Part 2 - How To Rebrand

Advice from Smile Train’s Susannah Schaefer

It’s unsurprising that a complete company rebrand is a massive undertaking. Success is largely determined early in the process, so before you think about selecting logo colors or agonize over font styles, colors and sizes, make sure you’ve established a strong foundation for the process. Susannah Schaefer, CEO of the recently rebranded Smile Train, offered a three-step walkthrough for nonprofits in the early stages of a rebrand:

1. Listen to your supporters.

“Current and prospective supporters are your brand’s most vital audiences, making their opinions and perspectives key. When embarking on a rebrand strategy, engage your supporters in the process by asking them for honest feedback—what’s worked and what didn’t, how would they most like to be reached in the future, which tactics most resonated? Everything from surveys to one-on-one conversations can be highly useful in gathering meaningful insights from your base, paving the way to success with wider audiences.” Additionally, your current audience will still feel like part of your story, and not like you moved on without them. Help them to still feel like a part of your community, and as such you’ll be shaping the conversation around your brand.

  1. Take the time to get it right.__

“A rebrand is an enormous undertaking and it’s important to start planning well in advance. Every step of the rebrand—from the research to the strategy to the message—should be approached with great thought and care, and with an eye toward your long-term vision. Dedicating time to getting it right can make all the difference in capturing the right eyes and fostering meaningful engagement with donors for years to come.” Don’t measure your successes or failures before they’ve fully emerged.

  1. Define your goals.__

“Before executing your rebrand, benchmark your current relevant statistics and use them to set measurable goals and clearly define what success entails. This will allow you to evaluate your initiative at key checkpoints and, as needed, adjust your strategy so that you are best positioned to meet your goals. Among our goals for the rebrand was to place our global work—and the individual patient stories—at the center of how we speak about the organization. Looking back at our materials and outreach to date, we are confident that we have achieved this goal across every touch point of our communications.” Check out our facebook series on the seven steps to a successful campaign for more info about defining company goals!


Smile Train (a New York-based international charity that provides corrective surgery for children with cleft lips and palates) recently rebranded, although not because it needed a name change. The company was founded in 1999 and was approaching two major milestones: its 1 millionth cleft surgery and its 15-year anniversary. Smile Train wanted to update its branding and approach to ensure that its story was up-to-date. The charity felt like it was struggling to accurately communicate the nature of its work, and that a major overhaul of its messaging was the solution. So the nonprofit began the process of reinventing itself. It examined the giving habits of current and prospective donors and interviewed its global staff and medical partners, using the findings to devise a rebrand strategy in a consensus model. “What followed was a complete brand refresh and fully integrated creative campaign that impacted every touchpoint of our communications, from the logo and look and feel of our brand, to the creative message, to the media channels we use to distribute content and the ways in which we seek to engage our audiences,” Schaefer explained. “Central to our brand refresh was our ‘Power of a Smile’ campaign—a departure from familiar direct response charity advertising that captures third world plight through the donor’s eyes,” she continued. “Instead, we sent an award-winning team of photographers and journalists far into developing countries to capture footage of Smile Train patients whose lives have been transformed by the cleft surgery they received. The campaign used a range of integrated multimedia tactics to tell the story of individual cleft patients through their own eyes, including videos, sharable infographics and patient narratives.” Smile Train shifted the focus from the big picture to the ‘little’ one, by highlighting and telling the stories of the individual patients and families. It employed interactive channels to better connect with supporters and updated its communications strategy to prioritize social engagement and visual storytelling. “Since the rebrand, we’ve been better able to keep our donors steadily informed of our successes and provide context for how their contributions are changing the lives of patients and communities,” said Schaefer. “In addition, our experimentation with multimedia tactics, spanning video and crowdsourcing has been successful in raising awareness among new, younger audiences. Collectively, these efforts have driven greater, more substantive engagement with the organization, enabling us to cultivate deeper, longer-term relationships with our donor base.”

No two rebranding strategies will be the same—what worked for one organization won’t necessarily work for another nonprofit with different a different cause and goals. However, Smile Train’s example typifies perhaps the most critical element of a 
rebrand: building, or refreshing, a connection with donors. “What we usually encourage nonprofits to do is to shift the way they’re communicating away from an organization-centric voice—which is, ‘We do this, we do that, here’s why you should support us’—toward a voice that is audience-centric,” Durham said. “And we do that by trying to identify the mindset of people who might support the organization. So, what’s the mindset of our longtime donors? Why have they supported the organization? What do they think it’s about? Are they people who care about supporting scientific breakthroughs because it makes them feel a part of something cutting edge and meaningful?

Here at One Story we believe the most powerful way to tell an audience-centric story is with video. Our blog post, The Power of Video Marketing outlines just how video is the most effective and emotive way to communicate and grow your audience. It could also be the most efficient way to drive a rebranding, and refresh your donor’s engagement with your cause. Contact us today to find out more about what kind of visual media would best suit you, and start our unique collaborative process!

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