Special to the Philanthropy Journal
WakeEd Partnership After 30 years and two name changes, WakeED Partnership has refreshed its image to better convey its purpose—improving public education by advocating for an excellent educational opportunity for all students in the Wake County Public School System. This branding exercise helped refocus their sense of mission so that they can better serve the students of the Wake County Public School System. Walk into WakeEd Partnership’s Raleigh office and you’ll see a four foot, frosted acrylic disc displaying their name with blue dots around it. The collateral and business cards match the display on the wall, creating a unified look for the 32-year-old nonprofit.
“We’re really pleased with it” said WakeEd President Steve Parrott, referring to their recent rebranding efforts. “We are better positioned to reach out to the community and make a bigger impact.”
WakeEd is an independent, 501(c)(3) nonprofit that works to improve education for students in the Wake County Public School System (WCPSS). It was started by business leaders in 1983 as the Wake Education Foundation, a way to give money directly to educators to improve classroom instruction. Back then there were a little more than 167,000 people living in Raleigh. Now the school system alone has almost 170,000 faculty, staff and students. For thirty years, little about the nonprofit’s brand had changed.
“Like many nonprofits, we struggled to keep a fresh image as the county changed around us,” said Ken Jones, Director of Marketing. “Businesses and corporations have entire budgets and staff dedicated to branding. Like most nonprofits, we don’t have that luxury.”
In the 1990’s the organization became Wake Education Partnership, an acknowledgement of their deep ties to the business community. They did their best to create a brand, make a website, and concentrate on their core mission—educational excellence. Somewhere along the way, the first impression began to get stale. Despite their other programs, the nonprofit became best known for Pieces of Gold, an annual celebration of arts education in WCPSS.
“Our efforts to create a better school system had put more than a million dollars directly into the hands of teachers,” Parrott said. “Many of those same teachers could not recognize our logo. We needed to change.”
More than one year ago, WakeEd applied for and received a grant from the John Rex Endowment. This allowed the nonprofit to go through an organizational assessment with Armstrong McGuire. They spoke with board members, stakeholders, clients, friends and strangers to get a complete view of where they stood in the community. They were able to summarize all of the data into three main points. First, WakeEd serves a deep need in the community. Second, WakeEd is the source for unbiased information about schools in Wake County. Finally, WakeEd needed to strongly establish their purpose and brand. Armstrong McGuire helped WakeEd develop a new Strategic Focus — a document detailing its mission, vision, priorities and goals. WakeEd put pen to paper to detail why they exist, writing
“We are an independent, nonprofit organization comprised of business and community leaders committed to improving public education by advocating for an excellent educational opportunity for all students in the Wake County Public School System (WCPSS).”
“This helped us refocus internally,” Parrott said. “It took countless hours to develop but it is something that guides our organization now.”
Rebranding their public face became a much broader task. WakeEd applied for and received a capacity-building grant from the John Rex Endowment. The grant provided the funds to contract with BC/DC Ideas – a Raleigh-based nonprofit marketing firm. Over eight months, WakeEd began developing a new identity, first with a new logo and later with a new website.
“Here we were in 2015 using a website built on Dreamweaver and no web developer on staff,” Parrott said. “Our new WordPress site is more user friendly for us and the general public. It adapts to the screen sizes for all mobile devices.”
WakeEd took this rebranding as a chance to promote its many other programs to the community. They are focused on engaging, informing and mobilizing the community to work with WCPSS in providing excellent educational opportunities for every student. This year they started a charity trivia night to get younger audiences involved in supporting the school system. WakeEd also revamped its STEM and Global Studies World Café, which pairs businesses with educators to bring real-world experiences to students.
“We are confident these changes will help us reach the broader Wake County community and ultimately help us reach our vision of ensuring every student graduates with both the content knowledge and skills needed to succeed in a global economy,” Parrott said.
For nonprofits that are looking to create a fresh image, Jones recommends taking incremental steps to update the brand. Even without the funds, he recommends taking tiny steps to find messages that resonate with nonprofit funders and stakeholders. “Sometimes what really needs to change most is the way you talk about yourself,” Jones said. “Position yourself as a vital resource to the community and then doors will open for you to brand your nonprofit the way you want to.”
The WakeEd Partnership is an independent nonprofit committed to improving public education and advocating for excellent educational opportunities for all students in Wake County, North Carolina.