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August 4, 2020
You’ve Decided to Rebrand. Now What?
By Rachel Kestner

Rachel Kestner
Rachel Kestner
A nonprofit rebranding program is more of a marathon than a sprint—more of a campaign than an event—and it’ll likely mean your day job becomes your night job for a while, because executing a rebranding campaign can be all consuming.

Committing to a rebranding initiative takes stamina and a thick skin. The word “patience” comes to mind. It also takes time; you should plan to devote up to a year to this critical project and figure that it will consume from 15% #147; 25% of a staffer’s time to manage.

A successful rebranding initiative, though, can result in not only a reinvigorated image for your organization, but can also serve as a rallying cry for the entire organization #147; from receptionists to the CEO.

Since 1995, Element Care—our organization’s new name—has been providing complete health care to eligible people through PACE (Program for All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly). During this period, we delivered services under the name of Elder Service Plan of the North Shore, which has also been referred to as ESPNS (not to be confused with confused with ESPN, the sports network).

By early this year, we realized that our name and our “look” were dated and needed a makeover. We needed something that was more supportive of our evolution as an organization and of our geographic growth.

After committing to a name change, we knew that a rebranding effort was necessary if we were going to grow and thrive in an ever-changing healthcare environment. We recognized that more than a name change and refreshed look, we needed to develop a differentiated identity in the minds of our stakeholders.

We understood that this level of effort meant working with rebranding professionals. In our case, we partnered with a branding agency that not only had relevant experience, but also one that we felt would mesh with our organization. We found that chemistry with What’s-It, Inc., a boutique branding and advertising agency based in Woburn.

All other factors being equal, enjoying great chemistry with your branding partner isn’t a luxury #147; it’s a requirement. You will want to be fully honest with them throughout the process. They won’t take your suggestions or criticisms personally. They are professionals, after all, and whether it be a new name, new logo, or both, they want to get it right as much as you do.

When embarking on a rebranding effort, it helps to conduct the following brand audits, working with your agency:
  • A comprehensive internal audit. For us, that meant interviewing staff, physicians, management, participants and their families. The goal is for the organization to get a fundamental understanding of the state of its brand, how it is perceived, and how it has shifted since its inception.

  • An external audit. In our case, that meant taking a close look at similar and competitive healthcare organizations. We interviewed members of our board of directors, who work out in the community. And we met with other community service organizations, too. The external audit was particularly useful in helping us understand that our rebranding effort was an evolutionary process. It helped us understand that we weren’t changing for the sake of change, and to not abandon what we had built.
Based on audit results, we got confirmation that nobody likes to be called “elderly.” We also realized it wasn’t clear what the words “Service Plan” in our name referred to and whether it concerned just one plan. Since we were in the process of expanding beyond the North Shore, the existing name was geographically limiting.

The name “Element Care,” one of dozens we considered, became the cornerstone of our rebranding effort. Our CEO, Robert Wakefield, said it best: “Since enabling people to stay in their element is our goal, Element Care seemed like a natural for our new name. Our participants like to say, —I’m happy when I’m in my element.’”

The Element Care rebranding campaign involved a number of tactics. In addition to some internal branding activities, including T-shirts and other items for staff and members, the organization has a new website——and new marketing materials. Externally, the launch of the new name included a celebration with 400 of Element Care’s closest friends, the creation of our first video, and a media relations and ad campaign.

When looking rebrand your nonprofit, consider these other points.
  • Make sure your new brand reflects who your organization is today, but also allows for future growth, change, and evolution. You’re creating the brand you want to be, not just the brand you are now.

  • Does your new brand work for all your stakeholders? In your quest for newness, you don’t want to confuse people about who you are by creating something that is totally at odds with your culture. If you have ethnic or non-English speaking stakeholders, for example, make sure your new brand doesn’t present any linguistic or cultural problems for them.

  • Sell in your work carefully and thoroughly. Don’t work in a vacuum and just spring the finished rebrand on your unsuspecting colleagues and stakeholders. It helps to get buy-in from key players as you go (department heads, long-time employees, key community supporters, etc.). Make them part of the process and you’ll have their support when you need it.
One last recommendation: If you are the internal person responsible for the rebranding initiative, it’s important to stay close to the process through completion. The organization’s executives and board are going to turn to you for updates and they’ll expect you to have the answers to their questions. And you’ll want to stay close to the branding agency you hired as well. They’ll appreciate your guidance and knowledge of the organization.

Rachel Kestner is director of marketing at Element Care, which launched its new identity in September 2014. Email her at
September 2014
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