Academic journal article Sociological Viewpoints

Organizational Identity and the Rebranding of the YMCA

Academic journal article Sociological Viewpoints

Organizational Identity and the Rebranding of the YMCA

Article excerpt

As government funding steadily decreases and the number of non-profit entities increase, non-profit organizations are now plunging themselves into business practices like branding. These business practices are being used as a mechanism to increase philanthropic engagement as well as to convey organizational messages to stakeholder groups more clearly. This study examined the role of organizational identity in the YMCA rebranding of 2010. The researcher used qualitative methods, specifically interviews and document analyses, to see if organizational identity was a factor in the decision to rebrand one of the nation's largest non-profit organizations. The findings showed that the YMCA rebrand was motivated by the need to more clearly express organizational identity to a more diverse and changing stakeholder group. Findings also showed the continuance of the YMCA heritage and values in the newer images and expressions of the brand.


Whereas branding has long been an imperative marketing tool in the for-profit sector, non-profit organizations only started to incorporate branding techniques in the early 1990s (Voeth & Herbst, 2008). As government funding steadily decreased and the number of non-profit entities increased, branding in the non- profit sector was driven by "the need to remain distinct and successful in an increasingly competitive environment" (Voeth & Herbst, 2008: 72). Still, while the literature on branding in the for-profit sector suggests a positive impact on business outcomes, many non-profit organizations neglect to engage in branding practices. As such, there is a paucity of literature surrounding organizational identity and the use of branding in the non-profit sector.

Background and Purpose of the Inquiry

Organizational identity (OI), particularly in the non-profit sector, is a relatively underexplored construct. Albert and Whetten (cited in Hatch & Schultz, 2004) defined organizational identity as that which is central, enduring, and distinct about an organization. Organizational identity asks the questions, "Who are we? What business are we in? What do we want to be (Hatch & Schultz, 2004: 3)?" Laidler -Kylander, Quelch, and Simonin (2007) explained organizational identity as the perception that the agency attempts to create, while image is the perception of the brand in the minds of the stakeholders. The latter exists in the minds of the consumer and the former is the basis for marketing and brand management activities transmitted as communications. To guide a preliminary investigation of organizational identity and branding in the non-profit sector, I posed the following research question: how did executive level managers perceive organizational identity in relationship to the YMCA rebranding efforts?

As the non-profit sector becomes more competitive, and as funding sources become more limited, organizational identity and branding may be mechanisms of differentiation that enhance donor support and community relations with the organization. Further exploring the intersection of organizational identity and branding would assist non-profits in the decision to use branding as a method of competing in the market. Investigating the concept of organizational identity would give the agency the ability to isolate the forces that predispose consumers and clients to act in certain ways (Plummer, 2000). Agencies could then respond proactively to the way consumers feel about the organization in order to better shape the brand. The results of the study could be used to inform non-profit entities that are considering branding on how to express a distinct personality in a competitive environment. The results could also clarify the importance and utility of organizational identity in relation to decision-making surrounding the branding efforts.

Positionality Statement

I have had a connection with the YMCA organization since childhood. I took my first YMCA swimming class when I was an infant. …

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