First impressions are important. For-profit and nonprofit organizations alike have a responsibility to present themselves authentically. Potential and current stakeholders will require authenticity and accuracy if they are to trust you with their loyalty.

Appearance is a significant component to creating that first impression. Whether it’s a website, business card, or printed material, how your brand looks is a reflection of your purpose, your mission, and your why. A brand isn’t just a logo or tagline, however. It’s not a corporate identity system, and it’s not a product, service or company. It’s defined by individuals, not by companies. And while you can’t control individual opinions, you can influence collective opinions through the authentic visual and verbal story you tell. When enough individuals digest your story and message to arrive at the same gut feeling, you have a brand.

A Case Study

Tina Patterson, Homefull Executive Director, had a brand that wasn’t working to help achieve her organization’s business goals, where the primary goal was fundraising for services for the homeless. Tina, like many nonprofit executives, was struggling with the gap between brand aspiration and brand reality. When her organization reached out to us for help, they were simply called The Other Place, a safe haven for the Dayton, Ohio, homeless who were turned away from other full shelters.

During the branding process, however, we quickly realized that their name wasn’t representative of the entirety of the organization’s services. The Other Place wasn’t just a shelter alternative; it was a resource for everything from education to advocacy and, most importantly, it gave people hope. Tina confessed that it took her nearly 20 minutes to describe her organization to a potential donor, and the name didn’t support their vision, to end homelessness.

When building a brand identity, it is imperative to have the organizational leader describe the challenges and business goals of the organization. In Tina’s case, we quickly realized her greatest challenge was the time it took to make that first impression with a potential stakeholder, and her primary business goal was to make it easier for potential donors to understand what The Other Place does. Beyond the initial understanding of the organization’s activities, a pressing need was to make the organizational identity something that service recipients would be proud of, and it was clear that The Other Place wasn’t the answer.

In its present iteration, the name neither offered clarification of the services, purpose, or reason for the organization, nor did it evoke a kind of pride for its users. The Other Place sounded more like leftovers than a place of empowerment and advocacy. Given the name evaluation, it was easy to see that the first step in this unique branding process was a name change.

A great brand name can do a lot of things, but it can’t save a bad idea or resurrect a failing brand by putting a new face on it. What it can do is start a good conversation, and set your product, service, or company apart from your competitors. It needs to be congruent with what you offer, embody the benefit the customer receives, and align with the personality of the company.

“Overall, this new identity and brand has changed the mentality of our organization – it clarified our purpose and provided much-needed momentum.” – Tina Patterson, Homefull Executive Director

What’s in a Name?

A company’s vision is always at the forefront of a branding process. The Other Place’s vision was this: A community where there is no homelessness. This mission, much like that of many organizations of a similar nature, is fairly succinct, but actually focuses on a negative. Seeking to harness the entire community that surrounded this organization, a series of conversations and brainstorming sessions unlocked a positive appeal: Homefull. The new name promotes anti-homelessness through a focus on the desired outcome for service recipients. This new name also focuses on the variety of service offerings brought together through the Homefull organization.

Reducing Explanation by 100%

The branding process is certainly not complete with just a new name. In the next phase of the process, we put together a brand board that encompassed the new name, bringing visualization and clarity to the organization now called Homefull. With the new name, paired with freshly branded words and visuals, we created a simple one-page flyer that Tina and other members of the organization could use to ask for support.

Tina went to Home Depot with that simple one-page flyer that had the Homefull Logo, Vision, Mission (for that particular year-end project) and the objective broken down into five portions needed to get one family in a home by the end of the year. She approached the desk in anticipation of introducing her new brand and asking for assistance but, before she could do so, the regional manager saw the one-page flyer she laid on his desk while digging in her purse for a business card and said, “I’ll do this.” Tina couldn’t believe that, in a handful of seconds, a one pager provided so much clarity and power that Home Depot offered to donate $100 of household supplies for all 250 families – $25,000 worth of support for a Homefull project.

A strong vision can easily be stymied by a hard to comprehend name, poor branding, and unappealing visuals. Yet good branding can make a world of difference. In the case of Homefull, good branding helped to quickly bring clarity to the potential donor, bring pride to the service recipient, and reframe the organization’s positive mission – because first impressions really do matter.


Homefull’s branding was completed through FORGE Your Dot Org, a program designed to offer one nonprofit organization brand research and strategy services (about 40 hours of consulting or $6000) during one calendar year. Learn more at forgeyour.org


Jän Paul Ostendorf, Owner/Brand Strategist, co-founded FORGE, now renamed and rebranded as Purpose Branding, due to his desire to work directly with business leadership and use his creative talents to solve business problems. He spearheads all brand strategy and creative visual direction, and has accumulated numerous national and international awards for his naming and branding projects. www.brandsonpurpose.com


Austin Munhofen, formerly Brand Communications Specialist at FORGE, brings brands to life visually and verbally, taking great pleasure in hand-crafting a brand’s story, personality and messaging elements. She has taken her branding knowledge and content background to the web world, where she now works as a project coordinator at Sparkbox. www.seesparkbox.com


This article is reprinted from Vol. 3, No. 2, of Nonprofit Performance Magazine. Subscribe today!

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