Tips for navigating a nonprofit rebrand during the COVID-19 pandemic
Communications and fundraising teams at nonprofits are navigating unprecedented constraints and decisions about what projects to pause, continue, evolve, or begin in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Working on your nonprofit’s brand—whether it be a comprehensive rebrand or a project to fine-tune an aspect of your organization’s voice—may be on your list of considerations. Undergoing such changes now is not pragmatic for all organizations as it can be hard to invest in a long shelf-life project when the short-term is so uncertain. But with careful consideration about the unprecedented backdrop that COVID-19 presents for nonprofits, those that put pressure on how they communicate now can build a firm foundation for future success.
Here are some of the scenarios in which rebranding now is a smart idea:
- You’re advancing a branding effort you started before the pandemic. Your organization had already identified a need to rebrand—perhaps your brand was disjointed, out-of-date, or didn’t reflect your organization’s strategic direction— and you have the budget, resources, and momentum to proceed with the work.
- The COVID-19 pandemic has already forced your nonprofit to rethink or evolve its vision, mission, and core programming, and your communications need to reflect that now and going forward. Relatedly, perhaps COVID-19 has prompted your organization to reaffirm or clarify your core values and beliefs, but you don’t yet have the communications assets to reflect them to your audiences.
- The demand for your nonprofit’s services has changed dramatically and/or existing revenue streams are cut or under threat from being cut. You must make a more persuasive, relevant case to donate to your nonprofit, and you need pointed, on-brand communications to be successful.
If your nonprofit fits into one of these scenarios or others not listed, take these considerations with you to thoughtfully make brand shifts amidst the evolving COVID-19 context.
- Balance short-term realities with the long-term. In the past few weeks, nonprofits had to work quickly, pivot programming, and adapt to the realities of COVID-19 as an organization. To ensure you’re making long lasting, rational decisions with your brand, be sure you’re continuously asking whether a decision you’re making (i.e. prioritizing a particular audience) or asset you’re developing (e.g. a new tagline) is relevant now and will also endure in a post-COVID-19 environment. If it’s too soon to tell, wait to finalize or roll things out just yet.
- Bring your staff and key stakeholders on the journey. For all significant rebrands, and especially in light of the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, it’s vital that you bring your community along on the journey and build buy-in for change. Here are a few ways you can do that virtually:
- Create authentic moments for input from staff, board, participants, key funders, and other important stakeholders. Circulate online surveys and host Zoom calls to solicit ideas and feedback.
- Don’t take anyone central to your mission by surprise with your rebrand
- Communicate clearly at all key stages of the process. Articulate why you’re rebranding, where you are in the process, and what it means for your organization going forward. Utilize existing forums (e.g. your regular remote team meetings) and reinforce the message with email, phone, or slack updates as well.
- Be cautious about jeopardizing existing brand equity. My colleague Sandy Zimmerman shared the following in a recent post, “In the chaos of the moment, presenting your brand as consistently and professionally as possible (visually and verbally) will help reassure your audiences.” Consistency can drive trust and create a single unified impression with audiences. During this time of uncertainty, be as clear as possible about the threats and opportunities associated with making glaring changes to your brand, such as a rename or visual identity overhaul. Now’s not the time for putting the brand equity you’ve worked hard to build over years of work in jeopardy unless things are broken or you have a clear plan for rebuilding any lost equity.
- Make a link to systemic challenges (if relevant). COVID-19 is exposing the inequities and cracks embedded into our healthcare, economic, and criminal justice systems and institutions. It’s no coincidence that communities of color are hurting most from this virus. If your nonprofit exists to solve a problem emerging from a biased or broken system and you have not historically framed your work systemically, now may be the time to make that transition. Leverage your rebrand as an opportunity to name the root causes underlying your mission—and inspire your supporters to act by sharing what your organization is doing to rebuild and reimagine systems and institutions that are not serving historically marginalized communities.
- Be mindful about timing and messaging for your rollout. It’s important that any changes to your nonprofit’s brand be rolled out to your community with intention. Select a goal date for the rollout, but be sure you have a backup plan in place in case it’s a particularly noisy news period or there are more urgent programmatic messages you need to get out in light of the evolving pandemic. Additionally, avoid rollout messaging that conveys your branding work was done exclusively for superficial enhancements. It’s important that your community knows that all investments made in the organization, particularly in this time of financial restraint, are tied to mission-critical reasons. For example, steer clear of a stand-alone message like “Check out our new logo!” without a thoughtful explanation of the rationale for change. Be sure that any messaging about the rebrand (i.e. why you rebranded, what you’re hoping to achieve) ties back to concrete, substantive updates for the organization.This article from Advomatic shares a few useful insights about how to roll out a new website, too.
Undergoing branding changes now is not going to be appropriate for all organizations. But those that choose to invest in their voice now, and put in the extra thought required to navigate brand changes in this uncertain reality, may come out of this crisis with a reinvigorated sense of purpose and the momentum needed to inspire support.