Should you refresh or keep it funky?

Branding is an ongoing practice, and we recommend you conduct regular brand check-ups. We typically encourage nonprofits to take a close look at their messaging platforms every 1–2 years or after a significant change, like the completion of a new strategic plan or hiring of a new executive director.

Identify what pieces are on-point, what’s feeling funky, and refresh from there. Brand strategy is a simple tool to help give your nonprofit’s messaging a new life—and ensure it reflects the ideas and feelings you want to be known for.

Is it time to refresh your organization’s messaging? We are always happy to explore how we can help. Send us a message and we’ll reach out.