The organization I helped found as Colorectal Cancer Coalition in 2005 officially became Fight Colorectal Cancer on Monday, March 6, 2011.
This is a post I’ve been waiting over a year to write, so apologies for its length. It’s hard for me to keep a secret this big from my blog for over a year!
I hope it’s a fun read for anyone either looking to redo their own small nonprofit brand, or who wants a deeper dive on what we did at Fight Colorectal Cancer.
Out with the old:
In with the new:
We’re still in the honeymoon phase, just thrilled the new look is finally “out there” and is well-received. Overall, the experience has been positive.
I couldn’t be prouder of the Fight Colorectal Cancer team that we pulled this off with as little to spend as we had. But I want to be clear: Is this something you can do with free tools in your spare time? Absolutely positively not! However, a small organization with a small budget can make some pretty big changes.
Why did we do this?
To understand, you have to have been with us back in 2004. Nancy Roach, our founder, casually surveyed some of us early stakeholders to decide on a name. The logo was designed what felt like minutes before our launch in March 2005. We were so focused on our mission and what we were trying to accomplish, that no time was spent making sure we had a brand and a clear message. We picked what was aesthetically pleasing and that’s about it. It wasn’t ignorance, it was more about a lack of time and focus on what was perceived as “surface” issues.
Unfortunately in reality, we were often misunderstood. No, we weren’t “Katie’s group.” No, we didn’t do runs or walks or campaigns to raise public awareness of screening. We focused on the patient. We focused on the science and policy. We focused on action and making change for the patient. And each of us explained it a little differently.
An example of our early “brand” circa 2005
Like everything else that has gone well in my career, it started with a NTC (Nonprofit Technology Conference). At the 2008 conference, I attended a session presented by Farra Trompeter of Big Duck.
Something about the way Farra presented, answered questions and described the campaigns she worked on stuck with me. She really understood the organizations. She got it. I thought she was fabulous. I remember thinking that day, “I’m going to hire her.” Similar to the night I met Eric when I thought, “I’m going to marry him” and it’s now 18 years and 2 kids later. I just knew it was meant to be. I made a point of finding more of her sessions and I followed her online. I got up the nerve to introduce myself to her and we chatted a bit about our Cover Your Butt campaign which was similar to a campaign she worked on for a breast cancer organization. We connected on LinkedIn and for a while, that was that. I waited until the time was right.
Let’s Raise a Brand!
In January 2010, we got agreement from our organization leadership to take a closer look at our brand and messaging. Finally! I reached out to Farra through her LinkedIn profile. She got back to me quickly and said what we wanted to do sounded like a great fit for their Brandraising program.
From the Big Duck website:
Brandraising is a proprietary model developed by Big Duck to help nonprofits communicate more effectively in order to advance fundraising, programs and advocacy goals. It involves a blend of research, consulting, capacity-building, writing and design, coupled with variables that are unique to an organization (such as its culture, budget and staff). By keeping what works and refining what doesn’t, Brandraising enables nonprofits to raise more money, reach a wider program audience, and maintain closer contact with donors, legislators, the media, and their communities using limited resources.
Sounded perfect. To make sure we were heading in the right direction, we also solicited proposals from two other fantastic companies for a more traditional identity/website redo. What sold us on Big Duck’s Brandraising was the time and attention they were spending on research and deep understanding of what makes an organization tick inside and out. It was less about the deliverables and more about coming up with a framework we can build on.
Did we have 100% buy-in from the Board and the rest of the staff on day 1? ‘Fraid not. This was a huge step. Change is terrifying. Spending money on change is horrifying.
The way I saw it, if we were going to make this kind of leap, now was the time to do it when we were still small. We signed a contract to have a Brandraising in March 2010, and it was complete and presented to us by the end of June 2010.
Tip #1: Don’t skimp on the research. Don’t hold anything back. We’re an organization that believes in research. Although you’ll see later down the line what we did to try and save money. Sure, we could have gotten a pretty new logo and brochure for what we spent on the research phase. It’s hard to spend money and have nothing but a report full of recommendations to show for it in the end.
I think the most important contribution you can make in the research phase of a project like this is honesty and commitment. We didn’t sugar-coat anything and did what we could to leave our egos at the door. Carlea and I were each committed to this 1000%. When there were decisions to be made, we did everything we could to put aside distractions and focus. The project rarely, if never, fell behind schedule because were too busy to look at something and make a decision.
Tip #2: Make sure there’s at least 2 on staff who are invested in seeing it through. Why 2? We’re human. There are days of self-doubt and worry. There are days of frustration. Carlea and I leaned on each other a lot. I wouldn’t have wanted to own this project without her support. Ask any animal that molts…replacing your skin is very, very stressful.
Big Duck looked at everything. They interviewed key stakeholders. They sent out surveys. The report was thorough…and a bit brutal in spots. In short: we had a solid foundation and had done a lot of things right, but we had to make some significant changes to make sure our outside matched who we really were.
One recommendation that came out early was the name change to Fight Colorectal Cancer. Tip #3: Be open to anything. The only constraint we gave Big Duck going in was that our name must contain the word “colorectal.” Besides that, anything was fair game. With a C4, C5 and a Colon Cancer Coalition already in the same arena, we knew we didn’t stand out and the words we were using to describe ourselves didn’t fit. We already had equity in “Fight Colorectal Cancer” thanks to our website’s URL. It’s a statement. It’s a call-to-action. It was the obvious and right choice for us.
We immediately started phasing out use of “C3” in our print materials and spoken word to get ready for the change. If we’re comfortable not saying it, eventually others will follow. We play brand police on each other. Even I slipped in the last week once. Change is hard. P.S. Call us “FightCRC” if you have to shorten it, please no “FCC.”
The work begins
Here’s where it got tough. We had recommendations to build a mansion. We had a townhouse budget.
We made it work by breaking down the project into small stages spread out over a couple of years, and doing as much for ourselves as we could. We used Big Duck where their expertise was essential. For example we did much of the heavy lifting on our key messages and values statements, but they came up with our awesome logo, tagline and refined our mission statement.
Speak of tagline, is there a better one ever than this?
Big Duck presented us with 10 or so different tagline options. I couldn’t tell you what one other was. I only saw this one. We did go through a few rounds with the logo. Looking back, I know we made the right choice. Big Duck designed a new identity system and produced an amazing 37-page style guide that gives us direction on everything we’re doing.
Our vision statement:
We envision victory over colorectal cancer.
Our mission statement:
Fight Colorectal Cancer demands a cure for colon and rectal cancer. We educate and support patients, push for changes in policy that will increase and improve research, and empower survivors to raise their voices against the status quo.
How cool is that? Again, not a change in who we are or what we do. Just a change in the words we use.
We kept our Board updated throughout the project, but thankfully they gave us a lot of latitude to make decisions.
Our website got a new look. Big Duck didn’t do this part due to budgetary concerns, but they have consulted with us to make sure we weren’t going too far off the rails. SpryFlyPartners gets the credit here. It’s just a facelift. A new WordPress theme and some new plug-ins. Next year, we’re hoping to be able to do a complete revamp of the site architecture without throwing out the work we’ve done so far.
The advantage of working this way is not a signle link changed. One less detail to worry about.
We’re also staging out the name change itself. Right now, our legal name is still Colorectal Cancer Coalition, Inc. Working with our counsel, we filed all the necessary paperwork for a DBA (doing business as) Fight Colorectal Cancer. Some of the vendors we were work with are a bit confused as to what to put on contracts. We’ll work that out over time. Next year we’ll be ready to tackle changing our legal name as well.
We invited a videographer to come film our message training as we learned from Farra how to use the brand and he produced a video for us to help announce the launch. Yes, that’s Farra in the video doing a lot of the talking at the conference room table:
Our annual Call-on Congress event had long been scheduled for March 8-9, 2011. We decided that was the perfect time to unveil the new name/brand to the world.
At the event, we worked in the new brand everywhere we could:
We had staff wear branded shirts on training day…
And then the advocates wore branded shirts on Capitol Hill. Didn’t matter to us whether folks saw it as a statement or a logo. That’s the beauty of it.
By the time every one went home on Thursday morning, it felt like C3: Colorectal Cancer Coalition existed 10 years ago.
Practice Makes Almost Perfect
In the weeks leading up to the launch, we arranged private sneak peeks with some advocates and supporters. This gave us a chance to test out the brand messaging with others. It went over very, very well giving us confidence of how the brand would be received.
Tip #4: Make lists and practice in advance. You don’t realize how many different places have the old brand until you think about changing it. I’m not even talking about referrers on other sites or how other organizations refer to you. I’m talking about those places that you can control (Vimeo, Twitter, wrappers, YouTube, etc.). In the weeks leading up to the launch I prepared whatever graphics I could in advance and listed out the steps I would need to follow for each specific site to make the necessary changes. So when the time came, I could make the switch in less than 5-10 minutes per site. I did it in order of least traffic to most, making the Twitter and Facebook changes last.
Facebook was another matter entirely. Unfortunately, my practice sessions revealed a sad fact: Facebook does not allow organizations to change their name. We could change the description, profile picture, etc. but when we updated it would appear in others’ news feeds as “C3: Colorectal Cancer Coalition” and that was unacceptable. So we did what we had to do: we started a new page. It sucks that we have to start over and I hope that we can retain most of the folks who liked our old one. We are posting daily nags on the old page for folks to make the switch. Eventually, we’ll just discontinue the old page completely. Of all the changes we had to make in the new brand, this was the only one that hurt.
Good thing is that we got the “FightCRC” username, so now our short name is consistent across the board. When you actually have a brand, those things matter.
It amazes me that from the moment this started to where we are now took about 14 months with no significant downtime. And we’re not done yet.