Covenant House Rebranding: Part 1

This is the time of  year when many people are making additional donations to good causes.  I’d like to suggest one to you: Covenant House.

Each year they are opening doors of hope and opportunity to homeless teenagers and young adults.  It’s for kids who need to get off the streets and into a safe environment where they can heal and gain strength for the future.  Covenant House is always open for them.


New logo we created with Covenant House

New logo we created with Covenant House



My involvement with Covenant House began in the fall of 2006, when we were invited to speak to them about their branding needs.  I had an immediate connection with them.  Perhaps it was because I come from New York City where Covenant House began and has a long history.   It may also be because I personally knew a family in trouble.  Either way, their story struck me viscerally.

In this post and the next few I will go into the rebranding case of Covenant House because it is a good example of how to use Narrative Branding in practice.  This is the story of how the metaphor of an open door has opened a path of hope for the homeless teens.

The Setting:  It is 2006 and Covenant House has come to recognize that their branding has begun to lose relevance among teenagers and among potential new donors.  We are invited in by Kathleen Fineout, head of communications, to speak about how branding, story telling, can help Covenant House create a stronger connection with homeless teens.  We start the process by asking them to share their stories, their personal stories about Covenant House and their involvement with the organization.

We collect dozens of stories from individuals and small groups.  These are deeply moving stories, recounting how someone at Covenant House had personally touched them in the past and what it means to them today

An interesting pattern about the history of Covenant House is revealed to us.  The organization was founded by Father Bruce Ritter in the 1960s.  He was living in New York City’s lower east side at the time, a marginal neighborhood, when a tremendous snowstorm struck the city.  Outside of his window he could see a couple of teenagers huddled together in the doorway across the street.  He went out in the storm, reached out to these homeless kids and brought them into the warmth and shelter of his apartment.  From that came the inspiration for Covenant House.

In our interviews some speak of being drawn in by the charisma and vision of Father Ritter.  Others caution against the past.  Father Ritter, and Covenant House by association, was caught up in tabloid accusations in the early 1990s.  While the accusations were investigated and generally dismissed, Father Ritter resigned and the damage to the organization’s reputation had been done. It is this past that many want to keep in the past.

As a result, Covenant House has generally stayed out of the public eye.  During this time the organization has quietly rebuilt and strengthen, now reaching 20 cities in 6 countries.  Larger and helping more homeless youth than ever before but mostly out of site of the general public.  Which brings us to today.  By keeping a low profile, Covenant House is known by fewer and fewer prospective donors each year.  At the same time, those who remember the scandal have not heard a new story that will change the thread of the narrative and make them feel more positively about the organization.  The secret of the past is getting in way of the good work of the present.

It is 2006.  The organization is led by Sister Patricia Cruise who knows it is time to face the challenges.  Time to reconnect with homeless youth.  Time to reach a new generation of donors. Time to renew the Covenant.

Tomorrow’s post on how we developed the next chapter in the Covenant House narrative and insights into branding challenges of renewing a reputation.



3 Responses to “Covenant House Rebranding: Part 1”

  1. 1 Swan December 21, 2010 at 3:03 pm

    Hi Randall,

    I’m working at Covenant House and I would like to thank you for suggesting our cause to your readers last year, we really appreciate it!

    I was wondering if you would consider posting a banner on this blog for a few days (during Holiday season) to help us to get year-end donations and keep our doors open for homeless kids.

    Please let me know, my email is sbargue(at)
    Once again, thank you for your support!

    Happy Holidays,

  2. 2 rringer December 22, 2010 at 7:08 pm

    Covenant House is a cause I believe in. That is why we got involved in designing the new logo, creating the tagline and the other work we’ve done.

    It is gratifying that the rebranding is actually helping the kids who need it most. That means more than all of the awards that the branding has won.

  3. 3 Swan December 23, 2010 at 10:40 am

    Actually, one of the first things I did at the beginning of my internship at Covenant House was to read the document I found in my desk reviewing the progress-to-date of your work to refresh the Covenant House brand and that was exciting.

    I love this logo and even more the tagline, it really helps the kids to feel welcome. You did a great job!

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