Helping Nonprofits Preserve Their Passion by Finding Their DNA
July 18th | 2017

When we moved to the neighborhood last summer, we engaged in some outreach to find out who our neighbors were and what we might be able to do to help our new community.

During that process, we got to know the staff at St. Stephen’s Human Services, an organization right down the street from ZJ whose mission is to end homelessness.

St. Stephen’s is a dynamic nonprofit with a strong, clear mission. Those who are close to the cause of ending homelessness are aware that St. Stephen’s is a community leader that makes a big impact – but during our discussions and research we learned that anyone not close to the cause would have to look hard to piece together their influence. When you’re one of many organizations working together toward a similar mission, how do you maintain staff passion and momentum for your work? How do you create a brand identity that will show the world who you are and help you get the funding and volunteer resources you need to make your mission a reality?

St. Stephen’s and Zeus Jones came together to work on this challenge. Together, we answered these questions:

  • What makes St. Stephen’s different?
  • How might St. Stephen’s reach out to new volunteers and donors in the community?
  • How should St. Stephen’s modernize its brand?

We worked hand in hand to answer these questions together and start to put those answers into action.

How do people understand what makes St. Stephen’s different?

St. Stephen’s is a well-run organization that already had all the pieces it needed. In fact, they had a clear vision, mission, core values, and strategic plan goals for the next three years. Our challenge was to find a way to take those well-established, well-thought-out pieces, and build something that made them stand out.

Instead of changing their mission, we helped them identify their DNA. We conducted staff, client, and other stakeholder interviews to learn more about the organization’s reputation, about the role they play on projects, and about the momentum they bring to the table.

We identified a few core elements that represent the reason people turn to St. Stephen’s over and over to lead new initiatives and to help those who are hardest to serve. We also recommended ways the organization could share, promote, and develop those DNA elements with its staff and within its policies. Then, we shared these elements in clear, human language – a process that energized their staff because it reflected the emotional approach they bring to work every day, and empowered them to keep prioritizing this passion. 

How might St. Stephen’s reach out to new volunteers and donors in the community?

We then used this DNA to build an outreach plan for new volunteers and donors. The traditional approach to outreach is to appeal to people and organizations who have identified human services as a personal or corporate charitable interest. Although this is a good place to start, it’s a narrow way into making connections. We broadened the approach by brainstorming organizations without human service interests that share St. Stephen’s DNA.

By opening ourselves up to a new set of criteria, we could generate a longer list of potential contacts. Admittedly these are shallower connections, but there are also a lot more of them. If St. Stephen’s can get just a few of these potential partners and ideas on board, this high-achieving yet humble nonprofit can showcase its leadership status and its worthy mission and stabilize its funding and volunteer sources.

How should St. Stephen’s modernize its brand?

First we looked at the design of the St. Stephen’s brand as it is today, focusing on logo, color palette, iconography, and photography styles. People within the organization didn’t feel like the current look and feel represented their values or personalities, and it didn’t stand out among non-profits with similar missions. A quick category audit made it clear that cold palettes, earnest symbolism, and posed photography were the norm.

Iconography system represents specific programs & initiatives: Housing, Street Outreach, zAmya Theater Project, and Kateri Residence

We wanted to create a visual system that stood out from their counterparts and, more importantly, better represented the values that St. Stephen’s wants to communicate – warm, genuine, inviting, approachable and calming. The new look incorporates warmer hues along with soft gradients that are meant to bring a sense of calm while iconography speaks to their specific programs rather than generic symbolism. Photography highlights real people in real situations, ranging from clients in their homes to staff reaching out to people on the street.

A huge thank you to one of our favorite local photographers, Leslie Plesser of Shuttersmack for donating her time!

With renewed passion for what makes it different and a fresh brand identity that reflects their staff’s warm, genuine approach to clients, St. Stephen’s is ready to share its story with more people. We are excited to watch St. Stephen’s continue to grow as a leader in ending homelessness in our community.