2 min Read
May 19, 2011

Why you shouldn’t rebrand as you build that new website

Most young nonprofits brand themselves by accident. Money’s tight, time’s limited, and so decisions are made quickly (and sometimes foolishly) about what the organization’s name and tagline should be, how the logo should look, etc.

At some point downstream, maybe five or ten years later, you’ve got a staff, an engaged board, even a water cooler and a fancy machine that makes lattes in the office. But still, that fly-by-night brand hangs on… and people start grumbling.

“I don’t know how to talk about our work well enough to ask other people to support it”, says the board member. “This stuff doesn’t really look good on the materials we need to produce,” says the designer. “Oy!” you say.  

But the nail in the coffin of your accidental brand is, almost always, your website.

Because sooner or later, you’ve got to update that built–at-the-dawn-of-the-last-century-website. And when you do, all those same questions about how you talk about and show your work will come bubbling up.

While most people tend to think ‘logo’ or even ‘visuals’ when they hear the word ‘brand’, we Ducks argue that messaging is just as important. And clear messaging should be the backbone of your website.

An organization without clear messaging tends to default to the standard types of navigation areas: about us, programs, contact, services, who we are, donate. This organization-centric navigation is useful if you know what a ‘service’ is. But what if you don’t?

A good messaging process forces you to think about the big idea you want people to associate with your organization, and the messages you need to communicate to them so they’ll get it. What is the action you want them to take? And what’s in it for them?

That platform serves as a great basis for building a website.

The navigation for the New York City Charter School Center’s website reads:  learn, lead, act, meet. These are engaging action verbs that lead the visitor down a path that’s results-oriented.

Similarly, Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy’s website navigation reads, Understand Duchenne, Care for Him, Advance Research, Advocate, Connect, Fundraise.

And yes, the logo, colors, and use of images must be engaging too.

Without resolving those branding issues first, you’ll likely build a new website with all the same old communications problems. Instead, build into your timeline and budget what you need to fix the branding issues first- then tackle the website. Not sure how to do that? Check out my book, “Brandraising” for a good primer to get you started.