Insights
5 min Read
March 9, 2017

When’s the best time to rebrand?

There’s no such thing as the perfect moment to rebrand. Thoughtful timing makes a big difference in the experience and its outcomes, and can help make sure the right people are on the bus. But waiting too long can have very negative implications– demotivating your staff and board, confusing your community, and creating a lackluster experience for donors and clients.

So if you know it’s a necessary step for your organization to take at some point, how do you determine the right time to tackle a rebrand?

Rebranding during times of predictable change
Most nonprofits expect predictable moments of change such as the term-limiting of board members, the retirement of a CEO, or those that emerge from a long strategic planning or capital campaign process. Predictable change can be hard and scary, but because you saw it coming, time has hopefully been set aside to work on whatever is changing, and priorities have shifted in ways the whole organization acknowledges.

The rebrands that generate the best results for nonprofits typically happen right after a new leader joins the organization, strategic planning concludes, or just before a significant capital campaign.

Rebranding during these moments is more effective because leadership views the work as one of several changes essential to the organization’s growth and development, so there’s real commitment to see it through. Our national study of the impact rebranding has on nonprofits, “The Rebrand Effect”, showed that these organizations seem to raise more money, attract better board members, recruit more program participants, and motivate their staff more, too. (You can download the ebook about that study here.)

Conversely, rebranding before a significant change in leadership can less effective, or even die on the vine entirely. A new Executive Director, Chief Development Officer, or Communications Director who inherits a rebrand they weren’t a part of has less investment in its success, or may not like it at all. Without senior-level support and a champion, the new brand is likely to be implemented less consistently and ineffectively. That’s a real waste of time and money.

We recommend you wait for the key players to join your senior leadership team so they can be a part of the rebrand, if you know that change is coming within a year. They’ll be more likely to understand, leverage, and promote it if they are a part of the new brand’s creation.

Its also best to wait until your strategic planning process is well underway and the future direction of the organization is clear before rebranding. Your rebrand is simply an extension of that plan: the two should, ideally, feel closely intertwined.

Rebranding during times of unpredictable change
While predictable changes can feel hard as you’re going through them, it’s the changes you didn’t see coming that can feel the most disruptive within an organization. Political changes alter the fundraising landscape. A crisis in your community shifts programmatic priorities overnight. The sudden departure of an executive director or other key staff person leaves you shocked… you get the point. These unpredictable changes inside and outside your nonprofit can stir up anxiety for staff, board, and your closest advocates. They eat up brainspace and energy you weren’t prepared for.

When you’re already stretched thin, rebranding is harder because it requires real time, focus, and effort. If the changes aren’t likely to impact the engine that powers your work such as your fundraising and client-facing programs, waiting until you have the brainspace and energy for it as an organization may be the best plan. But if your funding sources are changing and you anticipate needing to build new relationships with individual donors or corporate supporters then it’s a mistake to wait too long, as you’ll want to establish your voice as effectively as possible. Don’t put off rebranding if it’s clearly an essential step toward building relationships that will be critical to your success or survival downstream.

Timing
A smart rebranding process begins by creating or refining assets that express your nonprofit’s vision, mission, and voice in powerful ways. Next, you’ll weave those elements into your website, social, print, in-person, and other materials. Finally, you’ll integrate it consistently into fundraising, awareness, recruitment, and other campaigns that reach and engage your audiences. That’s how household brands do it, and it takes time and consistency to do well. Start your rebrand before there’s a crisis or problem, if possible, so you don’t cut corners to get it done. After all, you’ll want it to last.

Ask yourself these three questions
Still not clear what you should do? Use these questions to guide a conversation about whether or not this is the right time to rebrand:

  1. Are we clear and aligned about where our organization is heading over the next few years so we can use that to inform our brand strategy, visuals, and messaging? 
  2. Is it likely that our Executive Director and any senior staff responsible for communications will be with the organization for at least a year to see this process through and help make it stick afterwards
  3. Is now a time when we should be investing in our own infrastructure and future so we can build relationships in a year or beyond with new donors, funders, clients, partners, or other key external audiences we might not be reaching effectively yet?

This information visualization might help you decide, too. Lastly, it might also be useful to reach out to other organizations that have rebranded and learn from them. When and why did they do it? What were the benefits and challenges?

Rebranding alone doesn’t raise awareness for your organization, it just gives you the tools to do so more effectively. A successful rebrand brings your organization’s vision and mission to life through a clear communications strategy, messaging, and visuals framework that staff and board can use to communicate consistently and effectively. Your staff will be able to speak, write, campaign, and engage people more powerfully, and in ways that reflects the essence of your vision and mission. Time it right to get the best value.

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