Friends of Karen
NONPROFIT BRANDING CASE STUDY
Branding agency Red Rooster Group gave Friends of Karen, a 30-year-old nonprofit organization, a new look and website that presented a more professional image to their donors. This article describes the entire process and provides tips and resources for nonprofit organizations seeking to update their brand and website.
- Determining the Objectives
- Creating the Marketing Team
- Brand Review & Research
- Assessing the Name
- Defining the Brand
- Brand Personality
- The Tagline
- Updating the Logo
- Choosing Colors
- Introducing the Brand
- The Website
- The Results
In 1973, Sheila Peterson appealed to her community for help in paying the mounting medical bills for her friend Karen MacInnes who was terminally ill with a rare genetic disorder. Little did Sheila realize that it would lead to creating an organization dedicated to making life easier for other catastrophically ill children and their families.
Thirty years later, Friends of Karen has helped over 10,000 children with life-threatening illnesses from three offices in the New York Tri-state area. Like many nonprofit organizations, Friends of Karen is successful in their mission, but hadn’t paid much attention to promoting itself. The organization had a basic website so that people who needed the service could find them, and they held an annual fundraising dinner and other events to raise money, which had become their regular revenue sources.
The Need for Change
When Judith Factor became the Executive Director in 2009, she recognized that there were many more nonprofits competing for donors’ attention and that to stay competitive, Friends of Karen would need to:
- create a more professional image to quickly establish credibility
- update their website
- market their message in a better way to reach more people
It was clear that Friends of Karen needed to take a more pro-active approach to their outreach and fundraising. The website needed to be more relevant, contemporary and engaging. The site required a more sophisticated online donation system, as well as integration with social media to reach younger donors. And they needed the ability to update the site without technical knowledge.
Assessing the Situation
Based on our experience in helping other nonprofit organizations with these issues, Red Rooster Group was called in to help.
We found that this hands-on organization was known and respected in the area, was run by a dedicated board, and was strongly associated with their headquarters, a homey-looking white house converted into offices in Purdys, NY in Westchester County just north of New York City.
In assessing Friends of Karen’s marketing, we determined that they needed more than a website. They needed to refresh their visual identity to be more contemporary and to reflect the professionalism of their operations. And they needed a brand language to help them speak about the organization so that everyone could sing the same song. This type of initiative would require the participation of the board.
2. DETERMINING THE OBJECTIVES
No marketing effort should be undertaken without an understanding of what the desired outcome should be. The updated brand needed to reflect Friends of Karen’s growth from a “mom and pop” operation to a more professionally-run nonprofit organization and to give them a solid platform from which to grow. To accomplish this, we looked at two sets of objectives — Marketing Objectives which address the broad marketing and fundraising needs of the organization, and the Brand Goals, which focus on more specific communications outcomes.
- Position Friends of Karen as the “go to” support agency for families of children with life threatening illnesses.
- Increase awareness of Friends of Karen in the greater New York metropolitan area, particularly in western Connecticut and northern New Jersey.
- Increase understanding of the organization’s mission, and participation in programs, services and events.
- Increase the amount and kind of donors, and size of contributions.
- Receive more referrals from hospitals.
- Raise the level of professionalism of Friends of Karen’s logo, website and marketing materials.
- Ensure consistency across all communications.
- Streamline the production process for publications.
- Use technology effectively to promote Friends of Karen’s programs and events.
- Provide a foundation for growth and ongoing marketing.
3. CREATING THE MARKETING TEAM
The next step in the process was to understand who we were working with. When it comes to nonprofit organizations, there are usually four factors that come into play during a major decision such as updating the brand:
- Who wants to have involvement in the process? Usually this includes representatives from the staff, such as the Executive or Associate Director, Marketing Director and Development Director, and perhaps representatives from the board. In Friends of Karen’s case, it was a small group: Judith Factor, Executive Director and Jill Gold, the Communications Manager.
- What involvement will the board have? Every organization’s board assumes a different level of involvement, from hands-on to hands-off, so it’s important to know how they will be involved in this process. Fortunately, Beth Leventhal, the Board President, favored the initiative and helped to galvanize support from the board.
- Who will be the main point-person for daily contact? Jill Gold helped to gather the materials and feedback from various sources and was responsible for the daily work.
- Who will be making the ultimate decision? Usually, the board will need to approve a significant change in direction for the organization. Therefore it is important to know where the board stands, who drives the decisions, what their process is and when their meeting dates are. In this case, the board did need to approve the new brand, so we were sure to include them in the process from the beginning. We presented the findings of our research and initial design concepts to them for feedback. Later, we presented website designs for their review.
- Resource: Video describing the Board’s Role in the Branding Process
- Tip: Identify your brand champion within the organization, whether on staff, or on the board. A successful branding process requires internal support from someone who is respected and who can build consensus and drive change within your organization.
4. BRAND REVIEW & RESEARCH
We conducted a research phase which began with reviewing all of the organizations communications strategies and fundraising materials, including newsletters, event promotion and solicitation letters. We interviewed members of the staff and board as well as donors to get an understanding of their their values, priorities and perceptions of the organization and to see if they aligned. We also looked at other organizations that were providing similar services in the same geographic area.
RESEARCH FINDINGS & RECOMMENDATIONS
Based on the research findings, we recommended the following key messages:
- While the mission is easy to understand, the full scope of services needs to be communicated: When a child becomes catastrophically ill, Friends of Karen offers a combination of financial and emotional support, an empathetic ear in a time of need, full family and sibling support, continued support for families for years, and advocacy for families’ needs.
- The comprehensive combination of support services that Friends of Karen provides is unique.
- The full impact on families is tremendous (the extent to which life is disrupted, family dynamics change and the consequences on spouses and siblings).
- Friends of Karen has a huge impact, not just in helping children, but also in keeping families intact.
- Friends of Karen provides a service that is essential — anyone can be affected (all income levels, ethnicities, etc.).
- Friends of Karen has achieved a level of professionalism and effectiveness worthy of donors’ trust.
5. ASSESSING THE NAME
The process of updating the organization’s brand provided the opportunity to revisit the name Friends of Karen. Given that the name doesn’t describe what the organization does, and is perhaps confusing (who exactly is Karen, people may wonder, does the organization help only one person?), we wanted to assess whether it was appropriate to change the name.
During the research phase, we asked questions to gauge awareness and perceptions of the organization and its mission. We assessed the potential for confusion with other organizations providing similar services. We also evaluated the “equity,” or good will, that their existing name had built up. We weighed whether or not the expense of changing their name would be worthwhile.
We found that the name was not enough of a problem and that the potential benefit was not great enough to lose the positive reputation that Friends of Karen had built up over the past 30 years, and so the name would stay.
- Insight: At a webinar that I conducted on nonprofit branding, 26% of nonprofits attending said that their organizational name does not reflect what they do. I was surprised to learn that it was this high. Two weeks prior, at seminar I conducted at the Support Center, several nonprofit participants expressed the concern that their name was holding them back from pursuing certain donor markets and they didn’t want to isolate their current donor base. While keeping donors in mind is important, it is essential that nonprofits act in their own long-term interests in making strategic decisions that best position their organizations for growth.
- Resource: Organizational Name Assessment
- Resource: Nonprofit Naming Considerations
- Resource: Naming Nonprofits for Impact
6. DEFINING THE BRAND
We found that while other organizations had services for kids with cancer, Friends of Karen is the only organization that provides emotional and financial support to families as well as advocacy services on their behalf. These attributes became the core distinguishing principles for Friends of Karen.
7. BRAND PERSONALITY
The brand personality conveys how the organization comes across to the people it serves (as well as to donors and others). Even if organizations have similar missions, their brand personalities may be very different, depending on how they go about fulfilling their mission. Brand personality may be affected by leadership philosophy and management practices, nature of the facilities, corporate culture, and levels of achievement and clout in the sector.
It is important to articulate the Brand Personality to ensure consistency in how the organization speaks about itself. For example, Friends of Karen is noted as being very caring in a time of great need for parents who have a child with cancer. The fact that they are seen as warm, welcoming and supportive in standing by their families for a long time, distinguishes them from other organizations that are viewed more as one-time resources.
8. THE TAGLINE
A tagline or slogan, is a pithy way of explaining an organization is all about. Many nonprofits have very descriptive names that describe the mission — for example the National Advancement for Colored People, People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and Mothers Against Drunk Drivers.
The name Friends of Karen, however, does not indicate what they do, and so in this case, their tagline can explain that. That is what we call a descriptive tagline. A conceptual tagline that is more expressive and abstract can be used when the organization’s name is descriptive.
The tagline had to do a lot of heavy lifting for the organization, and the board discussed the best ways to describe what they do. We agreed that the word “supporting” was better than “helping” (since they are not curing the children) and that the emphasis should be on the kids first and families second. We therefore arrived at the tagline “Supporting critically-ill children and their families.”
We looked at the following descriptive and conceptual taglines for Friends of Karen and decided on a descriptive tagline: “Supporting critically-ill children and their families.”
- Helping families with critically-ill children.
- Helping critically-ill children and their families.
- Supporting children with critical-illnesses.
- Relief for families with critically-ill children.
- Helping hands for kids with critical illnesses.
- Critical help for kids with critical illnesses.
- Peace of mind through tough times.
- The support you need, the compassion you crave.
- Helping hands along the way.
- The way through.
- Hope lives here.
- Kindness. Guidance. Support
Since the tagline is the prime expression of the organization’s mission, it was decided that it should appear with the logo to tell people what the organization does.
- Resource: Tagline Assessment
- Resource: Nancy Schwartz’s Getting Attention blog runs an annual Nonprofit Tagline Competition that lists thousands of taglines along with ideas.
9. UPDATING THE VISUAL IDENTITY / LOGO
The next step was updating the logo. The logo consisted of an adult’s hand giving a string with five balloons to a child’s hand. Similar to the process for assessing the name, we examined the various attributes of the logo to determine what aspects were worth keeping and the extent that other elements should change. We looked at the following factors:
Meaning: The balloons signifying hope is an apt metaphor which we recommended keeping.
Uniqueness: Based on our research, we did not find other social service organizations that a balloons as their logo, so recommended keeping the balloons as a method of distinguishing Friends of Karen from other organizations,
Emotional Tone: The logo conveys a mixed emotional tones — the bright colors of the balloon are upbeat, but the typography is foreboding in contrast. The color scheme should be unified to convey a welcoming, caring and responsible sensibility.
Sophistication: The logo looks dated and lacks the sophistication reflecting Friends of Karen’s maturation to its current size. We will improve the level of finesse in boththe icon and in more refined typography that integrates better with the icon.
Use of the word “Inc.”: We recommend not including the word Inc. on the logo itself. It can be used on business documents.
Equity: Given the long-term use and recognition of the logo and its recognition, we will maintain an essential recognition of the key elements while updating it for contemporary use
- Resource: Logo Checklist
Taking these factors into consideration, we began to explore a range of conceptual approaches, typographic treatments and configurations (placement of the icon relative to the type). We presented versions of the logo that were more contemporary renditions of the hands and balloons. We offered more abstract versions that emphasized the hands instead of the balloons and versions with balloons only. We also presented a more abstracted version of the original logo, as well as a new concept combining an adult and child’s face in separate balloons.
In developing the logos, we also presented “intermediate step” logos that updated the visual look of the current logo, without fundamentally changing its nature – for example by making the balloons 3-dimensional and by cleaning up the typography but keeping the overall configuration.
The intermediate step logo was presented to the board to compare the difference between merely making the current logo more contemporary, and taking the full step to the final logo which strengthen the message.
The Executive Director and a some board members were behind the concept of moving the organization forward with the new look and used this intermediate logo to show that the full-step logo would be much more dynamic and would serve the organization better.
Ultimately, the new logo was selected because it does a better job telling the story. The emphasis is on the adult hand giving the child the balloon — the metaphor for help, rather than on the literal picture of balloons — which looks more like a balloon seller.
Organizations often use pictures in their logos which can fall flat. What makes a logo memorable (other than repeated exposure) is its originality and meaning. A juxtaposition of elements in a new way, a metaphor or a story, helps to make the logo unique and connect to an organization.
Notice how the typefaces are modern and buoyant and work well together and integrate with the pictoral part of the logo. The logo also uses three circles (balloons) that can be employed as part of Friends of Karen’s “visual vocabulary,” that its audience can start to recognize.
10. CHOOSING COLORS
Simultaneous to the logo development process, we explored various color schemes to represent Friends of Karen’s caring personality. The original palette of primary colors lacked distinction, and so we aimed for more sophisticated colors that could be identified with the organization. The color palette would set the tone for all the communications since they would be used on a range of marketing materials, both printed and online.
We presented a variety of different color palettes in groupings similar to how they might appear in the logo so that they can be evaluated based on how they work together.
We ultimately decided that a combination of color palette 3 with orange as a counter point, worked best to convey warmth and create a strong distinctive look for Friends of Karen.
- Tip: Selecting a color palette can seem very subject. Keep in mind that the best colors are not what colors people in your organization favor, but what best represents your organization and appeals to your audience.
As part of the process of designing the logos, we considered how the logo would be used. These days, most organizations communicate online which provides for full color. Given that digital printing and color copiers make it inexpensive to print in color, we wanted to take full advantage of color in designing the logo. However, there would be times when the logo might be used in a single color. For example, in newspaper ads and on premium items, such as a pen.
We created versions of the logo that could be used in those instances. The version used would depend upon the size of the logo and the printing capability being used. For example, if the logo was used at a large size in a newspaper ad the version with the gradients would be used. For screen printing the logo in a small size on a pen, the solid version would be used.
- Tip: To determine how many colors your logo should be, consider how your organization communicates – is it mostly online, or in print, in large quantities or small? And when designing the logo in full-color, consider how would it translate in one color.
11. INTRODUCING THE BRAND
There are different ways to introduce a new brand – a hard launch, with much fanfare, and a soft launch, replacing stationery and other materials as needed.
Friends of Karen was holding its annual fundraising dinner gala at Tribeca Rooftop in Manhattan, it would be the prefect place to show off the new logo. Large posters with the logo were displayed at the elevators so the people could see the logo when they entered the event space.
The new look was introduced in other ways as well. New stationery was created using the logo and color scheme, and a new sign for their headquarters was designed. The new sign is designed to convey a more contemporary sensibility, and to be easier to read from the street. The sign proportions are more square to allow the type to be larger and to reduce the amount of white space. Also notice how the logo element is cropped to show the main image of the hands and balloon at a larger size for more impact.
- Tip: Once you have your new logo and website, you’ll want to tell the world. Plan this into your process, so that you can be prepared to send out postcards, e-blasts or include a story in your newsletter when you are ready to launch.
12. THE WEBSITE
The next phase, creating the website, is where it all comes together to have the greatest and most meaningful impact. This phase turned out to take longer than expected, but Friends of Karen did end up receiving a tremendous amount of value.
The old site, which Friends of Karen had been using for a long time, contained information about their history and services, had some information about their events and contained a video. It had a homespun feel with images of the children they have helped that conveyed a sense of love and caring. Yet, the site lacked the sophistication that would reflect the organization’s maturity and professionalism. The website needed to stand out and captivate donors and families as well as healthcare professionals.
1. Understanding the Audience
The process to develop the new site started with understanding who we were looking to reach. Based on the Marketing Objectives, we knew that the site had to be directed to donors as much as the families served. We were also aware that for Friends of Karen to make a bigger splash in the tri-state area, the site would need to tell their story to health care professionals, other organizations, the media, and legislators.
We created a chart that listed all the audiences and indicated what they would be looking for on the site, We then listed the desired actions we wanted them to take, and the type of information or features that would support those actions. This ensured that the needs of the different audiences would be met and that the website would be successful in achieving its objectives.
- Tip: Looking for more donors? Then provide information about your impact. Seeking to improve relations with your community? Then show how you are a good neighbor. Want to influence policy? Then provide background information on your issue. Starting with the end in mind will help you create a site that accomplishes your goals.
- Resource: Website Checklist
2. Organizing Content: Developing the Site Map
The next stage is organizing the information in a way that reflects the users’ need and creating a Site Map. For example, donors would want to know organizational and financial information and want many ways to give. To meet that need, we created an About Us section with pages describing the impact that Friends of Karen has on families, as well as posting their annual report.
The Ways to Give section provides multiple options for contributing to the organization including donation is honor or memory of someone, donation stock, gifts in kind and legacy giving.
Families in need can find information about Friends of Karen’s services in the Family Support Services. The For Health Professionals section was created to facilitate referrals from hospitals..
- Tip: Does your website reflect your organizations’ structure or the needs of the people it serves? Ask someone who is not familiar with your organization if they can tell what you do and find needed information on your site.
The next step was in creating a cohesive and compelling look for the site. Because of the emotionally touching nature of their mission, the client wanted to use photos of actual children with cancer that they had served.
The new logo and colors inspired the design. We explored a number of options using the circle motif as well as more traditional designs based on a grid structure. In this case, the process took a lot longer than it should have. While we knew what pages we needed to include, we were working out the details of how the navigation would work during the design stage, rather than finalizing it in the planning stage.
- Tip: Before beginning the site design stage, it is useful to have an idea of what you are looking to achieve. Develop a list of websites that you like with notes about what applies to your site.
- Tip: It is best to allow time in the process to work out the navigational structure before starting the design. This can be done with black and white diagrams, called “wireframes” that show the navigation and actions for each page.
ELEMENTS OF THE SITE
Branding: The site features the new logo in a predominant position to identify the organization. The tagline was enlarged from the normal logo and tagline configuration to make it immediately clear what the organization does.
Message: To tell Friends of Karen’s story, the homepage features a sequence of 4 rotating images with client testimonials. This is positioned “above the fold” so that it is the first thing seen and can establish the tone for the site. The main message under the photo is written from the client’s point of view, recognizing the hardship and emotions the families feel, the effects of the problem (explaining why Friends of Karen exists) and sets up Friends of Karen as the solution. This appeals to both the families who need their services as well as donors who want to know what value the organization is providing. Notice that the mission is displayed prominently in a circle. The number of children served (10,053) creates credibility for the organization and shows the depth of their impact.
Navigation: Navigation is split between the items for a donor, with 3 tabs on the top — About Us, Ways to Give, and Get Involved, while the main services for families are down the left side. The right hand panel contains the “actions” that people can take.
Action Box: An Action Box, which appears on every page, includes the Join Our Email List sign up, Search the site feature, Donate button, links to social media, and an Email a Friend feature.
Images: We went the extra mile with with site,using different images for each page on the site - about 80 pages. Rather than use stock images, we used photos of the actual kids and families that Friends of Karen has helped, to lend authenticity. This was big job - Jill Gold, Communications Coordinator, supplied the images and got permission from the parents to use the images, and we sized them for the appropriate use.
Colors: Color is used to establish brand recognition and to aid in navigation. Specific colors indicate the various sections on the site – orange indicates action items, purple is used for information about Friends of Karen and its services, and violet is used for donations and ways to give. Underneath the Action Box in the right hand column are the Event, Photo Gallery and News features. These elements that change are grouped together and colored orange to signal that they change.
- Tip: Rather than using random colors on your website, use colors to reinforce your brand and create distinctiveness for your organizations. Colors can also help your users navigate your site by associating certain colors with specific sections, features or actions.
Content Management System: Like most nonprofit organizations of their size, Friends of Karen does not have staff who know web programming, so it was essential that the site be easy to update by anyone. To meet this need, the site was created in Drupal, an open source language with a with a full content management system that allows Friends of Karen to add and delete pages and to edit text and photos, including right and left sidebars and main header images.
Due to the complexity of the site, it took about 10 weeks to do all programming, refine the administrative section so that it was easy to control how all the content appeared, and to integrate and test all the modules and features. The site contains a high level of sophistication, with a back-up module, and a taxonomy feature for creating custom keywords in the site that can be used as the basis of searching the site.
- Tip: Other open source programming languages including Joomla, which also allow for a lot of sophistication, and WordPress, which is simpler and easier to use. Each has their own advantages and community of supporters and you can find designers and pre-designed templates for each. These open source languages have become the standard, due to their flexibility. With thousands of programmers constantly developing new updates and modules to keep the system stable and adaptable.
Online Donations: After considering several different online payment processing systems, Acceptiva was chosen to handle online donations and registration for events. Typically these systems charge about $30 per month plus monthly fees, and a small percentage of the transaction. Acceptiva was chosen for a combination of its cost, reporting capabilities and flexibility in processing recurring transactions.
13. THE RESULTS
This entire process, from the start of the research to the launching of the site took nine months. The resulting brand update and website will last many years and will help Friends of Karen to grow. They now have the visual tools and messages to help them tell their story effectively and present a professional, unified image to donors and families.
The new logo is finding its way onto items like bike jerseys, helping Friends of Karen to create distinction at their bike-a-thon events. As Communications Manager for Friends of Karen, Jill Gold adapted their new colors and typefaces to the latest issue of their newsletter to bring that into harmony with the overall brand identity they want to project.
In terms of fundraising, like many nonprofits, Friends of Karen has a year-end appeal. Given the economic downturn, they upped their ante with their efforts this past year. They increased the size of their mailing list and had the staff and board hand write notes on many of the cards that went out. Due to this expanded effort, they exceeded their own projections by 25%, with a small percent coming through the new website, proving the benefits of having all the parts working in harmony.
Visit the site and let us know what you think: friendsofkaren.org
Howard Adam Levy is the Principal of Red Rooster Group, the branding agency that specializes in helping nonprofits be more effective in their marketing, and is the president of The Nonprofit Brand Institute. For help in improving your nonprofit website, communications or fundraising, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 212-673-9353.