Rebranding a campus ministry

cru135This morning, soon after tweaking a presentation about our university’s name change that I am to deliver later this week at HighEdWeb Arkansas, I ran across this news item from Inside Higher Ed about the name change and rebranding of another historic organization with ties to many college campuses.

Campus Crusade for Christ International, a 60-year-old evangelical ministry, is officially changing its name to Cru in 2012. For now, the change is for the U.S. operations only, as many international branches of CCCI already go under a different name.

It’s too early to say how this will benefit the ministry. But from my perspective, and based only on information gleaned from the organization’s website, I consider this a positive move. In addition to a much-needed refresh of the organization’s graphic identity (to compare the new logo with the old, see these photos from the ministry’s big announcement event), it’s also an important positioning for an organization whose current name carries a lot of baggage.

Religious organizations, like colleges and universities, are generally conservative, hierarchical organizations that are slow to embrace change. Case in point: It only took CCCI 60 years to come to the realization that the term crusade — “common and acceptable in 1951 when we were founded” (at least in the Christianized Western world) — might be harmful to the organization’s stated mission.

Despite its conservative grounding, CCCI appears to have rolled out this campaign in relatively quick fashion, while being very methodical. Studying CCCI’s approach could benefit campuses looking at rebranding. Here’s why:

Buy-in from the top and throughout. Its board approved a plan in 2009 to look at a name change. The leadership then involved a “select team of 30 staff representing all organizational levels and a broad cross-section of ministries.”

A well-executed strategy. The organization conducted research and branding studies as part of this change.

Getting help from the outside. Ministries, like many colleges and universities (still), are often reluctant to seek outside assistance on branding initiatives, preferring to do all the work in-house. For ministries, however, obtaining outside counsel or assistance can be even more difficult, because it may appear to some constituents that the organization is not being “led by God” or the Holy Spirit, etc. CCCI addresses this in the FAQ: “Our primary and ultimate dependence is on the Lord. However, we enlisted the help of consultants because we don’t have the expertise in brand survey methods and testing that they do.”

Anticipating and answering concerns. The FAQ does a good job of addressing possible questions about the name change that are of concern to the organization’s constituency. For instance, Why is “Christ” no longer in the organization’s name? That’s likely to be a big issue for some supporters, and the organization does well to address this question head on.

(A little bit of) transparency. CCCI’s FAQ is refreshingly open and transparent for a religious organization, even though it does contain its share of buzzwords and lingo associated with evangelical Christianity. Where the transparency falls short, in my opinion, is the lack of open discussion and commentary. For any organization dealing with institutional change, especially identity change, it’s always risky to invite open discussion or engagement via a blog or other forum. But as I’ll point out in my HighEdWeb presentation later this week, the rewards of such openness can be well worth the risk.

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Author: andrewcareaga

Higher ed PR and marketing guy. Communications director for Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) in Rolla, Missouri, USA. Slow runner, mediocre guitarist, lover of music and puns, and an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan. I blog and Tweet about #highered, #music, #gocards and #random stuff.

4 thoughts on “Rebranding a campus ministry”

  1. We have a very active Cru on our campus here.Great organization and I think the re-brand matches their energy, at least here in Bozeman. Good move–I agree totally that churches are reluctant to look outside–a good example of some of our more in-bred campuses. Way to help us take a lesson.

  2. Thanks for linking to my blog in your excellent post. In regards to your comment about transparency, internally, within Campus Crusade (Cru) there are forums and places for questions and discussion both online and in person. I do not know if that is available to people outside of the ministry.

  3. Chris and Kristin – Thanks for chiming in. (And Kristin, thanks for the great visual comparison on your blog.)

    Kristin – In terms of transparency, I have no doubt that Cru worked very hard to engage folks within the organization, did a lot of field testing, etc. I just think Cru could have gone a step farther and invited additional comments and participation. However, having managed a rebranding and name change for my own organization, and the blog we used to help facilitate that change (see namechange.mst.edu), I believe offering constituents an open forum for sharing input is a valuable component of transparent branding.

  4. Although I remain skeptical about any real-world benefits their rebranding will have, I have to commend the Campus Crusader people on the way they handled it. They seem to have managed their brand transition as well as, if not better than, many large corporations. Hopefully this pays off for them in the long run.

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