Posts Tagged 'Covenant House branding'

Is your door open this Christmas?

There is something about the holidays that creates great psychological pressure on people.  In part it is the unrealistic expectations of the celebrations.  In part it is the long hours of darkness around the winter solstice (betraying my north of the equator bias).

This is a time when families often fall apart instead of coming together.  This is the time of the year when organizations such as Covenant House are keeping their doors open for young adults who are in need of help.  Originally they kept their door open as a temporary shelter.  Today they have evolved in organization that can help kids get on their feet, finish their education and find a job — when there are jobs to be found.

You help keep the doors open this season.  All you have to do is contribute time or money.  Or both.  Just click on the logo below and it will take to you a site where you can make a difference.

The renewed Covenant House

Opening Doors for Homeless Youth

Not all taglines are created equal.  Some are great and some are lousy.  Some do a whole lot of good and some just distract.

This post is about a tagline that does a whole lot of good.  It is the Covenant House tagline, “Opening doors for homeless youth.”

I am proud that we created this tagline for Covenant House.  The metaphor of an open door is a powerful one.

But right now too many kids are having the doors of opportunity slammed closed in their faces.  The unemployment rate for young adults — 16 to 24 — is higher than any period in the past 3 decades.  For teenagers, it is hitting rates unheard of in a developed economy.

Tax cuts won’t do much for a kid who can’t find a job and ends up living on the streets.   Unemployment checks don’t go to a 19 year-old who never held a job.

Covenant House is one organization that is out there, keeping their doors open for young adults who need it.

You don’t have to love the tagline to click on it and contribute to Covenant House.    You can do a whole lot of good simply by making a donation.

Click to Open doors for homeless youth

Covenant House rebranding part 4: A new symbol of hope

With the new “opening doors” metaphor for Covenant House, we begin to assess the visual side of their branding.

The audits show that the logo and the color blue are the two elements really holding the existing system together.  So we begin with the heart of the visual branding, the logo itself.

The existing logo has some tremendous strengths.  The dove is a powerful symbol, with many layers of meaning.  On the surface level it represents freedom, taking flight, soaring above.  It is also a fragile creature, needing protection.  The white dove is a symbol of peace.  And deep within the dove is a symbol of God’s covenant with mankind.  In the biblical story of Noah and the great flood, the dove is the harbinger of the waters receding, of man being restored to the earth, of God’s renewal of his covenant.

A strong symbolism at the core

Surrounding the core symbology are other elements that actually detract from the brand.  In co-creation research with teens, we heard:

“It should feel more like home, more homey, not an outpatient place or a hospital.”

“It looks sad.”

“Won’t make me want to come to Covenant House because it’s the same as all the other shelters”

Weakness of the logo

The journey to a new Covenant House logo begins with renewing the dove symbol.  The dove is now in flight, it is taking wing, it is open and free. It has a warmth, a fresh spirit and liveliness.  The color is a brighter, more vibrant blue.

Refreshing the Dove

The hand is now friendlier, more approachable.  The dove is no longer a bird in the hand but it either taking off from the hand or making a gentle landing for nurturing and comfort.  The house is gone, replaced by a window in 4 parts.  Some people read this as a stained glass window with a cross.  A new symbol of hope is added to the identity, the sun on the right.  And another color is added to convey the diversity and warmth of Covenant House.

The tagline, “Opening Doors for Homeless Youth” adds another layer of meaning to the visual identity. It is clearly speaking to the main audience, kids on the streets.  And it is signaling to potential donors the mission of the organization.  Since recognition of Covenant House is low among potential donors, drawing a clear connection to homeless youth is essential.

The renewed Covenant House

The renewed Covenant House brand identity evokes a richness of positive associations and memories.  It tells about the next chapter of the organization, not lingering in the past.  In research the whole of the new branding — verbal, visual, metaphorical — is stronger in engaging potential donors.

Most important of all, it draws in the homeless kids, the street kids without any alternatives.  In their own words from co-creation research:

“An open door, a path to a new beginning.”

“Makes you feel welcome – a place to go where you won’t be in danger.”

“Someone who is going to listen – someone who is going to open their heart to me.”

Covenant House New Jersey

The rebranding program would never have happened without the vision, energy and enthusiasm of everyone at Covenant House, including Kathleen Fineout, Judith Nichols, Tom Manning, Jim White, Sister Patricia Cruise, Tom Kennedy and the rest of the wonderful people at Covenant House.

Consider sending a donation to Covenant House this holiday season at

Covenant House rebranding Part 3: the next chapter

A brand exists in time because we exist in time.  It has a past, a present and a future.

Okay, a completely new brand has no past. But all other brands have a past, a history.  They have a backstory.

As consumers we don’t forget out past experiences with a brand.  Or what we heard about the brand from friends, movies and, yes, advertising.  For example, I never owned a VW bug.  Even so, I have many strong memories and associations with the brand.  My impressions range from the hazy recollections of seeing cars on the street to a vivid memory of going with my daughter to see the Lindsey Lohan movie “Herbie Fully Loaded”.

Therefore the brand story needs to have a past, a present and a future:  yesterday, today and tomorrow.

The art of creating a compelling brand story is to talk about about today, but weave in the strongest elements of the past.  Then it needs to have a forward leaning element so that we want to know what tomorrow will bring, we want to turn the next page.  There is always another chapter to be written in the story of a brand.

We use this framework of a past, present and future to update the Covenant House brand story.   We use language that is vivid, alive, evocative.  The story matters because the stakes are so high.  This story has the power to save the life of a teenager.

The new Covenant House brand story

The new Covenant House brand story

The brand story does not stop here.  It goes layers deeper.  Within the Covenant House brand story are all of the life stories of all the individuals who have ever been touched by the organization.  Each story will break your heart.

The next post is on renewing the covenant through renewing the visual identity.

In the meantime, consider making a donation to Covenant House this year.  It can save a life.

Covenant House Rebranding: Part 2

Through interviews and workshops we recognize a gap between how at-risk teens view Covenant House from the outside and how they experience it once they are across the threshold and actually inside.  From the outside they view Covenant House as cold, institutional.  Inside they find themselves in a warm, open community that treats them with respect and gives them the tools to make the transition into productive and healthy adulthood.  The branding is part of the problem.

Consider the logo:

Old Covenant House logo

Old Covenant House logo

Research shows that homeless kids see a bird in a cage or trapped in house.  The bird is still, perched on the hand. The color is a cold institutional blue, and often only a black and white version is used making it seem even more institutional.  There is nothing about the branding that signifies this is for homeless youth.  They are reluctant to walk into a building with that logo. To confuse matters more, the logo is different in many cities, prominently displaying the city name or different messages locked up.  It is hard to recognize them all as part of a single organization with a uniting purpose and mission.

The re-branding needs to make it easier for teens to walk through that door.

Covenant House can only fulfill their mission of helping homeless young adults by raising the funds to support the organization.  It is not supported by the government and it is not supported by any organized church or religious group, even though it was founded by a priest.  It is supported almost entirely by donations from individuals across the US and Canada.

As you will recall from the last post, Covenant House has avoided much publicity after the founder, Father Ritter, resigned in the early 1990s.  By 2006 this has an unintended longer term effect — a whole new generation of potential donors has grown up unaware of Covenant House.  And those who are aware of Covenant House tend to know very little about it.

The confusion of different logos and different messages for different cities is not making it any easier for potential donors to know about Covenant House.  There is little about the name to connect it to the core mission.  And there is little about the logo that is immediately symbolic of homeless youth.

Now, in 2006, the rebranding program has two major challenges.  1. Building stronger connections with homeless youth.  2. Building new connections with a new generation of donors.

The core metaphor:

In all of the investigation, the interviews, the research, a strong central metaphor keeps being raised.  Whether it is about having an open door policy, or getting teens to cross through the doorway or opening doors of opportunity.  The “open door” metaphor has a profound connection with the mission of the organization.  So we use that as the central metaphor in creating a new brand story for Covenant House.

Opening Doors For Homeless Youth

This tagline that we create summarizes the metaphor and explicitly brings in the missing message that this is for homeless youth.  It is more than a tagline, however.  It is the beginning of a new vocabulary at Covenant House that talks in a more relevant and meaningful way with teens. An open door is welcoming.  It replaces the “24/7 open intake” language of a social worker.

From this core metaphor we write the next chapter in the Covenant House story.

In the next post I will go into the structure of the story and the challenge of changing the narrative arc so that the best part of the past contributes to a stronger future.  In the meantime, consider making a contribution to Covenant House today.

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.



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