Growing your community impact and increasing your agency’s reach is a goal or aspiration for many disability service providers. Whether you’ve expanded your service offerings or pivoted into a new market, you likely aren’t the same organization you were five or ten years ago. Things change, and you might find that the brand you started out with no longer matches your agency.
That was the challenge facing Wendy Forkas, CEO of Adjoin (formerly known as Community Catalysts of California). Community Catalysts initially served individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, but it had expanded over the years to support homeless and at-risk veterans as well. Wendy saw the potential in merging these two services into one cohesive brand that employees could rally around. The team undertook a complete rebrand of the agency including their name, logo, website, and more.
We sat down with Wendy, along with Adjoin Community Engagement and Development Director Nese Mitchell, to learn about the intention behind the rebrand and their advice for nonprofits who might find themselves in a similar position.
The following excerpts have been edited for conciseness and clarity.
SETWorks: What was going on in your business that led you to do a brand refresh?
Wendy Forkas: I worked for Community Catalysts of California for 15 years, then took a ten-year opportunity to go learn more about different services with other organizations. When I came back to the organization three and a half years ago, it immediately became clear to me that the veteran services part of our organization had created their own entity and brand. They had their own website; they had their own name.
Talking to the individuals who worked there, they actually saw themselves as separate from Community Catalysts. I knew I couldn’t start fundraising or developing partnerships until I had the entire team behind me and moving in the same direction.
Some of our other initiatives included mergers and acquisitions, but the organization wasn’t structured in a manner that would make that easy. We already had Community Catalysts and the veterans division, so if we were to merge or add another service, then we’d have all these different entities and names. I wanted to restructure so that when we had those opportunities, it would make sense how that would fall within our organizational structure.
SETWorks: Changing the name from Community Catalysts to Adjoin was a significant change. What were some of the other changes with the rebrand?
Wendy Forkas: We did our name change to Adjoin, which included a whole new website. We reviewed and changed our mission, vision, and values. We really looked at everything and made changes to reflect both my vision as the CEO and what the board was looking for me to do, as well as what we needed to do to ensure the organization is successful into the future.
SETWorks: What did the rebranding process look like?
Wendy Forkas: With COVID, it was very challenging — but it was fun and a learning experience.
We started with a new strategic plan, because I had to get the board behind the rebrand and the renaming. We ensured that we had representation on our strategic committee that reflected every level of employee, every location, every service and tenure. We had both new and long-term people from our Catalyst division and our veteran’s division, to ensure that we were capturing feedback from the entire organization, not just the corporate office. Our team met every week, even through COVID.
Then of course, part of the strategic plan was to rebrand, so we spent a lot of time looking at RFPs and hiring an organization that we felt was going to be reflective of what we wanted to see for the new brand. We worked very closely with Raygun, which is the company that we used. They specialize in nonprofit cause-driven organizations, which was important to us.
SETWorks: What went into your decision to bring in Raygun to help with the strategic planning and the rebrand?
Wendy Forkas: We have a lot of long-term employees. If you can believe it, all the upper leadership when I came back to Community Catalysts were the same people that were here when I left ten years before! They’ve lived the name, they’ve lived the culture, they’ve lived the brand.
Something I observed was that our branding was not reflective of the vibrancy and energy that our culture was cultivating since I became CEO.
I knew that rebranding was going to be hard, and if I was the one leading it, because of being new to my role, there would probably be a lot of resistance to change. Having that external third-party was important to ensure that we were meeting in the middle and making progress.
The good news is, people did want change — especially for the name, because they understood why we wanted and needed to do it. Community Catalysts of California is really long, and our emails — we hated it — we had to spell it out to people and say “Catalysts with an S” and so on. So they were up for it.
SETWorks: When did you officially launch the new brand, do you remember?
Wendy Forkas: It’s burned into my brain, let me tell you! It was during COVID. We officially changed our name at the state level on July 7th, 2021, and then we did the internal reveal to our employees via Zoom on July 14th. Then we did the external Zoom rebrand launch to our stakeholders on August 24th.
SETWorks: Nese, they had already launched the new brand by the time you came to Adjoin, is that correct?
Nese Mitchell: Yes, they had. Right now I’ve been here for almost three months, so I am very new to Adjoin. I actually wasn’t familiar with Community Catalysts before. When I walked through the door, the only branding that I knew was Adjoin.
Wendy’s vision for our organization is to be this energetic, fun, and inclusive place that goes all the way from our corporate office to our clients. You can feel it! It’s very much an inclusive, vibrant community.
SETWorks: As a new employee, how did the brand factor into your desire to be part of Adjoin?
Nese Mitchell: I picked Adjoin because of their branding! I worked in communications for a little over six years before coming to Adjoin, and I had done a lot of brand development. Adjoin’s branding was just so well put together and inviting. I could tell that the people working here were happy and they were genuinely collaborating with one another, and they were also interested in engaging the community. That’s something I wanted to be a part of.
Being in an environment where the brand is established is comforting to me. Working in communications, sometimes you’ll go in somewhere and the branding just doesn’t really make sense, or you want to tweak something so that it’s better communicated to the community. But that’s not an issue with Adjoin. It’s all inclusive, and it’s all about creating opportunities for everybody, whether it’s recruiting or the people that we serve. So it was a no-brainer.
SETWorks: I know it was a lot of work getting to this point. What has it been like living out the new brand?
Wendy Forkas: I’m not biased or anything, but it has been great! The feedback that we’ve received since the launch has been really positive. Some people were shocked, like, “Wow, you went from Community Catalysts of California to Adjoin, why didn’t you just shorten it”? But for the most part, people have been very excited about it — even our employees.
Of course, we made sure everybody got a swag bag when we did the internal reveal. They loved having shirts and the other items that they could wear and share. I don’t think they had that in the past, because there hadn’t been any official change or rebrand.
It’s been a little over a year, and if I were to go to the veteran’s division now and say Adjoin, they would know who I am — and that’s what it was about. Then within the community, I find that people now understand when I talk about the organization and our culture.
It’s not just about us; we know that we have to get the community to “adjoin” with us to ensure that the people that we support have a sense of belonging. When you talk about that, people get it, and they’re like, “Oh, okay, that totally makes sense.”
SETWorks: What advice would you give to another nonprofit like yours that’s thinking about a rebrand, that’s maybe on the fence about it?
Wendy Forkas: Change is essential if you want to keep your organization relevant and continue to attract people. That’s not just staff; that could also be clients, donors, and partners. They’re going to gravitate to those new, updated logos and names.
Another reason to consider a rebrand is organizational alignment. If you have a new leader, it might not be reflected in the organization, and you might need to align it with that. Or if you find that there’s some unalignment amongst your departments, your services, your staff, that’s also a really good reason to consider a rebrand.
Also, there are a lot of new services in the nonprofit space — particularly in the IDD area. So you really do have to reposition yourself to ensure that you’re communicating and marketing those new services. In the past, we didn’t have to market our services here in California because the regional centers gave us referrals. But now with self-determination, we have to market ourselves because the regional center is not going to do referrals anymore. Now people are empowered and going to go out and hire whoever they want, which puts organizations at an advantage if they can differentiate themselves.
Nese Mitchell: My biggest piece of advice is that, in order to have impactful change, the change has to be transformative. You have to listen, and you have to research what’s going on as it pertains to nonprofits, the region that you’re in, and the people that you’re serving. If you’re not listening, if you’re not collaborating, then the change just stops. You have to be willing and open to change, because we evolve as people and as a society, and your community within your business also has to evolve.
Wendy Forkas: Change is hard! When I talk to other agencies about rebranding, I really stress the need to engage people from all levels. If you don’t, it’s not going to be successful. But if you really get people behind it, and they share in the excitement and feel included, that’s key to building that cohesiveness.
I’m an extremist in theming and matching. Nese can probably count for that in our office. I remember when she came in for her first interview, she’s like, “Oh my gosh, your office looks just like your website!” That consistency is important.
SETWorks: The branding throughout your office is very much on par with your digital brand! When we visited everything was a very cohesive experience, from the gift boxes you gave us, to the decoration on the walls. It was really cool to see the website come to life when we visited in person, so kudos to you! Any final words of advice for our readers?
Wendy Forkas: Don’t underestimate swag! It seems silly, but it’s not. People want to be prideful, and I think when they have stuff that they can wear and share and people ask them about it, it helps them feel like they’re a part of it.
When we sent the swag bags out to the offices, they took group pictures in the shirt immediately. Clients were taking pictures in the shirts we gave them, too. For me, seeing all the offices sending pictures wearing the name and being excited about it, that was the visual that said, “You did it!”
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