Evolution of a Tagline: One Nonprofit’s Story

Melinda Pearce McKee, the public relations and communications director for NCGives, is sharing her experiences with us as a communications professional at a small nonprofit that’s undergoing many changes as it transitions from being a foundation project to an organization of its own (read other posts here). Today, Melinda explains the process of changing the NCGives tagline.

Guest Post by Melinda Pearce McKee

Melinda Pearce McKeeWe all know what it’s like to outgrow the remnants of your childhood — silly TV shows, favorite foods, kiddie games . . . and of course, clothes.

So what if you’re an organization, perhaps just coming of age, and what you’re wearing no longer fits? It’s the same as with ill-fitting clothes: you feel uncomfortable, and can look a bit awkward.

NCGives was born about 6 years ago with a passion for “Connecting Givers For Good.” At the time, that tagline more or less served its purpose, and it sure sounded nice ‘n’ sweet. But as the organization grew, we began to see how that tagline really wasn’t so great at conveying what we were about. (After all, you’re still in the dark, right?)

I finally decided we had to make a change when Sarah Durham (of Big Duck and Brandraising renown) posed a great question during one of Kivi’s webinars: “Could another organization feasibly use this same tagline?”

In other words, is your tagline so indistinct that you may as well not bother using it? Yikes! Talk about wasted real estate.

Double-Header Dilemma

With our next move, I’d say we jumped the gun a bit in our eagerness to really put a stake in the ground (something we were trying to do as a whole organization, not just with our tagline). We were advised by our then-marketing firm to add what they called a “descriptor line,” something that was more specific and authoritative about our work. So we came up with “North Carolina’s Initiative for Inclusive Philanthropy.”

That’s how we wound up juggling a sweet-but-indistinct “tagline” with an authoritative-but-unexciting (and still sort of unclear) “descriptor line.” To continue the clothing analogy, it was about as weird as someone trying to wear two hats at the same time . . . and it worked about as well, too.

Our challenge was now to find, in eight jargon-free words or fewer, a tagline that simultaneously 1) conveyed the inspiring, empowering spirit behind our work — our core belief that everybody is a philanthropist and that giving comes in many equally important forms; and 2) emphasized our “competitive edge” — that we are North Carolina’s only organization whose whole mission is to make that belief a reality.

The Search Is On

Enter Nancy Schwartz, and her blessed Nonprofit Tagline Report. If you are in the market for a new tagline, this report will be your best friend. There’s a lot of great info in there; my favorite gems are her lists of must-haves (like “make an emotional connection”) and deadly sins (like “don’t use inept references”).

I ran all our tagline ideas through these checklists, then ran the finalists past the staff and our board communications committee, and I’m happy to say, we now have our winner:

Because Every Giver Matters, and Every Gift Counts

Simple? Yes, which is not a bad thing. Intriguingly stirring, perhaps? I think so (if I do say so myself). Does it have an edge that distinguishes us from other nonprofits? Definitely, in North Carolina — and maybe even beyond. Mission accomplished.

Of course, I could have brooded further about how people will still be left wondering about how we do our work, since this tagline doesn’t make it obvious. But NCGives isn’t really a cut-and-dried organization, and I think chasing after a comprehensively cut-and-dried tagline would have been a fool’s errand. To steal one of my executive director’s favorite quotes, “the perfect is the enemy of the good.”

(Besides, people being curious about what you do is probably not a bad thing.)

Now, if only we could hem up our much-too-long mission statement! But that’s another story, for another time.

As a Part II to Melinda’s guest post, tomorrow I’ll share an interview with Nancy Schwartz about her new taglines database and how your nonprofit can use it to revamp your tagline much like Melinda did. ~Kivi

  • http://gettingattention.org Nancy Schwartz

    Fantastic story, Melinda. Thanks for sharing it!

    Is the tagline resonating with folks in the NC Gives community?

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  • http://twitter.com/NCGives NCGives

    Thanks Nancy (and thanks for all your research that helps out people in my position)!

    People are liking it so far – this is actually a recent change, so I’m still working with our web folks to get our website updated. Can’t wait for everyone to see it!

    My next step is to teach our staff/board how to use this new tagline as a launching point for a more effective, energizing elevator speech.

  • http://www.GoToGLO.com Amy

    Melinda, Thanks for sharing your process – love the analogy! And, you’ve crafted a wonderful new tagline. Great work and kudos to you, the NCGives team and all involved.

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  • Sarah Durham

    Melinda, thanks for sharing your adventures! Glad my question was helpful. Nancy’s tagline report is, indeed, an invaluable resource, too.

    Because taglines are always viewed together with your org’s name they should work in harmony- and yours clearly does. Congratulations on a big step forward!

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  • http://twitter.com/NCGives NCGives

    Thanks! Great to hear the affirmation, everyone.

  • http://www.woodentoddlertoys.com/weeblossom.html weplay

    Awesome tagline! It’s not just a tagline, it’s also a call to action which is important for non-profits. I agree that being simple is not a bad thing. Being simple helps you reach out to everyone with basically zero risk of miscommunication. So again, great job!

  • Event 360

    Thanks, Melinda, for the interesting post. I think you hit the nail on the head with your tagline as it’s clean, simple yet evokes a call to action. I will be interested to see how you will use your new tagline in your overall branding efforts and look forward to your next guest post. These are a few other tips for building your overall brand: http://bit.ly/fPYvcz

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