Client Spotlight

Introducing Feed More - The New Brand: A Promise, a Logo, and so Much More


Our office space, The Woodlot, is the keeper of secrets.  Between The Spark Mill and our friends on the other side, Campfire & Co. – there is regularly a confidential, use the back door, kind of project in the works. A new restaurant, a merger, a big rebrand.  (Please don’t start hanging around our back alley trying to get the scoop – that would be creepy.)

One of our favorite moments around the office is when we can finally let the cat out of the bag, or maybe in this case, spill the beans…

Feed More has a beautiful new brand and a powerful brand promise y’all and today they are revealing it to the world! Read about the story of the brand here.

 The Charge

In late 2016 The Spark Mill was hired by Feed More to complete a brand study as the first phase of what would become a three phase rebrand journey.  Below we document the phases and the work done by TSM and Campfire & Co. with input and guidance from the Feed More Brand Team and a huge number of Feed More stakeholders.

The Process


This phase included an audit and assessment of who Feed More was and how they talked about themselves including: the current social media and online presence of Feed More; an extensive review of existing studies and documents; as well as an environmental scan of more than 20 local and national food banks, Meals on Wheels programs, and other similar local organizations.  We then compiled all of our findings into a brand study report that included our data, insights, and some recommendations. 


This phase belonged to Campfire & Co. We gave them our findings and recommendations and then we stepped out so Campfire could do that magical thing they do with brand strategy and logos and marks and design. Our two firms have worked together on a number of large projects over the years, and have developed a good flow for sharing information and complimenting one another’s strengths in a way that is optimal for our clients.   

As the Campfire team diligently worked, we would frequently find Sarah meandering over to the other side of the office asking them to see “something pretty” – the logo, collateral, etc.  While we believe brand is more than a nice logo, that certainly does not diminish the significance or appeal of physical branding done well.  Watching the words, ideas, and ideals of who Feed More is and the change they are making in the world transform so thoughtfully and perfectly into a mark, and logo, and colors was nothing short of incredible. 


This part of the project kicked off June 1st at the employee brand reveal day, as The Spark Mill detailed to the employees how brand is indeed about more than the sharp new logo or fresh new colors...and what that meant for Feed More. TSM then embarked on an in depth process to pair Feed More’s rebrand with an internal culture change project involving all of the staff, as well as volunteers, partners, and donors with one quest - alignment of their new brand and its promise to the work they do and all of their interactions.  To date, The Spark Mill has gathered data from around 750 stakeholders, through surveys, interviews, and multiple staff department meetings. We have analyzed the data, compared the numbers, found the themes, written the reports, and met with the Feed More Brand Team many times to discuss the findings and the transformation opportunities.

Both Campfire and TSM are continuing to work with Feed More to ensure a smooth rollout of both the physical brand and the cultural embodiment of the brand promise. 

A great brand embraces and exudes your mission, vision, and values internally and externally in everything you do. A great brand does all of those things in a way that is simple and clear and meaningful.  Feed More’s new brand is strong, consistent, and cohesive. It is dependable. It is caring.

Congratulations to Feed More for a great new brand!

feed more new brand richmond va

Creating a Strategic Planning Process that Creates the Confidence of a Tightrope Walker

Why we trust our clients to go out into the world boldly

Have you ever heard of Harry Colcord?  Yeah, me either...until I was doing some reading about tightrope walker and funambulist (say that five times fast) Charles Blondin.  Colcord was Blondin’s manager.  He trusted Blondin so much that he rode piggyback on Blondin’s back across Niagara Falls…willingly…on a tightrope.  Colcord trusted Blondin with his life – literally!  He had great confidence in Blondin and his abilities. 

That’s the kind of confidence I have in our clients after spending months getting to know them and their work.  I fully believe they can achieve what they are setting out to do.  Why?

3 Reasons I Believe in Our Strategic Planning Clients

1. It’s their plan!  We don’t write a plan for them - we help guide them as they write their plan.  They know their clients, their staff, and their leadership best.  We get to help them collect and digest all the data and then use that data to craft a plan that can guide them through the next three to five years.  Sometimes that means pushing or challenging clients to do hard things, hear difficult feedback, and make complicated decisions.  Because of that, if the plan is not their plan, in their voice, when it gets difficult they won’t believe in it or champion it. 

2. It’s outward focused!  A strategic plan that doesn’t look beyond an organization’s walls is an operational plan.  Strategic planning is about missional alignment and achievement.  Maybe that is the change they want to see in the world, in their line of business, or in the academic landscape.   We push our clients to make sure they are focusing outside their walls to achieve their mission. Which leads to the third reason...

3. It includes THEIR client's voice!  Flourishing isn’t something one imposes upon others.  Instead it’s discovered together.  That is why we are so invested in making sure the end user’s voice is a part of the process and we work really hard to make sure our clients are authentically engaging THEIR clients as they look to the future.  Read more about our thoughts on inclusion and community engagement here

When our clients invest in their future, seek input from external stakeholders, and authentically listen to the people they serve; I believe they can achieve whatever it is they set their sights on.  I have so much confidence in them I’d let them carry me across Niagara Falls.


Client Spotlight: The Story Behind a New Brand

Congratulations to Rappahannock-Rapidan Regional Commission for the unveiling of their new regional food brand. Purely Piedmont was a collaborative project of The Spark Mill and Polychrome Collective. Magic happens when you align brand strategy and beautiful thoughtful graphics. This was a ConsultCorps project that sprang out of the Center for Nonprofit Excellence in Charlottesville, VA. ConsultCorps is a group of experienced nonprofit consultants partnering with CNE to help clients solve problems and grow effectiveness. I am proud to be one of the founders of ConsultCorp - an innovative solution to finding the best consultant for your project. 

The Ask:

The Spark Mill was asked to investigate a brand for the Rappahannock Rapidan Food Council for the promotion of their locally grown agricultural products and make recommendations for the naming of the campaign. Results of this study were shared with the graphic designer to incorporate into a new visual identity to use to market the products grown and created within the region.

The Process:

We began by conducting a stakeholder survey and data review. This lead to two open Community Visioning Sessions where we sought information on audiences, brand voice, and purpose. All of the information was used to create a brand strategy including a proposed name!  

The Result: 

The brand should be balanced between simple and sophisticated and highlighting farming as a craft. It should feel comfortable to the residents but target the core audiences of the brand. The key to remember in branding is that it should resonate with customers most strongly, rather than describe the farmers and producers of the region. Visual cues included the Blue Ridge mountains, foothills, and the red clay soil. Tone of voice characteristics should include: genuine, trustworthy, and a little fun. A brand with a little dirt on it. 

We passed our comprehensive brand study over to the fine folks at Polychrome Collective who translated our recommended brand into an awesome graphic logo. 

10 Things in 10 Years: Lessons from a Nonprofit Executive Director

Mira Signer NAMI Virginia Client Spotlight

**This is a special guest post from Mira Signer, Executive Director of NAMI Virginia, one of our long term clients.

When I started as the executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Virginia in 2007, it was just four months after the Virginia Tech tragedy, where 32 students and faculty were killed and many others injured, by a young student with untreated mental illness. The mental health advocacy community was raw, hurting, and unorganized. NAMI Virginia had not had an executive director for several years. On my first day, I walked into a small office that had an old computer, two telephones, two part-time staff members, and a budget of $170,000. I loved the organization’s mission and knew there was a lot of work to do to repair wounded relationships, build the grassroots affiliates, strengthen the organization’s advocacy work, and grow new education and anti-stigma initiatives.

Ten years later, as I depart the organization for a new venture, I look back with a lot of pride on what I was able to accomplish: nurtured the Board through growing pains and ultimately supported their growth into a strong, sustainable Board; grew our budget nearly 300% and diversified funding sources; expanded our educational initiatives that reached 23,000 Virginians in 2016; led campaigns to change laws and increase funding to transform the mental health care system, and hired an amazingly dedicated cadre of talented staff. In the ten years I was with NAMI Virginia, I learned a lot, did a lot, grew a lot, and made a lot of mistakes.

The Top 10 Things I’ve Learned in 10 Years

1.    Thank people. In person, on the phone, in writing. It doesn’t need to be fancy or expensive. It needs to be genuine. Thank the volunteers, your staff, the Board, your donors, people who help you out when you’re in a pinch. Make time every week to say thank you. I carve out about 30 minutes each week to thank people with a handwritten note. This doesn’t include the time I spend on the phone making regular thank you calls to donors, board members, and other supporters. It’s like voting- do it often and do it early: thank the people who are helping you be where you are and giving their time and efforts to the organization’s mission. Sometimes you will even get a thank you note for your thank you note and it’s the best feeling ever.

2.    Be careful of how fast you grow. On my first day, we had two part time staff, two phones, and a computer. Within three years I had hired two full-time staff members. Within another three years, we had grown to a staff of six. That’s a lot of growth in a short period of time. Growth is generally good but smart growth is even better. Make sure the way you are growing makes sense. We waited until my 7th year to hire a Director of Development - should have done it sooner! When you do grown, make sure you have the infrastructure in place to support the people who are doing the work. Adequate phone lines, good personnel policies, and a small budget for professional development make a world of difference.

3.    Know that there will be ups. Funding will be up. Programs will be great. You will have great times and do great things. Savor those moments. Keep a folder in your inbox for positive, feel good emails that you can go back and read on the hard days. Because…

4.    There will be downs. Staff will struggle. Your Board will have issues. A new initiative that was going to be amazing will fail. You will be criticized. You will feel ineffective. You will lose funding. Expect that bad times will hit during the course of your tenure. We lost funding at the very end of a fiscal year. It was unexpected and really shook me. An organizational restructure I was planning had to be postponed. I let a vacant position stay vacant for awhile. It was a tough time and I felt disappointed in myself, and I worried that I was letting my staff and the Board down. Which leads me to my next point.

5.    Be willing to be vulnerable. Executive directors are often expected to know everything. After all, we are in charge! People look to us for answers. We know a lot but there is no way we can know everything. I learned that it’s incredibly important to be willing to be vulnerable - to fall on your face and make mistakes. We are pretty talented, hard working, and versatile but we’re also human. Be willing to admit what you don’t know, and seek out guidance from those who do. It’s a sign of authenticity and others will appreciate it.

6.    Ask people what they think and what they want. Then, listen. People want to be heard. They want to share their ideas, tell you what keeps them up at night. Let them have a voice. Ask others what they want, what they don’t want, what they like about what you are doing, what they don’t like. Even if you disagree or ultimately have to go in a different direction, ask and listen. You will learn something from those exchanges. And if nothing else, there is great value in genuinely giving a voice to others.

7.     Take care of yourself. I sometimes say, “I love the first 40 hours of my job. After that, not so much.” Often our work is a calling. We do it because we love the mission, we love the work. We are asked to lead this effort, to join this committee, to attend that event. You are constantly on call and being asked to help out. In short, nonprofit work is not a 40-hour a week job. Even so, there are things you can do to not burn yourself out. First, figure out what your boundaries are (No email on the weekend? No evening meetings? No overnight travel longer than 3 days?) and negotiate that into your day-to-day work plan. For me it meant limiting my evening speaking engagements and being extremely selective about out of town travel. With two children under the age of three, these were critical to my well-being and the well-being of my family. It also meant convincing my Board that we needed to hire a contract lobbyist to perform services during the legislative session, as it was no longer feasible for me to do it alone. Fortunately, it didn’t take much convincing and was a positive experience- one that was appreciated not only by me but also by my family. Other essentials for me included actually eating lunch outside of my office (sometimes alone, other times with friends, and other times lunch dates with my partner) and taking 30 minute walking breaks around the office park - sometimes while on the phone with a donor or reporter but at least I was getting fresh air and exercise. The point is, you must be good to yourself if you are going to perform your job well. Don’t be a martyr and don’t make the mistake of thinking you are too important to take a vacation.

8.     Take care of those around you. This one refers specifically to staff, and I can’t overemphasize how important it is. Staff is a precious commodity and you must take care of them. One of the things I am most proud of is that we revised our personnel policies and were very generous with annual leave, sick leave, and benefits like parental leave. We used to offer about three weeks paid vacation. Sounds pretty typical. We now offer at 4.2 weeks of annual leave for employees who have been here 2 years and under. Employees who have been here 8 years or more earn 6 weeks of annual leave. “That’s a lot! How does anyone ever get anything done?” some people ask. I can tell you that productivity has not been a problem. In fact, I would say that the staff are even more productive because they are motivated by generous benefits. We also updated our parental leave policies and allow for 12 weeks leave for the birth or adoption of a child, with 8 of them being automatically paid (and you can use annual leave or sick leave for the remaining 4). Having two small children, I know the value of a good parental leave policy. I want my staff to feel that their time is valued, that their families are important, and that they are welcomed to take vacation and come back feeling refreshed. Anyone who works in the nonprofit field knows that staff work really hard pretty much all the time- let’s respect that and reward staff generously.

9.     Gather your people. You cannot do this job alone. You should not do this job alone. You must have a cabinet of trusted people you can vent to, talk to, ask questions of, and whose shoulders you can cry on when the going gets rough (it will; see # 4). Even if you work alone, you must identify colleagues in the field who will pick up the phone when you really need them and give you great advice, or be a sounding board. This can be a colleague who also works in the nonprofit field, a former professor, a consultant, or someone else who is simply a great listener. 

10.  Keep the big picture in mind. On the hard days when you’re putting out fires or staring at spreadsheets and nothing is going quite right, it’s easy to wonder what the heck you are doing and what the purpose is. It’s easy to get sucked into the minutiae - after all, there’s a lot of it. Yet it’s critical to keep the big picture in mind and understand why the minutiae is important. I like to keep notes, cards, and letters on my desk and even taped to my window to serve as my guiding star for when I get bogged down and need a reminder of why I do what I do. You also have to develop a practice of mindfully and intentionally keeping focus on your mission and values. This means you must learn how to figure out what to spend your valuable energy on and what to let go. If there is drama (or inertia!) around a particular issue, ask yourself if it’s critical to your mission and where your organization will be in 5-6 months. If the answer is yes or possibly yes, then spend time untangling the drama and problem-solving. If the answer is no, resist the temptation to get involved and focus your attention on what needs you most. You’ll end up having more time and will feel better about your work in the long run. But it takes time and practice. Does your organization run a hotline or serve clients directly? Make time to answer a few hotline calls every week or meet with clients regularly; this will undoubtedly keep you connected to the mission.


The Spark Mill was honored to work with NAMI Virginia on strategic planning, organizational development, and fundraising over the last few years. We will miss Mira as a client, but look forward to the future growth of the organization. 

You Don't Have to Be Big to Think Big: Strategic Planning for Small Churches

Church Strategic Planning Richmond Va

We've said this before and believe it is worth repeating: You don’t have to BE big to think big.  Just ask Belmont United Methodist Church. Belmont is not a “big" church, they don't have a big budget, and yet...Belmont is making a big impact transforming lives in south Richmond. One example - each Friday Belmont UMC opens its doors to host up to 400 people for a food pantry.  Of course, it's about more than giving food.  They are sharing hope with people who may not have a lot of it otherwise.  They are building community.  That’s big.

In January, I had the privilege of spending a day with Belmont's leadership council for a strategic planning retreat.  Their passion for their community was truly inspiring.  As they confronted the challenging economic, political, and geographic realities of their community, Belmont's commitment and passion to faithful action with their community never wavered.   That’s big.

During the day, I asked their team a question:  "If Belmont achieved its vision and you were in a hot air balloon looking down at your community, what would you see?"  The leadership of Belmont dreamed together, and  envisioned, "sidewalks filled with people in conversation", "children outside playing", and "everyone having enough of what they need.”  They were describing a picture of a community made whole.  That’s big.

The people of Belmont church were envisioning how they can be a part of bringing hope, healing, and stability to a community that struggles with poverty, crime, and fear.  Each Friday morning as people gather for the food pantry there is no "us" and "them," it’s a community gathering to experience the fruit of big ideas lived out in focused mission. That’s big.

Belmont UMC's determination to think and act big is helping change lives in the community. It was my pleasure to walk them through this collaborative process and I can't wait to watch them nail their plan. 

5 Tips for a Successful Staff Retreat : The RRHA Story

One of our favorite things at The Spark Mill is working with organizations who are willing to do the hard work of investing in themselves to improve their impact on the world.  This is one of the reasons we love working with Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority.  

Our work with RRHA started with a board retreat, then moved on to creating a dynamic 5 year strategic plan, and now we’re deep into implementation planning.  As part of an active implementation process, we are engaging the staff in culture change work through customer service and team building retreats. This work is in line with our belief at TSM that it’s critical the plans we help our clients create are infused into the culture of the organization. It takes extra time but in our experience it’s the only way to ensure plans reach their full potential and don’t get dusty on the shelf.

Under the leadership of T.K. Somanath, RRHA is in the sweet spot where change is happening and big things are on the horizon and we are thrilled to have the opportunity to work with every single employee (around 200 people!) through this project.

So, what’s the secret recipe for a successful retreat?

5 Tips for a Successful Retreat

  1. Get out of the office -- how are you going to leave the ins and outs of work for the day if you are at work? We’ve been fortunate to partner with UR Downtown for these retreats. Lots of natural light and a location in the heart of the city doesn’t hurt.
  2. Take care of your people -- provide a yummy breakfast and lunch, make everyone feel special, and remind them often of how incredible they are and how happy you are to share the day with one another.
  3. Give space to reflect -- it’s not all rainbows and sunshine at our retreats. These are real people doing hard work in difficult times. We make space to step back and look at the big picture, to process and work through the tough stuff.
  4. Value input and hold everyone accountable -- throughout the retreat we record the bright ideas that percolate and ask the group to make personal and group commitments to shift the culture and make RRHA a great place to work.
  5. Have Fun -- Going on scavenger hunts, creating infomercials, using polaroid cameras... a good balance of fun, productivity, and creativity are essential. We don’t really believe you can have one without the other and we intentionally create an agenda that results in a lot of laughing and smiling while we accomplish big work together.  

So far, we’ve completed 3 of at least 12 retreats and have been greatly enjoying our time with the staff. Meaningful change doesn’t happen in one day, but that’s the beauty of building deep working relationships, where together we create sparks, you set them free and watch them fly.

Contact us to find out more about our staff, board, and team retreats.


Probono Spotlight: Reach out & Read Virginia Reviews Online Presence and Strategies

Just because your organization does not have a huge budget and tons of staff doesn't mean you aren't impactful. The Spark Mill certainly doesn't believe an organization's size should preclude them from receiving external assistance. That is why we have an ongoing commitment to providing high quality services to small organizations who wouldn't otherwise be able to afford working with a consultant. The probono program is a key feature of our goal of equitable access. Last month, we focused our attention on Reach Out & Read Virginia (RORVA).

RORVA builds on the unique relationship between parents and medical providers to promote early literacy and school readiness in pediatric exam rooms statewide by giving new books to children and advice to parents about the importance of reading aloud. Reach Out and Read delivers an “ROR" prescription to over 124,000 children and their families by over 500 trained medical providers in 163 pediatric practices/medical systems in Virginia.  Their key question was: How do we transform this work into stories we can tell through social media, on our website, and with marketing?

Our Process


An environmental scan and assessment of the current marketing and social media activities of RORVA was performed. The review included online analysis of existing marketing activities and a scan of fellow Reach Out & Read affiliates.


Taking what was gathered, the leadership of RORVA sat down with TSM to review and finalize a marketing and social media strategy complete with content and strategy recommendations developed specifically for RORVA.


Because of Rebecca’s astute knowledge about how to utilize social media, she has set us up with a plan to take forward in order to help elevate the brand of Reach Out and Read Virginia. We look forward to implementing and measuring the impact of this strategy that The Spark Mill helped us create. Thank you, Rebecca and Sarah and look forward to working together in the future!
— Susan Rockwell, Executive Director

We rounded out the project by providing training and instruction on specific tools, techniques, and platforms outlined in the marketing and social media strategy to improve efficiency and effectiveness of efforts. Content related templates and tools were also provided to support and facilitate ongoing efforts by RORVA staff and volunteers. 

When you’re a statewide organization with a small staff, it can be very easy to let your marketing and communications efforts fall by the wayside. However, making the time to take stock of your online brand and developing a plan on how to focus your (limited) resources can pay huge dividends – by providing clarity and direction, as well as making a seemingly daunting task less overwhelming.   


Stay Tuned for updates from our other current probono clients - Startup Virginia and The Pace Center for Campus and Community Ministry.