September 29, 2020
The Basics of Nonprofit Branding: Checking in on Our Pro Bono Initiative
Last December, we put out a call to nonprofits across the country: Submit your organization’s story to us, and we’ll select one to receive a free branding project, pro bono.
A couple months later, we picked one. An awesome one. Our Unwrap a New Brand initiative, the annual campaign that awards this free branding project each year, has helped other nonprofits expand the good they do in their communities. We were excited by the potential impact this year’s recipient could make, too.
Now, as we’re wrapping up our work together, we want to share an update on the branding process we’ve undertaken with this year’s Unwrap a New Brand winner: Texas Legal Services Center.
The project background
Texas Legal Services Center (TLSC) is a Texas-based nonprofit that aims to ensure equal justice for all Texans through pro-bono legal advice, education, representation and much, much more.
They offer so many different kinds of help—and sometimes help for problems that their audiences don’t always recognize as legal in nature—that they struggled to connect deeply with all of the people they could help, as well as properly communicate their full list of capabilities to potential donors, partners, and employees.
At the beginning of the project, we broke down the core challenges of their existing brand together into the four strategic goals which oriented everything that came next:
- Establish cohesive messaging and design that unites our mission and programs
- Create a brand book that is timeless, sustainable, and easily implemented
- Develop a clear plan for visual imagery moving forward
- Learn how to communicate value of branding (especially to the board)
What is branding, and why does it matter here?
Yes, TLSC came to us looking for a new logo. But that’s not necessarily what makes this project a “branding” project.
A brand is more than your logo. Ultimately, your brand is your organization’s reputation —it’s what your audience says about you while you’re not in the conversation.
TLSC’s existing logo was just one of many elements we examined during this branding project. We also reviewed their existing mission statement, vision statement, and brand hierarchy, keeping in mind the central question, “How do we unite each unique part of this organization under one umbrella?”
Understanding TLSC’s challenge as a branding challenge becomes clear when you think about context. Rarely, if ever, will someone encounter a logo in the wild without accompanying imagery and text that add depth to what the logo represents.
The logo is a symbol of the brand, not the brand itself.
Why is research important during the branding process?
A brand is built by finding what makes an organization like TLSC unique and aligning it with what its audience finds valuable. To do that, we needed to start with some research.
Before pen hits paper, we begin our branding projects with a robust discovery phase. For TLSC, that included conducting discovery sessions with their internal team, interviewing their clients, digging into secondary linguistic research, and surveying their internal team and board of directors.
The goal? Validate or invalidate assumptions, uncover hidden opportunities, and understand the brand’s challenges from a 360 degree perspective.
Branding can be a subjective discipline. Research gives us the data to make our strategic recommendations as objective and unbiased as possible.
During our discovery phase for TLSC, we uncovered what precisely made their existing brand elements like their logo and mission statement unsuccessful. And, maybe most importantly, why their existing brand hierarchy needed to change.
What is brand hierarchy?
Brand hierarchy is just an academic way to say “how a brand and its sub-brands or services are organized.” It’s a simple concept, but its execution can have big implications on the success of your brand.
As we learned more about TLSC, how it was organized, and the explicit needs of its audience, we recognized that their existing brand hierarchy could do more.
TLSC’s potential clients need help with legal matters, but they are often unaware that their problems are legal in nature. We decided that the TLSC’s public-facing services needed to speak to what is right in front of these potential clients. For example, rather than “Veterans Legal Assistance,” organizing this service under TLSC as “Accessing Military and VA Benefits” clarifies the intention and ensures potential clients instantly understand what they can turn to TLSC for.
What comes next for our project with TLSC?
Of course, this is just a teaser of the final TLSC rebrand. Nonprofit branding, like all types of branding, requires an eye for both the art and science of successful positioning. This image below is a sneak peak of where we’re heading.
In the meantime, we encourage you to learn more about TLSC. It didn’t take us long to fall in love with their mission, and we’d bet the same will be true for you.