Brand Refresh vs. Rebranding: Key Differences and Nonprofit Examples

Brand refresh and rebranding are two terms that get mixed up A LOT. Before you set aside funds, use this flowchart to make sure you’re investing in the right direction first!
Graphic with two choices: on the left is a simplified web browser with a teal "spark" icon at the center to represent a brand refresh, and on the right is a circle with a red spark radiating from the center to represent rebranding from the inside out. There's a hand drawn pointing to both options with "versus" in the middle, showing the big decision to be made between refreshing or rebranding a nonprofit.

Brand refresh and rebranding.

These two terms get mixed up A LOT.

It may sound like silly designer semantics, but there’s a big difference between a brand refresh and rebranding your organization. Especially when there’s a change in leadership, too many nonprofits are ready to reinvent themselves, but is that right for your organization?

Let’s get clear about the difference first:

  • Brand Refresh: Building upon your core foundation and reputation. Your mission is solid, but how your nonprofit is showing up in visuals and words feels inconsistent and sporadic.
  • Rebranding: Reinventing your identity. This can include a new mission statement, core values, name, etc.

Rebranding can feel exciting and necessary, but going through the process when you don’t need to can actually do more harm than good.

If you’re thinking about rebranding or refreshing your brand next year, this quick flowchart may help you head in the right direction.

Answer the questions below to help you narrow in on which path might be best for your nonprofit:

Decision tree infographic to help someone decide whether their nonprofit should move forward with a brand refresh or rebrand. Infographic has a tan background and three results are: "you're due for a brand refresh" in teal, "hit pause!" in purple, or "start preparing for a rebrand."

Results!

  • Brand Refresh: Sounds like your nonprofit’s logo, messaging, and website are due for a spruce. Your core values and mission may be fine tuned, but you’re having a hard time communicating clearly and being consistent with your visual identity. You’ve got some serious brand equity built up, so a little finesse will go a long way!
  • Rebrand: It’s time to dismantle your nonprofit’s foundations and rebuild from the ground up. Rebranding your nonprofit is a big deal since it touches every part of your organization. This will probably require a larger conversation with your team to really dig into the symptoms you’re experiencing and plot a path forward.

 

Before you add a brand refresh or rebrand to your 2024 budget, consider gathering your leadership team and talking through these same questions together. It’ll be massively helpful to see how everyone answers these questions, but also listen for what piece is most important to each team member or department. What concerns are surfacing? Why is someone really pushing to refresh or rebrand the org? 

It’s better to embrace total honesty about the motivations behind your brand refresh or rebranding before you’re midway through the process!

Pros & Cons to Consider Before Refreshing Your Nonprofit’s Brand Identity

A brand refresh can be a quick way to inject some positive energy into your nonprofit, but before you sign on the dotted line take time to analyze the pros and cons with your team. 

  • Pros: 
    • Better First Impressions – Visual identity updates can improve public perception and boost internal morale.
    • Easier Marketing – Use the brand identity refresh and messaging updates to level up your marketing efforts.
    • Measurable Change – Easy to measure brand effectiveness before and after the refresh.
    • Seamless Transition – Keep your current website domain active while you refresh the brand.
  • Cons: 
    • Doesn’t Fix Deeper Issues – External changes to your visual identity or messaging will not solve internal culture or process challenges. 
    • Ongoing Attention – A refreshed brand needs continued upkeep and maintenance. Make a plan in advance for which team (or team member) will manage the new look and messaging.

 

Examples of Successful Nonprofit Brand Refreshes
  • CoachArt’s brand refresh, completed in 2023
    • What I love most about CoachArt’s brand refresh is that they had a successful national program and wanted to set their website up for continued growth. We got to lean into an established color palette and play with the elements so it felt more youthful and creative. 
  • Her Spark’s brand refresh, completed in 2023
    • Her Spark was super clear on how their curriculum would change in the near future, so we refreshed their logo and website with the goal of growing with them. We kept their current tech stack and applied a fresh look to their live website – the results are stunning and continue to increase their web traffic. 
  • Shine’s logo and design refresh, completed in 2021
    • Shine Performing Arts Studio had 5 years of success under their belt before working with us to refresh their logo and website. One of their core values was excellence, so we let their excellence shine through this bold, new look and youthful messaging. 

Pros & Cons to Rebranding Your Nonprofit

There’s a reason why nonprofits don’t truly rebrand themselves very often. From changing your positioning to your name, rebranding your nonprofit can be a massive undertaking and should only be pursued if you’re changing the structure of your organization, you’re merging with another nonprofit, or the competitive landscape is shifting.

Once you have the approval of your leadership team and board of directors, then start preparing for the process with the guidance of a branding expert.

  • Pros: 
    • Comprehensive – Realign your brand position, messaging, identity, and marketing strategy from the inside out. 
    • Growth-Oriented – Choose a new name and tagline that can grow with your organization. 
    • Strengthens Support – Use this opportunity to survey existing supporters and get to know them better. Many times the most brilliant ideas come from people who already know and love your nonprofit!
    • Makes Room for New Goals, New Vision – Attract new supporters with a reinvigorated sense of purpose and renewed excitement for your mission. Also doesn’t hurt to have 2 years worth of PR to share about the new brand direction and programs!
  • Cons:
    • Confusion – If you’re changing your name, there’s a greater chance of brand confusion. Pro tip: Keep communicating your new name for 6-months to 1-year after launch.
    • Slow Process – Requires more community research and a longer process. The rebranding process can take anywhere from 6 months to 2 years to complete, then another 2-3 years before you start reaping the benefits of your investment. 
    • Internal Chaos – Everyone has an opinion and branding can be a trying exercise. Pro tip: Work with a branding expert to help shield your team from designing by committee and to create a clear hierarchy for feedback.

 

Examples of Nonprofit Rebrands we love
  • Covered: After Covered went through extensive organizational changes, they looked to HeartSpark to develop their brand strategy, design a bold new look with an updated logo and web design, and create a compelling website and social media strategy. The new name and brand identity aligned with every piece of their new mission and direction!
  • Chariot (formerly Drive a Senior Central Texas): Drive a Senior Central Texas was ready to reimagine how their organization was presented to the world, so Caroline Griffin and the Upbeat Marketing team worked together to create a new name, tagline, logo, look and feel that could represent their next chapter. They landed on Chariot, which is all sorts of delightful and aligned with every piece of their brand position and promise. 
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If you’re feeling stuck between a brand refresh or rebranding your nonprofit – there’s a third option – hit pause and get a second opinion.

Our Brand Diagnostic is a full assessment of your brand so you can identify strengths, weaknesses and opportunities. This is also a great way to share solid proof with your leadership team or prepare for the investment of a brand refresh or rebranding this year.

In 3 weeks you’ll have a clearer picture of how effective your brand is, how well it’s resonating with your audiences, and a list of recommendations for improvement. Apply for an assessment today!