Easterseals Rebranding Offers Key Insights for Nonprofit Leaders

Easterseals became a household name in the 1950s and 1960s in large part because of its signature marketing initiative: sending out millions of sheets of Easter Seals for supporters to use on their letters, bills and other mailed correspondence.

The seals were central to the nonprofit’s brand for decades. But as snail mail gave way to email, the nonprofit decided its brand was due for an update. That rebranding offers a compelling case study for nonprofit leaders who are thinking about rebranding their organization.

The Easterseals logo has signficant changes in the rebranding effort.Shortening the name to Easterseals was just one component of the nonprofit’s rebranding, which started in 2014 and is to be completed in time for its 100th anniversary in 2018. Yet there was more to it than the name: The rebranding represented an extensive effort to reenergize Easterseals employees and volunteers, and to connect more widely with the general public.

Nonprofits of all kinds have successfully rebranded themselves in the past decade, for good reason. The New York-based consulting agency Big Duck found that fully half of rebranded nonprofits reported an increase in revenues after such a move. Rebranding has other benefits, including better employee engagement and more effective employee recruitment, to name a few.

Here’s a quick look at how Easterseals upgraded its brand:

Casting a wider net

Easterseals’ move to broaden its appeal was tactical and strategic. For starters, the decline in the use of conventional mail, particularly by younger people, made the organization’s signature marketing tool as relevant as sealing wax. At the same time, the group wanted the Easterseals name more closely associated with its work serving the disabled, in particular, and more generally as an advocate for the disabled as a group. So it added a slogan: “taking on disability together.”

In doing so, Easterseals became part of a larger trend among nonprofits that consider branding as much about marketplace identity and social impact as it is about fundraising and community support projects. The organization also eliminated its longtime lily logo, a symbol that had both seasonal and religious overtones. Its new logo reflects that Easterseals is an organization for all seasons and for all groups of people.

Preserve existing brand awareness

Easterseals had to walk a careful tightrope, however. Initially, some leaders even proposed tossing out the name altogether and starting fresh. So, Easterseals did some careful research and learned that 88 percent of people surveyed knew who the organization is and what it does. Accordingly, Easterseals decided that renaming the group would be counterproductive, opting instead to change slightly from “Easter Seals” to the current one-word moniker.

This balanced approach shows how rebranding can be tricky for any type of enterprise. While no organization can remain stagnant, the marketing world abounds with tales of once-mighty companies and brands that lost their way after shifting too far from their roots. Done right, rebranding capitalizes on both an organization’s legacy and reputation and its current, forward-thinking philosophy.

Standing out

The old name and logo conveyed nothing concrete about the work Easterseals does. Its new tagline calls attention to the fact that it has evolved to become an advocate and a source of help for disabled people throughout their lives.

The tagline also underscores that Easterseals is a partner for those it serves. It also stresses how Easterseals works hand-in-hand with other organizations and entire communities on helping people with disabilities lead more enriching lives — a mission that encompasses a diverse array of services ranging from mobility to employment counseling.

Easterseals even did comparative research on the colors in its branding. Besides evoking the notion of a “new day,” the yellows and oranges in the new Easterseals logo set it apart in a sector that typically relies on reds, blues and purple graphic elements.

Involving everyone

The rebranding project involves all 74 local Easterseals affiliates, who have been kept abreast of progress on the project and given an opportunity to contribute their thoughts on the direction the initiative should take. Easterseals did this through frequent town-hall-style meetings that connected the headquarters staff in Chicago with affiliates as well as with Siegelvision, its marketing agency.

This all-hands approach lent a sense of teamwork to the rebranding project, an important move. As Nathalie Kylander and Christopher Stone noted recently in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, brands express a group’s purposes, methods and values. This makes rebranding important internally as well as externally.

“At every step in an organization’s strategy and at each juncture in its theory of change,” they write, “a strong brand is increasingly seen as critical in helping to build operational capacity, galvanize support and maintain focus on the social mission.”

Confounding the skeptics

Some doubters view branding like any sales or marketing effort: as a somewhat iffy endeavor more properly left to the for-profit world. But that outlook ignores the power of a good nonprofit brand and ultimately imperils an organization’s finances and its future.

Far from abandoning a group’s core principles, branding strengthens them for both the organization and the people it serves. The simple truth is organizations that amass greater resources often can do more good. Being able to do that requires a world-class brand.

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