Five Steps to Achieving a Successful Nonprofit Rebrand

Nonprofit rebrands are tricky. Your new name should represent both your work and the change you seek to create.

Five Steps to Achieving a Successful Nonprofit Rebrand
20 mins read

Get the word out, engage your people, and keep your brand recognition.

More than 20 years ago, AfricAid was founded to support educational opportunities, scholarships, materials, and supplies for girls in Tanzania. Like many mature organizations, our focus has shifted over the years. In 2010, we adopted a more strategic approach by developing locally led mentorship programming through our new country office, AfricAid Tanzania, to provide girls with university-educated women role models who taught weekly life skills curriculum, thereby more holistically addressing structural barriers. Then in 2019, AfricAid Tanzania became the Girls Livelihood and Mentorship Initiative (GLAMI), a registered Tanzanian nonprofit, which split our organization and officially passed the program development and implementation torch into the trusted hands of our local partners.

This split meant our focus and overall structure had changed significantly — yet our name had not. And we came to see that it no longer represented either our work or the change we sought to create. We were due for a new name.

But we had brand recognition, especially at our home base in Denver, CO. Some of our donors, supporters, and partner organizations have been at our side throughout the growth of not only our organization but also our founder. Only 16 when she began the organization, our founder still sits on our board, and her parents retired from our board just a few years ago. Many of our most faithful, enthusiastic donors are former teachers, classmates, friends, and neighbors of the family; they have watched not only our organization — but also our founder — grow. The name “AfricAid” has meant a lot over the years, to a lot of people. So how does an organization change its name after so much history?

Thoughtfully, carefully, and intentionally. We did it, and you can, too. And for my fellow small nonprofits out there with no budget for rebranding (or anything else): We did it on the cheap.

Truth be told, it’s a lot more fun to be on the other side of a successful rebrand. But hopefully the steps we took will help provide you with a roadmap to your own successful transition.

Your Mission is Your Compass

From the beginning, you must let your why inform your new name.1

Our organization — including our founder, staff, and board — collectively supported the decision to change our name. But choosing a name is hard. You’ll likely find that while people will be happy to give you their feedback, getting help generating ideas for a name is a harder ask. You might be on your own to come up with ideas — but you should still seek input.

Here are five things we learned in our rebrand. If you’re thinking of rebranding, hopefully you’ll find them helpful, too!

1. Start with a reflective conversation facilitated by an outsider.

Through a session graciously led by an outside consultant,2 my board came together for an initial conversation. This helped our organization think about our future, our strengths, and where we fit within the girls’ education and empowerment ecosystem, brainstorming what colors and feelings we associated with our organization as well as what we wanted people to imagine when they heard our new name.

This exercise put us all in the right mindset for the big change ahead while also eliciting helpful perspectives. Having an outside facilitator kept the discussion moving. From a single session, we got supportive direction as well as keywords to help start brainstorming names.

Through this facilitated conversation, we realized we wanted several things out of our new name: We wanted it to evoke our history but also be forward looking; to communicate the world we were working to create; to instill a particular feeling without boxing our program participants into a specific definition; to be in English so we didn’t have to translate it; and to avoid acronyms.

And then it struck us like a bolt of lightning. We had operated a blog for several years that showcased stories and interviews with scholars and their mentors. A number of those blogs referenced “daring girls,” who went above and beyond what they learned through our mentoring programs to lead and drive progress in their lives and communities. As we started to ask questions, we came to understand that many of the mentors had also encouraged girls to “be daring girls”: To raise their hand, speak up, use their voices, and become active participants in the programming. We realized that “daring” could be anything — from raising your hand to share an opinion to stepping outside one’s comfort zone to advocate for change.

We had our name. And thankfully, the domain name was available, too.

Once we had our name, we needed to come up with our new logo, messaging, social media handles, and website.

2. Surveys3 are a valuable pre-launch engagement tool.

Sticking with our plan to thoughtfully, carefully, and intentionally rename, our next step was to find out what our other stakeholders thought of the name. We created a Google survey that we tweaked by audience: One version for mentors and program alumnae in Tanzania, one version for current donors, and one version for people who didn’t fall in either category — but who represented one of our target audiences we hoped to attract as supporters or partners through our rebrand.

In this survey, we asked what colors and images people associated with the word “daring,” we asked for opinions about preconceived taglines, and we asked point-blank what they thought of the name — as well as whether the new name made them want to learn more.4

3. Be confident in your name — because people will (probably) initially hate it.

Reviewing responses to the overall name, we assigned a tag based on response: Positive, negative, neutral. The results were split almost equally between the three.

But everyone has gut reactions and considering we had been thinking about this for a while, we were confident we could proceed with the name. Once they saw the complete package — the name alongside a new logo and look — they would love it as much as we did.

We ended up using those negative responses to think about our messaging and how we presented our name during the public rollout, preempting questions, and concerns. The survey also helped prime our key stakeholders for the forthcoming announcement that we were going to change our name. This was an extremely valuable step that informed everything that came afterward.

4. Logos don’t have to be expensive.

On the advice of a colleague, we launched a campaign on 99Designs. We developed and posted a creative brief, and then designers interested in our project submitted ideas.

One design caught our eye and we ran with it. It needed a bit of finessing and a more compelling font, but the heavy lifting was done.

5. Invest in your website.5

Your website is your front door: The first thing people will see about you. If you don’t have web design and development support on staff, this is where you should invest your rebranding money.

If course, you can do it on the cheap by working with a web developer to design your home page and maybe even a handful of other key pages. But if you cut costs here, you need to be prepared to roll up your sleeves and write copy, pull images, and be able to post additional pages and content on your own. And what you post must be visually consistent with the professionally designed pages of your site: After all, no one wants their website to resemble Frankenstein’s monster.

Of course, you can’t do all the fun things around your rebrand without actually legally changing your name.

This piece starts with your board. You may only be changing your name. But since you’ll need to re-file your articles of incorporation and bylaws anyway, it’s a great chance to review and adjust. We worked with our Board Governance Committee to update our mission and vision statements as well as the objects and purposes sections of our articles of incorporation, and we made a few additional changes. The governance committee approved sending these documents to our full board for a vote. Upon their vote to approve, we could file.

At this point, it’s important to make sure your board meeting minutes clearly note that the board has adopted your new name and approved your updated Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws. Your lawyers will likely need this in order to feel comfortable filing documentation on your behalf. This helps cover them in case you turn out to be a rogue ED, trying to rename on your own!

Our lawyers6 reviewed our official documents and made the actual filing with our state; the state level is where the actual legal name change occurs. If you don’t have free legal support, this is another area where it’s a good idea to invest: You don’t want to get this piece wrong.

Feel confused? Check out this quick 3-step table below!

Step 1File your updated articles of incorporation and bylaws with your state.  
Step 2File with the IRS. Request that they send you a letter of reconfirmation showing your name has been updated in their system.   Heads up: The IRS will require confirmation that you have changed your name at the state level before they change your name on their records.  
Step 3Begin re-filing state registrations in other states where your nonprofit is registered under your new legal name — after your filing is completed in your own state.

A Word about Banks

The window between the time you change your name at the state level and at the federal level can get tricky. It can take 6-8 weeks (or longer) to receive reconfirmation from the IRS that your name has been changed in their system. So how do you cash checks and conduct other business functions legally?

For us, a DBA was the answer. Similarly filed at the state level, this enables your organization to operate under another legal name, such as a trade name or other fictitious name. Legally, we filed papers with our state to change our name to Daring Girls but then immediately filed a DBA to continue operating under AfricAid, which is now our trade/fictitious name. This enabled us to still use banks, cash checks, and otherwise do business.

Once the IRS sent confirmation that our name had been updated in their records (per our request), we were able to add the name “Daring Girls” to our bank accounts — in addition to keeping AfricAid as a DBA on all of our accounts. Donor advised funds and other charitable giving portals were then also able to be updated.

The Big Reveal: Announcing Your New Name

If you’ve done the groundwork and brought your donors, institutional funders, partners, and other key players into the mix early, launching your actual name should be fun! It shouldn’t be a surprise to your most important stakeholders — because you’ve already let them know a name change was coming.

This is where you take all of the information you’ve gathered throughout this process and use it to show off your hard work and make everyone else feel as excited about this new direction as you do. There were five pieces of our rollout that helped us achieve a successful rebrand:

1. We used the right messengers.

Pushback and initial dislike of our name from some during the survey phase helped underscore that we shouldn’t be the ones to tell the story behind our new name: The mentors should.

We recorded interviews with current and former mentors who had used the words, “Daring Girls,” to inspire their scholars, as well as with program alumnae who had been called “Daring Girls.” We spliced a video together sharing, in their words, what a “Daring Girl” was. We used their quotes on the home page of our new website.

These women were far better messengers than anyone on my staff or board could ever have been, because they came up with our new name. Their participation in our rollout also underscored that our new name was rooted in our past. The only thing changing was our name — not our underlying mission or organization.

2. We held a preview event for our stakeholders.

We invited our stakeholders to a special “sneak preview” event where we announced our new name, showing off our new logo and website home page before anyone else saw them. We involved our founder, whose support and presence through this process was truly critical in reassuring our longest-term supporters. Held via Zoom, we kept our preview event fun and festive as a celebration of our next chapter.

Of course, if you have the funding and bandwidth to bring people together in person to reveal and celebrate your new name, you should absolutely do that. A rollout event can be a terrific opportunity to create deeper engagement with your stakeholders during this important transition.

3. We announced everywhere, all at once.

If your donors are like ours, it’ll probably take them time to remember that you’ve renamed. As you plan for announcement day, think of all the ways they might hear from or about you, and be sure communicate via all of those channels.

We sent a snail mail letter (co-signed by myself and by our founder) and email to our supporter list while broadcasting similar messaging on all of our social media channels. Online we became “Daring Girls, formerly AfricAid.” We even used a version of our new logo and name with the tagline “formerly AfricAid” so it would be easy for people to spot.

It’s going to take your community some time to get used to your new name. Plan on (gently) reminding people for about 6-8 months.

4. We learned it is shockingly easy to change your name on social media.

On LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, there is no paperwork that needs to be filed, at all. Not a single email that needs to be sent to their info@ accounts, no proof of a legal name change is required.

I would strongly recommend changing the name on your existing accounts rather than creating new accounts (unless there’s a compelling reason to start over from scratch). Of course, this means that you are betting the handle you want will still be there the day you go to change it, because there is no way to “hold” the handle for a coordinated launch. It might be wise to have backup social handles in mind, just in case. Changing your existing profile to your new name enables you to keep the community of supporters you’ve worked to grow.

5. We tried to anticipate questions.

Our homepage was the perfect place to help guide our supporters and stakeholders through their questions. For example, “What should I do if I’ve included your old name in my estate plans?”

Anticipate these questions and answer them on a page of your website. We linked a prominent spot on our homepage to an FAQ page about our name change, with details about how to make donations in different ways, what the change meant for the programming we support, and more.

Keep Banging the Drums

The hard work is done, but your old name is still all over the internet. Within a week of launch, you (theoretically) successfully updated your name in the most important places and directories. Give yourself a little grace. We were known as AfricAid for 20+ years before becoming Daring Girls, so we’re still chasing down updatable mentions.

This is a good opportunity to engage your board and stakeholders for help finding places online where our name still needs to be updated. This communication is important: It reinforces the point of changing your name through digital and print stories and communications, making sure you’re tapping the right messengers throughout.

In the end, I hope you find what I found: Some of our most vocal detractors during the name change survey process became the most vocal supporters after the new name and brand were revealed. And that, my friends, feels pretty darn good.


  1. Of course, we’re not the only nonprofit looking to change their name, and sometimes changing your name makes you realize you have to change your mission as well (or vice versa). If that’s the case, you might check out this article on planning for mission obsolescence. ↩︎
  2. We were able to hook up with the inimitable Leigh Dow of 48 West Agency, through the skills-based volunteering platform Catchafire. Leigh volunteered her time and expertise to facilitate this 2-hour discussion. If you don’t have access to Catchafire, Taproot Foundation is a similar skills-based volunteering service that is free to nonprofits. To learn more about how to use these platforms, check out this article! ↩︎
  3. For more on how to use community feedback, check out this article! ↩︎
  4. If you’re stuck on what to include in your survey, you’re welcome to take a look at what we put in ours. ↩︎
  5. If you’re looking for web and design support, I can’t recommend Artsy Geek enough. They’re a full-service graphic design, website development, and marketing firm. I’ve worked with them now in three different companies and they always deliver high quality work on time and on budget. Alongside helping us with our logo, they also worked to build an extremely affordable new website, design a handful of our most important web pages, push our website live, help troubleshoot, and more. ↩︎
  6. We are incredibly lucky to have a pro bono legal partnership with Sidley, a global law firm. TrustLaw might be a good place to start if you want to identify opportunities for pro bono legal support. ↩︎

About the Author

Author Photo: Jessica Love
Executive Director at 

Jessica Love is the Executive Director of Daring Girls (formerly AfricAid), a Denver-based nonprofit that partners with local organizations in Africa to ensure that girls have the knowledge, tools, mentorship, and support to confidently design their own futures. Daring Girls' vision is a world where every girl has the skills, confidence, and savvy to design her own future and dare to become who she wants to be.

Articles on Blue Avocado do not provide legal representation or legal advice and should not be used as a substitute for advice or legal counsel. Blue Avocado provides space for the nonprofit sector to express new ideas. Views represented in Blue Avocado do not necessarily express the opinion of the publication or its publisher.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *