• Nonprofit Branding and Identity: What’s In a Name?

In March, Linda Johanek, CEO of the Domestic Violence & Child Advocacy Center in Cleveland, wrote an illuminating blog for the Bridgespan Group on the experience of rebranding her organization following a merger. Her post includes keen observations about organizational identity, the importance of names, and the unique position of post-merger organizations as they market themselves to funders and other key stakeholders, both new and old. 

Recently, we heard more on this theme from one of our clients, RISE. RISE is a newly-merged organization dedicated to ending sexual assault and intimate partner violence in San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles, in California’s Central Coast region. Their comments on the unifying and energizing potential of rebranding were so compelling, we just had to share.

Bringing together the North County Women’s Shelter & Resource Center and the Sexual Assault Recovery & Prevention Center of San Luis Obispo County required addressing many more questions than what to call the new organization, as merging domestic violence and sexual assault services involves disparate funding streams, regulatory requirements, and prevailing cultures. The organizations worked with La Piana Consulting’s Bob Harrington over a period of five months to negotiate the details. But for RISE, rebranding itself also helped to bridge some of these gaps — and created the opportunity for a powerful new identity to emerge.

RISE’s Executive Director, Jennifer Adams, talked to us about the new name’s positive impact on staff:

They’re energized behind the change. It’s amazing what it has done for people’s attitudes and sense of belonging. Because the name is so different, so positive: ‘RISE.’ The focus is on healing and renewal, rather than on ‘women’s shelter’ or ‘sexual assault.’

Jesse Torrey, Associate Director, added that the new brand has also resonated with external stakeholders:

Now we’re ‘cool,’ we’re the hip nonprofit all of a sudden. People are excited — they want to be a part of the agency. They recognize our new name. We hoped [this would be true], but didn’t know. 

RISE invested $26,000 and 10 months in rebranding, which included a new name, tagline, and logo, as well as a new website (all paid for with agency reserves), but Jennifer was adamant that it has all been worth it: “It cost us a lot of money — more than we’d envisioned. But the power of it…it can’t be denied. My advice [to others] would be ‘take $20,000 or $30,000 and invest in the rebrand.’”

Jennifer continued: 

It’s like bringing two families together. I’ve been a member of stepfamilies all my life, where one of the challenges is that everybody has different last names and doesn’t share that identity as a family. For RISE, the new name and brand really cemented who we are and enabled us to create this third entity. 

The work involved in a nonprofit merger is significant, and its potential is profound. It is important to recognize the role of identity and branding in setting the stage for success. For RISE, as with many others, it is an investment that has paid off.

Tags: branding, nonprofit consulting, mergers

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