Executive Director Jennifer Grove hung up the phone and sat back. It was going to happen. Her brain was doing a dance. She had just spoken to SVP Partner Lisa Wyler for the first time. And with Lisa’s help, Northwest SEED was going to get the makeover they had been waiting for: to have a name and brand that reflected the forward-thinking organization they are in practice.
“I just kept thinking wow, she speaks really fast, half the things she just said I don’t even know what they mean, but I really liked her energy,” Jennifer laughs.
“Not only did she have 25+ years of brand marketing experience, but her spunk and creativity was just what our team of analytical thinkers needed. I knew right away this was going to be a good fit.”
As of June, Northwest SEED became Spark Northwest. The new name and bright green spark logo reflect the organization’s vision to expand affordable, locally-controlled clean energy throughout the region — one community at a time.
Farewell to Northwest SEED
Nearly two decades ago, Northwest SEED was modeled on creating local economic development opportunities through clean energy. SEED served as a symbol of homegrown energy as well as an acronym for Sustainable Energy for Economic Development. Their programs and mission remain unchanged since opening, core to the organization. They continue to work at the local level to organize, train, and equip citizens, as well as advocate for policy that increases access to clean energy for all.
In the last ten years, however, they have taken this work further and have expanded to provide low-cost energy conservation solutions and solar energy programs to speed neighborhood adoption. For example, to date, their Solarize Northwest program has educated over 4,000 citizens and brought solar to 950 families and counting. Although serving the organization well in its early years, the name Northwest SEED just wasn’t keeping up.
“As we continued to refine our tactics to advance our vision, the brand became an afterthought,” explains Jennifer. “It grew out of sync with our identity and the evolution of the organization.”
Internally, Jennifer says, staff, board and volunteers found themselves spending more time explaining the name then getting to the why and how they do the work. And the former logo prominently featured a wind turbine, while the organization had continued to broaden its energy programs and advocacy work.
“We wanted longevity and flexibility,” Jennifer says.
Instead of bounding itself to a literal explanation of its services as the former brand did, Spark Northwest captures the energy and optimism it brings into every project.
“We recognize that as a small nonprofit, we’re not going to solve the global issue of climate change all on our own,” Jennifer says. “But when we look to our own skills, communities and backyards there is so much we can do today. We think of ourselves as the local spark and catalyst that will lead to bigger change.”
Landing on Spark Northwest
Lisa Wyler signed on to lead Spark Northwest’s rebranding project just two months after becoming an SVP Partner.
“I feel like I’m starting a new chapter in life where I’m a little older and with everything going on in the world, I’m very eager to just be more involved in my community,” Lisa explains. “I’ve learned all these things in my professional life, and I was looking for a way to use my skills to make a positive contribution as well.”
As capacity builders, SVP Partner volunteers often find themselves doing a lot of behind-the-scenes work in strategy development, financial analysis or HR best practices. Lisa took on an entirely “front of house” role. As the project got underway, Spark Northwest decided to hire a brand agency to design the new logo, but with Lisa’s guidance they would manage the renaming process themselves.
“I remember talking to Lisa, asking, ‘Are you sure? Are you sure? Can we really do that ourselves?’” Jennifer recalls. “She responded, ‘You guys know you. Don’t doubt that.’”
Jennifer assembled a rebrand taskforce that included board members to help track and guide the project. Lisa built a project timeline. And with the added help of SVP Partner Meredith Shank, they began by brainstorming with a variety of stakeholders – program participants, donors, board members and industry partners. In these sessions, index cards were passed around and they asked each other questions that got to the spirit of the organization. Ideas were written down in stream of consciousness. Looking at them taped to the wall, the group rearranged them, talked about them and whittled down. Lisa helped facilitate the exercise every two weeks or so with a different group.
“I think it was fairly early on that somebody said ‘spark,’” remembers Jennifer. “Then we moved on and got really literal, which I knew would be the tendency of our group.”
Later, as they were discussing whether to keep ‘northwest,’ the word ‘spark’ somehow resurfaced. It continued to go through the rounds, making it to the group’s top five choices. Towards the end of the renaming phase of the project, ‘spark’ was brought to a focus group – this time predominantly male.
“With my own bias and stereotypes, I was surprised that they veered less literal,” Jennifer recalls. “’Spark’ was more memorable for them. The more we started saying it, the more we realized how natural, fun and energetic ‘spark’ was.”
Throughout the process, Lisa consistently reminded the group to think about what would ultimately be best for the organization and resonate most with the audiences they were trying to reach. This was important for Spark Northwest to get right.
“I was thinking about donors and the communities we work with when she said this,” Jennifer says. “I was mostly thinking about the next generation and younger donors. While a large percentage of our donor base and followers are homeowners who tend to be older, we need to be appealing to the younger generation who will bear the brunt of climate change impacts the most.”
They ran ‘spark’ through a staff session and a board session. At the same time, Lisa held focus groups on her own time tapping her professional and personal networks who didn’t know anything about the organization. It became more and more clear. Everyone was rallying around the name Spark Northwest.
“Coming out of that, I felt like gosh, we gave the process enough time – we heard a lot of different perspectives, and incorporated that feedback with each iteration. The process wasn’t too rushed and it also didn’t drag on either,” Jennifer says. “Which made the final decisions quite easy.”
The group decided to continue to carry ‘northwest’ into the new name as both a nod to their founding brand as well as their focus on local change.
“One of the things that is so impressive to me about Northwest SEED, now Spark Northwest, is that the organization has such a strong sense of character and purpose,” Lisa says. “It’s community-focused, can-do, trustworthy and optimistic. The spirit we were looking to define was just really clear.”
Once the logo was designed to fit, Lisa worked closely with the Spark Northwest team and taskforce volunteers to reserve the name, document a brand framework and guidelines, transition all the organization’s creative collateral, and develop and execute a communications rollout plan.
Working with Lisa
“Lisa will say, ‘Oh, Jennifer, you’re overestimating what I did and underestimating your role. It was your leadership that made it so successful’,’” says Jennifer. “But the truth is, I didn’t have the time or mental space to even know where to begin. I also didn’t have the brand marketing skills. No one in our organization — board or staff — possessed the skills that she brought.”
“She has the ability to be a very careful listener and really drive from behind,” she continues.
From the brainstorm sessions to the design to the roll out, Lisa was the cog that made Spark Northwest happen. And her work hasn’t ended there. A fitting addition, Spark Northwest announced this week that Lisa Wyler will be joining their board where she can continue to contribute her marketing skills for the organization.
“Without a doubt, we benefited from Lisa’s drive, focus and leadership,” Jennifer says. “But when challenges arose she was also my confidant and friend. Sometimes that’s just what you need.”
“It felt so nice that what I’ve been doing in the private sector was transferrable,” Lisa Wyler says. “For me, it was wonderful to work with people I so admire and enjoy on something meaningful and fun.”