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Sarah Durham

Recent Posts by Sarah Durham:

A Short Guide to Thoughtful Rebranding

The most successful rebranding projects tend to follow good organizational development processes such as strategic planning—when an organization's path forward is clearest. Fifty-one percent of the respondents in Big Duck and FDR Group's online survey, whose data informed the Rebrand Effect e-book, noted that a new focus of their work and/or a new strategic plan was a significant catalyst for rebranding. Not only that, but organizations that have completed some sort of organizational development process also see better results than organizations that rebrand without one.

Here is a three-year rebranding process. You can certainly do it faster if your resources permit.

Year One: Are Your Vision and Mission Still Clear?

If it has been a while since your last strategic-planning session, start now. (Many organizations regularly undertake some form of strategic planning every three to five years.) Focus on getting your board and staff aligned around your work. This process often involves hearing from leadership as well as the donors, volunteers, clients, and others who make up the external fabric of your organization, through formal or informal research.

Year Two: How Do Your Current Communications Stack Up?

Consider field testing your existing communications to assess their effectiveness. What's your reputation like in the field? What do donors or clients understand about you based on your website or other materials they receive? What's the buzz about you in their circles?

If what you hear reflects your vision and mission well, there's no reason to make changes. But, if you're not happy about what you are hearing, start by setting a new communications strategy and realigning the necessary elements to reflect it. Year two should also include updating or overhauling your website and other online properties, since that's where most people will interact with you. Train your staff and board on the new brand, and consider integrating it into your human resources practices so that staff are consistently trained and coached to be effective brand ambassadors.

Year Three: Are You Communicating with One Voice?

By year three, make sure you're developing campaigns and stand-alone materials that are on message and on brand, so that everything you produce looks and feels consistent, regardless of who's producing it. Is your social media on brand? How about that speech your executive director is about to give? Your e-news? Are you communicating with one voice throughout the organization? In other words, would an outsider experience the various ways you communicate as reflecting one (your) organization's vision and mission? If not, consider appointing someone on your team to review and coach others to help ensure consistency. Twice a year, review your communications informally (on screen or via printouts) to see how you are doing.

No matter how long the steps in this process take, remember that doing them right should always trump doing them fast. Significant changes to your visual identity and messaging that help shape your internal culture and your external reputation should have a long shelf life, after all. Want more ideas on how to survive a rebrand and live to tell the tale? I've recorded a webinar on this topic. I hope it helps!

Sarah Durham, Big Duck
© 2015, Big Duck

Sarah Durham is the president of Big Duck, a communications firm that works exclusively with nonprofits. She's also the author of Brandraising and the Rebrand Effect.

Three Questions to Ask before You Finalize That Fiscal Year Budget

Reprinted from the Big Duck Blog

Flowers are blooming, grass is growing, and ... boards are approving budgets for organizations whose fiscal year begins July 1! Before this magical moment slips away into the haze of summer, consider these three questions:

Have we budgeted for smaller projects that will help us move toward bigger projects?

A big project often begins by conducting research, an audit, or a feasibility study. If you anticipate launching a major capital campaign, rebranding, overhauling your website, or tackling other really big projects downstream, consider budgeting a smaller amount for Phase One this year to get the ball rolling and to offset the overall cost of your projects over time. If you've already begun the first part of the project, you might also find it's easier to get approval for its second phase next fiscal year.

Have we budgeted adequately for website updates?

Best practices and technology can change fast in the online world. If it's been a while since you've done so, you might want to budget for website testing, to explore how donors, clients, or other important audiences are engaging with your site. If possible, give yourself a budget to fix any problems or fill any gaps this testing uncovers.

We generally encourage nonprofits to budget for some online work every year. In years when bigger changes are needed, the dollar amount is greater. But even in years when no big changes are made, it's useful to have a discretionary budget you can spend on testing, editing, creating campaign-specific pages or microsites, or any other "rainy day" projects.

Have we budgeted for help where we need it most?

Dan Pallotta's 2013 TEDtalk "The way we think about charity is dead wrong" got people talking about how a Puritan cultural hangover has resulted in nonprofits underpaying or neglecting things generally associated with a professional working environment. So what's getting in the way of you doing your best work? Is it an out-of-date content management system (CMS), your database, or a piece of software? Perhaps you need to learn about a new trend in the sector or develop your skills by attending more conferences? Maybe you could use help from a freelance writer or graphic designer to professionalize your materials? This might be the moment to budget for projects that will help you get to the next level.

There are, of course, an overwhelming number of projects worth pursuing and never enough time or money to tackle them all. But if you can focus on a few discrete projects that move things forward, you might find the long-term implications are stronger than you think.

Sarah Durham, Big Duck
© 2014, Big Duck. Reprinted from the Big Duck Blog; reprinted with permission.

Sarah Durham is principal and founder of Big Duck, which works exclusively with nonprofits to help raise money and increase visibility.


Who's in Charge of Communications These Days?

A decade ago, a typical nonprofit staff person with "communications" in his or her job title would have spent much of his/her time writing press releases and facilitating media coverage. As things happened at the organization, a communications staff person was briefed so he/she could write something about it for the newsletter, annual report, etc., or pitch a story to a journalist. It didn't matter if communications staff members weren't a part of the original discussion, as they were the people who had time to read, edit, and approve whatever was written before it was released. Stories moved at a generally slower pace, and in most cases there was time to get the voice right before anything went out.