You can sense the evil magic in the air. It tickles your nose like an approaching thunderstorm. That's one way you can tell the Brand Shamans are at work with a nonprofit organization.
But there's an even better way to detect the presence of the Brand Shamans: donors are snubbed.
The Brand Shamans practice a sort of "supply side" fundraising. It fails to communicate with donors, because it is built on organizational self-image, aspirations, and design preference, not on donor needs.
Here's one sad but true tale of the Brand Shamans at work:
Back in 2001, United Cerebral Palsy of Tampa Bay "rebranded." This venerable provider of services to the disabled saw the fact that a majority of their clients do not have cerebral palsy as a reason to re-brand and change their name. So far, so good.
(Tampa Bay is not the only UCP chapter to have dropped the cerebral palsy name. In fact, United Cerebral Palsy itself seems to be moving in that direction, favoring "UCP.")
In-house Brand Shamans handled Tampa Bay's re-branding at the cost of around $6,000. And here's what they cooked up:
That is not a typo. It is Brand Shamanism. Beside the obvious problem that it looks like a failed software company from the dot-com bubble, it's hard to read, hard to pronounce, and says nothing at all about that fine organization's mission.
How well did the new brand work? The organization's CEO, Karen Ryals, said it best: "No one knew what we did."
So an outside Brand Shaman (also known as a consultant) was brought in to try again. This time at a cost of $32,000. Here's the new name that launched in October 2004:
Achieve Tampa Bay.
More catchy than AdvanceAbility. More readable. But is it any clearer about what the organization does? Would a donor know what her charitable dollar is achieving through this organization? (For what it's worth, Ryals said, "The response has been phenomenal.")
Any organization with an established and respected name like United Cerebral Palsy should think twice before changing it.
If changing it is indeed the right thing to do, the organization must keep their donors (assuming they rely on donors) front and center in their thinking. The great nonprofit brands are the ones that zealously focus on donors' needs, aspirations, and level of understanding.
The Brand Shamans favor an inward-focused, navel-gazing approach that makes the nonprofit feel good about itself, but leaves donors out of the equation.
Read the full 12/20/04 Tampa Tribune story.
You can also visit Achieve Tampa Bay.