We helped a non-profit inspire a generation of students and spark a new movement.
Spark is a national nonprofit that provides middle school students with opportunities to explore career options. In 2015, Spark’s program was in 27 schools, serving over 1,250 students living in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia.
With new funding from multiple foundations, Spark had the resources to expand the organization, its offerings, and regions served. However, there was no clear growth plan. A lack of a unified story and purpose, many disconnected regional brands, and an unclear service and program portfolio we’re holding the organization back.
Spark needed an umbrella story and clear strategy to better articulate the organization’s mission and growth, and ensure the greatest impact on students.
A thorough Discovery Research process equipped us with the tools and understanding to begin building a comprehensive strategy. It helped us to 1) understand how Spark’s communications were informing existing perceptions, 2) identify opportunities for market differentiation, and 3) uncover the needs of Spark’s many diverse stakeholders. We also conducted an experience audit (from shadowing students to visiting corporate mentors), which helped us locate areas for operational improvement.
Our two biggest takeaways centered on the way Spark described its organization. For one, Spark mostly focused on communicating functional elements such as program timing and other logistics. This was too narrow of a message, and was missing an emotional element. Secondly, the use of deficit language (i.e. negative sounding terms and labels) was not doing justice to the positive impact the organization was having on students’ lives.
These efforts didn’t recognize that there was a greater story to tell about the human element of the organization – the people involved, the emotional connection, and the impact of involvement. The impact on the student is what made all stakeholders excited – more specifically the possibilities shown to the student, the flame that is ignited, and the understanding of what their future could be like. This provided Spark with the opportunity to elevate the student to be the hero of the brand – something all stakeholders could get behind.
Our findings led us to the brand position: The Possibility Movement – Bringing individual and communities together to show middle school students what’s possible for their unique future. Everyone can get behind this idea. Not only was it cool for kids, but it was compelling for donors and schools, and exciting for parents and mentors.
Along with the positioning we developed a corresponding personality to match the energy of the possibility movement – one which would be inclusive and accessible of many stakeholders regardless of their background or education level. We also evolved the brand and product architecture to bring the separate regional brands under a One Spark strategy. This way, Spark could streamline its communications, better organize its initiatives and programs, and safe costs in the process.
We developed a Visual System and logo to reflect the refreshed brand and personality. Since there was no full time, in house designer, we designed hand drawn patterns, simple iconography, and a cohesive photography style for seamless implementation.
To ensure consistent application of the brand in the future, we developed brand guidelines and held brand trainings and exercises with Spark employees to explain the brand. We then brought all of the pieces to life in a newly developed website and additional marketing collateral.
As a result of the program, Spark employees have been more engaged and inspired, and the internal culture of the organization has been reinvigorated. More than ever, students are proud of their involvement with Spark, and more importantly, are eager to talk about it.
With a consistent and compelling brand story, Spark is equipped with the understanding and vision to hold productive conversations with potential donors, and work more collaboratively in support of the “One Spark” strategy.