Seems every time you turn around you see a nonprofit organization that's "changing the brand." I've been a close observer of the process a lot of times. Too many times.
I say too many times because rebranding almost always has a negative impact on revenue. Response rates to fundraising campaigns drop. Acquisition suffers. Donor retention falls.
I can't claim to know why it goes this way, but I have a theory. I think the problem is two-fold:
- There are basic flaws in the very structure of branding that hurt fundraising. It's a misapplied discipline from the commercial marketing world that simply doesn't work in our context.
- Most of the time, the changes brought about by branding are bad changes that impede readability, emotional connection with donors, and clarity of offer. This is not intrinsic to branding. It just does most of the time.
So here, in my experience with re-branding, are revenue impacts you can likely expect if you rebrand. These are based on my first-hand observations, which have been frighteningly consistent over the years. Obviously any of these things could go very differently; your mileage may vary.
Change the logo
No impact. Each time I've seen a logo change, as long is it wasn't also a name and/or identification change, there was no change to revenue afterward. I think this is because very few nonprofit logos are that well-known or established in people's minds to begin with. I imagine if The Salvation Army changed its venerable logo, things might not go so well.
Change graphic standards
Small negative impact. I think the reason the impact is small is because graphic standards aren't that big a deal in the scheme of things. And the reason they're usually negative is because usually the changes are for the worse, I'm sorry to say. They tend to bring in hard-to-read fonts, chilly colors, and other weird things that just degrade the communication abilities of the organization. I think if there was a change in graphic standards toward readability, clarity, and emotion, you'd see a small positive impact.
Change organization's name
25% to 50% loss of revenue. Yes, you read that right. Changing your name can really wallop your fundraising. I've seen it happen every single time. Even when the old name was weird and the new name made sense. A workaround that may save your bacon: Use both names together for period.
Change cause identification
20% to 30% loss of revenue. Rebranding very often consists of making what the organization does less focussed. An organization that used to proclaim it fed the hungry now provides "hope." (Hope is a very popular concept among branding people.) An organization that used to focus on a single disease or problem now peddles "health." This change will hurt nearly as much as a name change.
Now you may have noticed that the best outcome here is revenue-neutral, and it goes downhill from there. Given that the whole point of rebranding is to improve revenue (at least it should be), I have to conclude one thing: The branding discipline doesn't work for nonprofits. At least the way it is commonly practiced.
Do you have experience that contradicts mine? I'd love to hear about it!