housing opportunities: creating a strong brand

Having recently acquired another agency, Housing Opportunities (HO) realized that their brand was no longer clear.  Following an extensive RFP process, HO retained Strategic Innovation to rethink, refresh and solidify their brand. 

Jane designed and delivered a quick, but thorough research process to get a better understanding of the current state.  This included 18 interviews with key donors, volunteers and board members, four focus groups with mixed individuals from the communities they serve, and an online survey of 500 people from their database.

Based on the findings from the surveys and facilitated exercises with HO leadership and staff, Strategic Innovation clarified the organization’s key messages, developed a tagline that emphasized the process they use with clients, tightened and cleaned up the core brand image and created several sub brand elements to help audiences understand the wide range of services HO offers.


how to sustain the mission: Illinois dollars for scholars

strat-innovation-01In 2010, Illinois Dollars for Scholars was at a “tipping point.”  Traditionally, their funding had come from the dues paid by Dollars for Scholars groups at high schools across the state and from the entry fees for their annual essay contest.  These funds were forwarded to the National Dollars for Scholars organization to fund scholarships annually and used to meet operating expenses, which included an annual luncheon awards event and the promotion of the contest throughout Illinois.  They also covered the compensation of their paid fundraiser and a contract with a fund raising firm that provided administrative support.  With these expenses and their current 4-year scholarship commitments to previous winners, their expenses exceeded their available cash, and the Board faced a serious challenge.  They needed to re-engage their members, attract new donors and get the organization back on solid ground—or they needed to dissolve the organization entirely.

Board member Charlie Priester provided the funding for a two-day offsite retreat and retained Jane to facilitate, with an agenda designed to help the Board face this challenge.  The session began with a graphic facilitation that helped the Board step back and get a clearer picture of the challenge.  With that shared understanding, the group then formed small groups and developed action steps with detailed dates, deliverables, and decision points along the way. 

For example, one small group took on the challenge of determining if the role of the national organization was critical—what commitments had been made and what options they might have to become independent.  Another group looked at the current administrative services contract and developed a job description to bring those functions back in house.  A third group explored methods to achieve a better understanding of what their member high schools deemed important and how to enlist their support in re-inventing the organization.

At the end of the session, the group had a shared vision of where they were headed and a strong commitment to the action steps that lie ahead.  Each individual on the Board had specific responsibility for a portion of the process and everyone knew what was to be done, by whom and by when.

MHAGC: a process for board renewal

When Martha Shriver took over as Executive Director for The Mental Health Association of Greater Chicago, the organization had been in existence for over 40 years.  Her board members, a mixture of founding members and new recruits, were unclear on their mission and needed to examine their goals and commit to a course of action—or face the total breakdown of the association.       

Following interviews with members—where they described their meetings as “treading water,” “an animal stalking it’s prey,” and “a dull overcast day with occasional squalls”—Jane designed a one-day offsite workshop to help the group set goals and learn to work more effectively as a team.    

As a result of the session, some of the original members were able to “let go” and know that their legacy would continue, and the newer members were able to agree on initiatives that they could passionately support.

corvilla: a creative fund raising approach

When not-for-profit Corvilla, provider of group homes for mentally and physically challenged adults, wanted to create a new fund raising event, they called on Strategic Innovation.

After two initial meetings to help the Director and Associate Director clearly define the task at hand, Jane designed a half-day off-site meeting for the 10 members of Corvilla’s Development Committee.  This was their task:

To create a unique fund raising event that will create name recognition in the community and enhance their image in a manner consistent with the goals of Corvilla.


Using a structured problem-solving process, Jane led the group through a series of exercises designed to explore the concepts surrounding the sources of contributions, the essence of Corvilla, and the committee members' own feelings about volunteerism.  Using metaphors, Play Dough, and drawings, the group put aside pre-conceived notions and personal favorites and developed a unique platform for a series of fund raising events based on the book Chicken Soup for the Soul.

lozier: human resource transformation

The Senior VP of Human Resources for Lozier, the leading manufacturer of innovative store fixtures, wanted to transform her department.  Historically, the department of 20 had focused on compliance and accuracy of transactions, and now they needed a strategic focus and a flexible structure that would allow them to be true partners of the rapidly evolving business. Lozier retained Jane to design and facilitate an off-­site learning and planning experience.   

The two-­and-­a-­half-­day session began with exercises designed to set a climate of innovation and to encourage open-minded thinking. Working in small groups, the participants were provided with information and hands-­on exercises designed to help them hear, experience and internalize the gap between their current focus and the type of HR that would be required to achieve the company’s rapidly changing business goals.   

Working in small groups on the final day, the team presented possible re-­designs for the HR function.  Together, they selected the most promising elements of each and crafted a first draft that would be submitted to senior management for approval.  By the end of the session, the group had a shared vision of where they were headed and a strong commitment to the specific action steps that lie ahead. Each individual had completed a personal set of commitments that was sealed and would be opened in six months to see if they were staying true to their commitments.


PACT: rebranding to increase awareness and engagement

Like many nonprofit organizations that have been around for a while, PACT (Prisoners and Community Together) had experienced a natural evolution of their mission over time.  Recognizing that their image needed to be updated, they decided it was time to revisit their brand based on the services they provide today and to restate their intent going forward.  Because federal and local budget cuts threatened the funding sources they had relied on in the past, they wanted a brand and a communication strategy that would position them to attract more volunteer and private donor support going forward. 

Using a facilitated process, Strategic Innovaton helped PACT’s leadership group identify their core services today and translate those services into benefits for their stakeholders.  These lists were then boiled down to a set of key messages that the brand needed to evoke and to a set of media that would convey them to their various stakeholder groups.

One of the unique challenges of this project was to keep their legal, registered name but downplay the role of prisoner services.  As a result, the new brand combines the acronym PACT with the color green and a graphic that suggests turning over a new leaf.  These are coupled with a new tagline—Changing our communities, one life at a time.