Changing Hearts and Minds
Imaj was brought in by the Board of Directors of Traveler’s Aid (now Crossroads Rhode Island), the state’s largest, most comprehensive agency serving the homeless and displaced. We were asked to help determine how best to reconnect with Rhode Islanders, educate the community about the pervasiveness and persistence of what was arguably the least popular cause in the state, and to promote the agency’s major move to a new, high profile building.
Although the Board and leadership had much insight into the issues facing Traveler’s Aid’s communications and suspected that the public was confused by the name itself, Imaj facilitated much more in-depth discovery. Through interviews with leadership and staff, surveys with existing contacts, and a series of focus groups with community members, potential donors, and leadership of like-minded agencies, our extensive research uncovered many attitudes that would guide everything we did. Among them:
- The agency’s name was largely misleading and did not reflect its mission. This was not only impacting its ability to effectively serve Rhode Island families, it also was having a negative impact on the agency’s ability to compete for much-needed funding for its extensive range of services.
- Homelessness was the least “popular” of all charities in Rhode Island.• Perceptions of homelessness ranged from it being a hopeless situation to a deserved one.
- Perceptions of homeless people were either “alcoholic doorway sleepers,” drug addicts, veterans or the occasional “family who lost a home due to fire or other similar casualties.”
- Most believed that homeless people were primarily single men who “got themselves into a bad situation.”
Our recommendations to the Board included first renaming and rebranding Traveler’s Aid to better reflect the organizations’ mission, vision, and work and to allow them to start anew with the move to a new, brighter building.
We also recommended an integrated communications/outreach plan that included several campaigns and events to reshape public perception of the issues associated with homelessness and those who are homeless.
Imaj presented several options. The Board chose the name Crossroads Rhode Island as they felt it best represented the nature of the people they served as well as the organization’s purpose – helping people when they are at a Crossroads to move on in the right direction. While Imaj recommended a new tagline to develop the brand even further, the organization felt too connected to their existing one to change. So it remained: help for the journey called life.
In comparison to the old brand, we created a look and feel that sent a message of hope and optimism which are critical to their success as an organization and to the personal successes of the people they serve. The brand and building design formed a seamless new identity.
We announced this change – along with the move – as a new chapter in its 110-year history as the needs of the people Crossroads served had grown much more complex and the demand for services was at an all-time high.
After completing a comprehensive communications and outreach plan, Imaj went on to a two-year strategy of media relations, events, outreach, and campaigns to:
- Underscore the true nature of homelessness – that it could be me or you
- Underscore the need for hope, dignity, and respect for those without homes
- Change perceptions about homelessness since women and children were the largest growing portion of the homeless population
Tactics to meet those goals included:
- Helping them to launch their largest and most successful Capital Campaign
- An award-winning public education campaign entitled, “Who are Rhode Island’s Homeless?”
- An event called “Women Helping Women” at which we unveiled a compelling video entitled “There But For the Grace”
- A business campaign in which business leaders from around the state told stories about being touched by homelessness through PSAs and print ads
- A highway billboard at RI’s most traveled location and several PSA’s and leave behinds supporting ‘dignity and respect’
- Integration of several fundraising support initiatives and press events
The results of Imaj’s work on this integrated approach could be seen after one year: the agency’s overall fundraising for that period more than doubled. We conducted ongoing research to determine perceptions of the organization since the re-branding and to identify additional fundraising opportunities, all of which showed unprecedented increases in public understanding of homelessness. The “Women Helping Women” and “Who Are” campaigns went on to receive national and international acclaim. “Who Are” was cited by Graphic Design USA as “a most effective campaign to begin changing the hearts and minds of a public that is blind to homeless people.”