• Transform magazine
  • August 15, 2020


Opinion: Talking about change

Jessica Lehmann - Brand Union.jpg

What does ‘change’ mean for nonprofits? Organizations that are committed to change in a way that, arguably, nobody else is? Their work is the embodiment of change. They change the lives and circumstances of people in our communities, and can improve the prospects of the planet. Change is a concept they focus on every single day, staffed by people who dedicate a sizable portion of their lives to achieving audacious goals – from ending the suffering caused by cancer, to creating empowered futures for women in emerging economies.

Asking the question about change of ourselves, though –whatever the type of organization we are – is daunting. Nonprofits that sprang to life as the brainchild or passion project of an individual or group inspired to make a difference may initially rely on the belief and charisma of a founder or community to propel the narrative. Brand and image may not feel like the most important thing for the organization to focus on at the start, not to mention that being cause-based, money is channelled first and foremost into initiatives that have a direct impact. 

Later on, when you want the way your organization looks to be differentiated from others in the same space, and to build more meaningful interactions with supporters, work needs to be done to bring coherence and clarity to the brand. It’s a rewarding process, but it can feel uncomfortable to those closely connected to the organization and its history. We recently sat with a prospective client whose charity is dedicated to supporting those impacted by suicide. They wanted to change their logo, their name and their identity, but were nervous about whether stakeholders and supporters would come on this journey with them. Some were so grateful for what this organization had done for them, they had the existing logo tattooed onto their bodies.

When we approach a challenge like this, we know that we’re not really the experts – those are the people who work day in, day out on the cause, and know their organization inside and out. Second, we’ll never say, “Everything is broken and needs to be fixed.” It’ s our job to navigate the existing narrative, and the history of how the current brand developed. We play the role of both detective and psychologist, hoping to shine a light on the forgotten truths and associated insights.

We then go about unlocking a solution that sets strong foundations for the organization to achieve its future goals – everything from growing its funding and expanding its network, to better supporting its employees and beneficiaries. At the end of a project, there’s often a sigh of relief. Partly because we’re past any of those sticky moments that invariably arise – honoring the needs of the organization, and the multiple stakeholders requires careful compromise and balance – but also because the results are so impactful for the organization.

We recently worked with a client focused on building better global healthcare solutions, and in our final meeting they couldn’t wait to get their hands on the collateral to use for an important upcoming presentation and networking event. Committing to change and upheaval in the short term would mean, the client said, “Huge savings on time and money, and massive improvements in their ability to operate efficiently in the long term.”

To be a great organization, change should be a constant. But it’s also good to remember – when you’re in the middle of a rebrand – that nothing is permanent.


Jessica Lehmann is associate director, strategy at Brand Union