Rebranding in Philanthropy: An interview with Marilou Jones from Forefront (Previously Donors Forum)

Marilou Jones Forefront


  1. You are the only statewide membership association in the U.S. that represents nonprofits, philanthropy, public agencies, advisors, and other allies. How do you remain relatable across different membership types?

    Remaining relatable was definitely one of the drivers for our rebranding. Our organization was founded in 1974 as “Donors Forum,” with that name reflecting our original grantmaker membership. Although we added nonprofit and advisor members over the years, the name remained the same. We had become a venerable, well-respected organization, but our name did not fully represent our evolved constituency, nor convey the breadth and critical nature of our work.

  2. What made your organization start thinking about rebranding the Donors Forum? Why have you decided to do it now (end of 2015)?

    The rebranding was the final step in a thorough strategic planning process, which also resulted in new, succinct mission statement that capsulizes our work: Building a vibrant social sector in Illinois. The name Forefront reinforces the fact that our work – and the work of our Members – is leading the way, working with business, government, and others to build the social impact sector here in Illinois.

  3. How did the name “Forefront” come out?

    We engaged a creative firm to guide us in choosing a new name. Engaging an outside firm turned out to be critically important for many reasons – the least of which is that an outside firm provides objectivity. During the discovery process we held focus groups, sent email surveys, and talked with people. Presented first to us was a list of more than 200 potential names. Eventually it was whittled down to five, then three, then one. We kept our board apprised of the process, and staff were involved appropriately. Our President and CEO Eric Weinheimer played a big role. Our process of choosing a name took about five months. We were extremely pleased with the process; in fact, we’ve recorded a podcast with Eric, our creative firm lead, and our board vice-chair (who also headed our rebranding working group). You can read about it and download it here:

  4. What is the biggest change you´ve seen within your organization since rebranding?

    Anecdotally, we have had nothing but positive feedback. Staff, Members, and other colleagues are energized about this “new” organization! Our social media ‘popularity’ has skyrocketed.

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