Does your nonprofit need a new logo?
Claire Taylor Hansen, Big Duck’s Creative Director, helps nonprofits answer the age-old question: Do we need a new logo? She discusses signs that a logo might need to change, the power of using visual elements—typography, colors, patterns, and more—consistently and well, and shares a simple exercise in-house teams can do to assess whether their nonprofit’s materials align with communications goals.
If you want more resources to help you ensure your nonprofit’s brand is understood and applied consistently, download our free ebook, Brand stickiness: Building, integrating, and managing your nonprofit’s voice so it succeeds.
Sarah Durham: Hey everybody, this is Sarah Durham and welcome back to the Smart Communications Podcast. I’m here today with Claire Taylor Hansen who’s an art director here at Big Duck. Hi Claire.
Claire Taylor Hansen: Hi.
Sarah Durham: So Claire has been on our team for a few years, but she has over 10 years of experience working in non-profit communications and design and she’s been an in-house designer at a number of organizations including the Brooklyn Botanical Garden.
Claire Taylor Hansen: The Public Theater, also a favorite.
Sarah Durham: So what’s great about Claire’s perspective is that she knows what it’s like in-house and what it really takes to get things done when you’re inside a non-profit as a communications professional, but she’s also got the benefit of this kind of bigger picture perspective and she’s worked with a lot of organizations here at Big Duck and independently to help them navigate this question, do they really need a new logo?
So as Claire and I began discussing this conversation one of the things we talked about was the difference between actually changing your logo versus perhaps consolidating it. Can you speak a little bit about what consolidation means?
Claire Taylor Hansen: Consolidation can mean using your visual system in a more consistent way. So not just your logo. Also your typefaces, your colors, the entire package of your visual identity. Consolidating the way you use it. Don’t reinvent the wheel every time you make a material. Think about using the same designer for a host of materials. Be more consolidated with your presence.
Sarah Durham: And you and I recorded another podcast about digital brand guides, but brand guides are really essential to being able to pull together a consistent, consolidated identity. In case people haven’t listened to that, you can check it out in earlier episodes, but Claire, why is a brand guide so important to help an organization be consistent?
Claire Taylor Hansen: That’s your guide book. That’s your tactical tool to make sure that piece to piece, designer to designer you have consistency with the way you’re presenting yourself and that your visual identity reflects your brand, your larger brand correctly. It’s essential. You definitely need that in place.
Sarah Durham: So if I worked in an organization and I had an identity of let’s say a logo, color palette, other visual elements that really felt wrong. They could be wrong for a bunch of reasons. I think what you’re suggesting in the consolidation strategy is maybe they’re wrong because nobody’s using them well or consistently and that maybe if you pull it together into a system and you empower people with tools to use it consistently, it might actually get better.
I wonder if there’s also a kind of challenge about just not having the assets period. You just don’t have defined things like typefaces or logos. What do you do in that case? What do you do if you’re just missing stuff?
Claire Taylor Hansen: Well, most organizations have a logo. So often you’re not missing a logo, but if you’re missing a brand guide, that’s very important to have. If you’re a larger organization, then you should think about when you’re doing your next strategic plan, think about if you’re having a change of leadership and plan for the future and think about investing in doing all of that strategic work that firms like Big Duck do to overhaul your identity.
If you’re not in that place, if you’re a scrappy nonprofit with no staff. If you’re many years away from doing those types of huge organizational moves and you can’t invest in a huge brand overhaul, then maybe just think about that consolidation word we talked about. So if you are lacking a brand guide, get one. It may be a little bit of a stop-gap maneuver and don’t invest too much time and resources because you want to do it right, but you need at least to be using the same typefaces, colors and applying your logo consistently across the board.
Sarah Durham: And there’s a training component with that, right? If you’ve got everything organized in one central resource—and a brand guide doesn’t have to be fancy, it could be a Word document you put together—but at least that gives you something you can use to onboard new people who might be creating materials. You can review it with your team and ask them to apply it consistently. It gives you something to point to for that.
But there’s also a piece about this that we’ve talked about and we talk about a lot here with our clients, which is if you’re visual identity does need to change, it’s fundamentally not working—we’ll talk about some of the reasons it might not be working, it might need to change—but there are a range of options ranging from what we call an evolution to a revolution.
So let’s take a minute and unpack some of the reasons that your logo fundamentally might not be working besides just inconsistency. What are some of the signs your logo might actually need to change?
Claire Taylor Hansen: It might genuinely need an overhaul if it’s a legacy logo. So it got created back in the day by someone’s nephew, someone’s best friend 30 years ago and it’s a very sad reflection of the 90s. It’s poorly typeset. There’s weird spaces between the letters. It’s a really funky typeface. So basically what I’m saying is it’s badly designed.
Sarah Durham: I’m laughing to myself because years ago we had an organization that hired us to do some branding work. It was a health clinic organization or health organization of some kind and the founder’s nephew who was probably 10 years old at the time had designed a logo that kind of looked like a bleeding kidney.
Claire Taylor Hansen: Oh.
Sarah Durham: It was really just not a good looking thing and they had lived with it for a long time because the founder was still involved and was a major donor and finally there came a moment where they could change it and that was one of those things. It was just fundamentally not salvageable.
Claire Taylor Hansen: No. Another thing that might not be salvageable or need a major modification that would basically call it a new logo is if it’s dated or stale and that could be for a couple of reasons. Dated, it could be that it looks like from a different era, but it could also be that it’s a solid logo, but it just doesn’t look great in digital context. It might not shrink down well. It may not look good on your phone. So it could be dated in that way.
Sarah Durham: And we’ve seen also some examples of things that have been dated that could be refreshed. Like that’s the evolution idea, right?
Claire Taylor Hansen: Absolutely.
Sarah Durham: So maybe you just change the colors or you add some other visual elements around it. Or something. It might be that they’re fundamental elements there that strategically still work, it just needs to be brought in to this century.
Claire Taylor Hansen: Absolutely. We’re working with a client right now that has a historic seal and they basically like it. Everyone has a lot of recognition around it. It communicates a lot of their amazing 100 year old history, but just when you make it small and you look at it on a screen, you can’t even tell what it is because it has too much detail. So that’s been a fun project of just refining it.
Sarah Durham: Yeah and that’s a big thing for old organizations. There’s a lot of detail in those logos or visual systems that just has to be kind of stripped out, so it works more in digital in interactive platforms.
Claire Taylor Hansen: Your logo also just might not reflect where you are right now. So it could be a totally fine serviceable logo for who you were 15, 20, 30 years ago, but the nonprofit you are today, it’s not representative of the heart of who you are and what you’re doing.
Sarah Durham: Yeah and that kind of dovetails into some research we did years ago and we put in an ebook that’s on our website that you can download for free. The ebook is called “The Rebrand Effect” and the research we did was a study in why nonprofits changed their brands. Not just their logos, but their brand strategy and messaging, a whole bunch of other factors.
So we examined why they changed it, what they hoped they’d achieve, what else was going on at that time. Were they going through strategic planning, changes in leadership? And then what the outcomes were.
We saw systematically that the organizations that actually went through these kinds of changes, bigger brand changes—not just a logo tweak but strategy, messaging, other elements, too—often were doing it right after strategic planning or right after a change in leadership and that those organizations saw much better outcomes because what strategic planning or a new leader brings to the table is vision for the future.
So if you’ve got your vision for the future, then the branding questions become about the expression of that vision. As opposed to if you’re not really sure who you’re gonna be in the future, at least the logo questions become subjective. “Do I like this color? Do I not like that color? What does Marty think about this color?” That kind of stuff.
Claire Taylor Hansen: Absolutely. So if you find that you’re confronting those problems, we would recommend a consolidation. Just start by using it consistently and well.
Sarah Durham: Yeah so in this journey, there is this sort of consolidation pull it together. There’s an evolution where maybe you just work with something that has some basic elements to update it or refresh it and then there’s the revolution where you actually sort of gut it and start over. In the revolution, I feel pretty strongly that you really shouldn’t go through a dramatic logo change without really taking a look first at your brand strategy and aligning your leadership team around that.
If you’re not clear what you’re trying to communicate as an organization, then it’s going to be very hard to do anything then have a subjective conversation about the logo.
Often there are other elements that have a big impact on how the logo feels. Or how people respond to it, like a tagline or the name of your organization, how that might be abbreviated. How do you think of those things together?
Claire Taylor Hansen: The logo isn’t the only component of your visual identity that needs to reflect where you are as an organization. There is also your typeface, your color, maybe you have a branded pattern or a bunch of icons that you use as part of your visual system, and all those work together to communicate who you are as an organization. Often, more strongly than your logo itself.
So people think about the logo as being representative of who you are but it’s much broader than that and it’s much more integrated than that. It might be that in combination a more historic logo, or a more dated logo if it’s redrawn or changed, but then if you pair it with a typeface that is a bit more edgy, that those two elements working together can create the visual identity that you’re going for or that makes sense for your organization. So it’s not just the logo.
Sarah Durham: Right and those things together can communicate a different kind of personality. You could have an edgier, more contemporary flavor to your personality that emerges from another element. Not strictly from the logo.
We’re also about to release and by the time this comes out it’ll probably be on our website too, another ebook about brand stickiness and I think the brand stickiness ebook is a great resource if you work in an organization that has either rebranded recently or maybe hasn’t rebranded, but is just trying to really make sure people get consistent and really use these resources in a more consistent and aligned way.
So both of those you can download at bigducknyc.com if you just click on the Insights area, you’ll see a number of free ebooks including those and other resources.
Last thing I wanna just touch on and Claire, if you have any tips for this, this would be great too, but whether you change your brand dramatically or not, there is an aspect that comes up in the brand stickiness work and other places about just sort of keeping it alive.
So I often encourage organizations where there is a communications director or a communications department to have somebody in-house who becomes like a brand coach. Somebody who is making sure the brand guide is up to date and fresh, but also is periodically sitting down with people throughout the organization—maybe on the programs team, development team, etc.—to see what they’re doing. How are they using the elements? What’s working and what’s not?
That’s a two-way growth opportunity. It’s an opportunity for the communications person to maybe hear about things that don’t work as well in the brand so that when it’s time to make a change, they have the staff’s perspective. But it’s also an opportunity for the people working with the brand to get coached or reminded how to use it consistently.
So brand coaching or tips or things like that is one way to do that. Are there any other ways that you would encourage in-house teams to remember to be consistent and to keep the visual identity alive and functional?
Claire Taylor Hansen: Yeah, I think we sometimes with clients have a meeting where we review all the brand materials after we’ve undergone a large rebrand effort and we assess them. We say, “How consistently are things being applied? Is the messaging on point?” There’s no reason why you couldn’t do that internally. So you could schedule an annual or even a quarterly meeting where that brand coach could sit down with other people and that could be the moment where you rise above “Well, am I accomplishing this project’s goals?” to am “I accomplishing the organization’s goals?” Because you can execute a beautiful gala invitation or a perfect flyer that is just on point for that individual siloed project, which is a tendency of perhaps some in-house communications teams, but then if you rise above and look at all materials consistently, that one well-executed piece may not be in service of the larger identity.
Sarah Durham: I love that idea. That’s a really easy exercise to do. You do it just by gathering all the printed materials you’ve produced, printing out some digital things, maybe some social posts, and things from your website, grabbing different things that people have produced, putting it all out on a table and looking at it the way an outsider looks at it.
You can imagine if you worked in a business like Target and you laid everything out on the table, even my just saying Target, you probably know what that table would look like. You know what colors it would be, what the design style would be. It would all feel super consistent. But if in your organization everything looks totally different, you have this opportunity to surface a conversation internally about that and get aligned around the bigger goals.
Great. Alright. Claire, thank you for joining me.
Claire Taylor Hansen: My pleasure.