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3 Major Nonprofits Launch Rebranding Efforts

By Andy Segedin - February 4, 2016

You would think that everyone already knew the Y-USA, YWCA and Muscular Dystrophy Association. Yet, the three major, long-standing organizations chose to reintroduce themselves to the public by either rebranding or launching marketing campaigns during January.

These are already brand name organizations with resources. The Y and YWCA ranked first and 24th, respectively, in the NPT 2015 Top 100. MDA ranked 92nd the last time it was on the list, in 2011.

“If it weren’t for the nightly news,” the voiceover on the commercial booms, “no one would ever think of this place.” Finding the good in communities, and Y-USA’s hand in them, highlights one of the television spots for the Chicago-based organization’s branding campaign.

The campaign follows a five-year rebranding initiative that came in response what organizational leaders believed to be confusion regarding the Y’s work, according to Donna M. Bembenek, vice president of marketing communications. While the public held a positive view of the Y, understanding the scope of its work proved more challenging for people to understand. During the past five years, Y-USA has worked with affiliates across the country to build capacity and work toward moving in the same, unified direction, she said.

A pair of television spots – Places, that focuses on underserved communities and Idle Hands, which directs attention to the needs of children across the country – lead the multi-tiered campaign. The spots debuted on primetime television programs including 60 Minutes and Madam Secretary. The campaign will continue on network and cable programming, digital media and social media through both paid and donated slots, Bembenek said.

Each spot concludes with a scrolling list of the Y’s services, including mentorship, childcare, education and meal programs. “We put that scroll because of the Y and our ability to drive high-impact programs with very specific, measured outcomes,” Bembenek said. Members of the public who are more familiar with the Y and its offerings are more likely to help, and the goal of the spots is to drive home the point that communities need that support.

The Y’s campaign is slated to go on for three years through various components, including digital rollouts scheduled for later this year. One such effort, called Reverse the News, accompanies news stories with ads stating how the Y is addressing the needs illustrated in the news and an opportunity to donate by targeting keywords in the story. For example, a story about America’s obesity epidemic might be met with an ad highlighting the Y’s healthy-living initiatives.

The tool will be piloted exclusively with New York Times’ content in 2016, with a goal of national expansion and the ability to show local affiliates how to utilize it with local news sites. “We haven’t been very good at telling our own story,” Bembenek said. “Reverse the News gives us a way to link to urgent news stories of the day.”

Looking up in Times Square in the middle of Manhattan is all one needs to see that the Y isn’t the only Y-organization looking to get the word out about what it’s doing in communities across the country. YWCA, which until late last year carried the corporate name “Young Women’s Christian Association,” launched its own brand awareness campaign. The campaign will include ads in Times Square and various publications, as well as digital marketing, according to CEO Dara Richardson-Heron, M.D.

The new corporate name is more reflective of the Washington, D.C.-based organization’s diverse nature and desire to engage people, Richardson-Heron said, as YWCA is committed to social justice regardless of religious affiliation. Y-USA made a similar move in 2010, it was formerly called the YMCA or Young Men’s Christian Association.

The decision to follow up with a brand campaign came after realizing that, while corporations, foundations and individuals are fond of the YWCA, few understand the scope of its work that extends to more than 2 million girls and families in 47 states and the District of Columbia each year.

“YWCA Is On A Mission,” the organization’s new slogan, is a response to a perceived lack of awareness. Richardson-Heron described YWCA’s budget for the campaign as “limited,” with a big push likely to last for three to six months and additional brand awareness to continue for years to come. YWCA will ask members of the public to share their experiences with the organization on social media with the hashtag #OnAMission.

The immediacy of the “on a mission” message is important when speaking with corporations and foundations, Heron said, adding that it is no longer enough to talk about individuals served. Instead, corporations and foundations want to reserve resources for organizations actively impacting lives. YWCA responds by highlighting work including the providing of victims of domestic violence with relief services, affordable childcare for parents needing to go to work and leadership training for young girls, including a Science, Technology, Engineering and Science (STEM) program.

“We like to say that we drive real change everyday and that’s something we want to the world to know and we want the world to engage with us as we do that,” Richardson-Heron said.

Gender and racial discrimination, equal work for equal pay, domestic violence and immigration are issues that YWCA is still addressing after 158 years. The topics are also likely to crop up during this year’s election cycle. YWCA is a nonpartisan organization, but that will not stop efforts to make sure that communities get out and vote. Richardson-Heron anticipates YWCA to continue advocacy efforts against laws that “disproportionately impact people of color, women, girls and families from achieving the American Dream that we all hold dear.”

The battles remain the same, but approaches have evolved. Social media has been an important addition to YWCA’s work. “Before, women and the YWCA were out with picket signs during the Civil Rights Movement,” she said. “We still do that, but now we have social media and might drop a Thunderclap. We’re able to get people active in that way.”

Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) executives returned to the organization’s roots when they relaunched the brand at Carnegie Hall in New York City, the site of the Chicago-based organization’s first telethon in 1956. “When I see the new heart in the MDA logo, know that I see my own heart,” the telethon’s longtime host, Jerry Lewis, said via a video message, referring to the heart within the “D” of MDA’s new blue and gold logo.

A new campaign title, “Live Unlimited,” and tagline, “For strength, independence and life,” were also unveiled at the brand relaunch.

The new look and new message capped what has been several years of great change at MDA. In 2011, Lewis ended his run hosting the organization’s annual Labor Day telethon, which he had done since 1966, and departed as national chairman. That same year, the telethon’s format down to a six-hour primetime format as opposed to the near-full-day event it had previously run.

MDA moved its headquarters from Tucson, Ariz. to Chicago three years later. Some staff members remain in Tucson. The telethon continued to down to three and then two-hour broadcasts until being discontinued after 58 years in 2015.

The organization’s 2016 national ambassador, Joe Akmakjian was introduced at the rebrand. At 24 years old, Akmakjian is the first adult to serve in the role. He will spend the year traveling the country and meeting with sponsors and families in his role as ambassador. MDA will look forward by connecting with more adults aging with neuromuscular diseases as well as move further into the digital age by engaging on multiple platforms, Akmakjian said.

MDA’s brand relaunch also included programming commitments, a path marked by three C’s, according to Christopher Rosa, Ph.D, vice chair of MDA’s board of directors.

  • Cure. MDA leaders committed to doubling research on drug development and clinical trials. MDA awarded 103 research grants totaling $27.3 million in 2015, according to the organization’s website.
  • Care. MDA plans to increase its support and care to families to 150,000 by 2020, a 50 percent increase. Support services will extend to telemedicine and digital tools such as a research center that will connect individuals and families to experts in the field, Rosa said.
  • Champion. Along with a refreshed website, MDA will offer a blog feature that will allow individuals to share their stories and experiences with neuromuscular diseases. MDA also plans to send 20,000 children to its weeklong summer camps at no charge to families.

“Live Unlimited” will extend into MDA’s fundraising programs and a new cause marketing campaign is scheduled to kick off in the summer. The brand activity comes at a time when the science around muscular dystrophy is experiencing significant advancements.

The first possible treatments for the most common form of muscular dystrophy, Duchenne muscular dystrophy, have come before the FDA. Additional advancements are expected to follow close behind. “More drugs are in the pipeline for the next five years than the past five decades,” said Steve Ford, chief communications and marketing officer.


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