Now that the YMCA is simply “The Y,” it joins a number of the nation’s largest nonprofits reinventing themselves in recent years with new branding and logo. The national YMCA of the USA, headquartered in Chicago, Ill., announced the change last month at The National Press Club in Washington, D.C. All of its 2,680 local affiliates should transition to the new logo and name within five years.
It is the first new brand strategy for The Y since 1967 and the sixth since the organization was established in 1844. The rebranding effort grew out of the organization’s 2007 strategic plan, starting in earnest two years ago with analysis and research, culminating in March with meetings in 14 cities and several thousand staff and volunteers providing feedback.
“We are changing how we talk about ourselves so that people better understand the benefits of engaging with the Y,” said Kate Coleman, senior vice president, chief marketing officer for YMCA of the USA. “We are simplifying how we describe the programs we offer so that it is immediately apparent that everything we do is designed to nurture the potential of children and teens, improve health and well-being and support our neighbors and the larger community,” she said.
There was consensus among Y’s across the country that the organization didn’t “get the kind of recognition we deserve for the work and impact that we make,” said Coleman, and the Y decided to take a hard look at its brand as a result.
There’s been some backlash on online message boards since the announcement, noting the loss of the word Christian in the organization’s public persona, but the Y’s legal name — Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) Ð remains the same as does its mission: to “put Christian principles into practice through programs that build a healthy spirit, mind and body for all,” said Mamie Moore, a Y spokeswoman. The re-brand research did not test reaction to the word Christian not being included because legally the name hasn’t changed, she added. Individual, local affiliates are still required to use YMCA as part of their branch name, i.e., YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago.
“The Y has long been one of the pre-eminent nonprofits organizations in the country but we wanted to test whether people really understood who we are and what we do,” said Neil Nicoll, president and CEO of the Y. “Going through that research, it became clear that large parts of our communities don’t have a full understanding of the YMCA, the benefits we bring to community and how we could be beneficial to them. So we continued to do even more extensive research and that led to a complete brand revitalization,” he said.
The Y describes its new logo as “more forward-looking,” one that “reflects the vibrancy and diversity of the organization, and a framework that focuses resources on three core areas: youth development, healthy living and social responsibility.”
“One of the things we found was that we tend to talk about ourselves in terms of this product and that service,” said Coleman. “We need to talk about why we do what we do, so those three core areas were really a way of reframing what we do, so you can understand what the impact is that we’re trying to have,” she said.
Coleman estimated the national YMCA would spend about $1.3 million on the rebranding effort by the end of this year. The bulk of spending, she said, has gone into the development of tools and templates that affiliates can use, in addition to marketing materials and training to roll out the new brand.
Affiliates will have to bear some of the costs of the rebranding effort. As a capital-intensive organization, the Y and its affiliates annually budget for things such as painting, signage and building replacement. “So it’s how they use that money, not necessarily additional money,” Nicoll said.
Nicoll said feedback from affiliates about the rebranding was “overwhelmingly positive,” culminating in the Y’s general assembly in Salt Lake City, Utah, early last month, where 3,000 volunteers and staff gathered. “Their enthusiasm was beyond what we even hoped,” he said.
“Anytime you mess with somebody’s logo there are people who are concerned, but we’ve been very gratified that once they see the new logo in action they get pretty excited,” Coleman said, adding that the Y looked at more than 100 logos before deciding on the new one, which she said is “warmer and more welcoming.”
“Particularly for existing donors, this is not going to be new news, but it will in many ways help even them see us in a more refined, refocused way,” Nicoll said.
Among the nation’s largest nonprofits that have rebranded or shifted their image in recent years include Feeding America, United Way and Girl Scouts of America.
Coleman said it’s no coincidence that some of the largest and oldest nonprofits in the nation are rebranding. “There’s so much noise out there that if you don’t do a good job of explaining what you are about, you get lost in the noise,” she said.
“Organizations have to continually re-look at how they come across, how younger generations see them, how they’re perceived and connect, and particularly with a lot of the new media, how you’re presenting yourself in a way that is compelling,” said Nicoll. “So it’s logical that longstanding organizations would be thinking this way,” he said.
“The real benefit of this is going to be to better explain ourselves and help communities appreciate all that we do, which in turn opens the door for us to serve more people. And that really is the primary motivation and we’re excited about it because as an organization we have been driven by changes we have been able to implement in American society in 160 years and this continues us moving forward,” said Nicoll.
“Certainly we hope that for those potential donors who don’t know us, this will help them much better understand what it is we’re all about, so they will be more inclined to engage with us. For existing donors, it’s really a validation of the good work that they already fund,” Coleman said.
The brand strategy research included a national online survey last month of 1,500 American adults, to “better understand how they feel about the quality of life in their communities and the biggest challenges and opportunities facing their communities today.”
The research provided valuable information, Nicoll said, and “as we came closer to the launch and our associations began picking up and moving forward, we wanted to have even more detailed, in-depth information into what’s going on in communities right now and how people see The Y specifically, and nonprofits in general, playing into strengthening communities. So it’s given us some valuable information.”“The Y Community Snapshot” indicated 56 percent of Americans are “strongly satisfied with their own lives today,” compared to 66 percent who said the quality of life in their community is worse than it was a year ago. Respondents were evenly divided about what the future holds: 51 percent said they were optimistic about the future while 49 percent were not. Millenials, those ages 18 to 29, are more optimistic than the general population about the future of their communities but significantly less inclined to feel obligated to effect change in their communities. About 14 percent of millenials believed their community would be better a year from now compared to 8 percent in general.
“People are concerned about the problems facing their communities,” Nicoll said. “Like the Y, they understand that lasting change will only come about if we work together to improve our health, strengthen our families and support our neighbors. Our hope is that more people will choose to engage with the Y,” he said.
Among the chronic issues of concern that ranked highest were:
Crime, violence, public safety – 59 percent
Access to quality healthcare – 46 percent
Poverty Ð 45 percent
Negative youth behaviors, teen violence and bullying- 41 percent
Declining personal, family or community values- 39 percent
Americans ranked themselves, along with family and other community members, as having the biggest obligation (34 percent) and greatest opportunity (30 percent) to effect change in their community. Almost one in five surveyed felt the federal government had the greatest opportunity, while slightly more said it had the greatest obligation. Even fewer, 15 percent, said local, state or regional government had the greatest opportunity, and 20 percent said it had the greatest obligation.Of those surveyed, seven out of 10 said their contributed goods or services in the past year while two-thirds donated money to a worthy organization. More than half volunteered to a worthy cause or donated money to a house of workshop and nearly a third were actively engaging others to be more involved in causes, issues or organizations. NPT