This is why Leake and Watts has become Rising Ground

It was a complete rebrand for the 187-year-old nonprofit: New mission statement, new vision statement, new name, new logo

Photo by Rising Ground/ Illustration by Zach Williams/NYN Media

Leake and Watts has changed its name to Rising Ground, New York Nonprofit Media has learned.

It was a complete rebrand for the 187-year-old nonprofit: New mission statement, new vision statement, new name, new logo – the works. The change was not rushed into.

“I’m responsible for this legacy of this organization,” said Leake and Watts Executive Director Alan Mucatel. “This idea of moving past a previous name that’s been around for so long, to a new one, is not something one should take lightly.”

Rising Ground began as Leake and Watts Orphan House in 1831. It was established in response to rising poverty during the 1820s. The nonprofit bills itself as one of the first private charitable institutions in the country dedicated to children in need. It is one of the largest multi-service human services organizations in the New York City metro area, offering some 47 different programs in areas such as juvenile justice and health care and providing services for those with intellectual disabilities. It was already well known for the services it provides, but the affiliations brought to mind by the organization’s previous name were not as impressive. It was time for a change.

The old name didn’t convey what the organization was about. It was mispronounced. Many, on first hearing, thought the organization was a law firm. Board members joked that the last names of Westchester County Judge and Congressman John Watts, Jr. – who founded the nonprofit with the bequest of his friend Attorney John George Leake –  sounded like a plumbing and electrical company.

The advice of a former advertising executive who served as a volunteer branding consultant resonated with the board: 

The volunteer said, “Ninety-nine percent of the time I would tell organizations: ‘Do not change your name. Update your brand, but don't change your name,’” Senior Director of Institutional Advancement Meredith Barber recalled.

“You, you’re in the one percent. You should change your name.”

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The process was exhaustive. It started in 2012 with a strategic planning process that included exploring whether it was time for a rebrand. It picked up speed in early 2015 when the nonprofit was awarded a $249,000 grant from the Nonprofit Finance Fund’s Community Resilience Fund. The grant enabled them to bring on Red Rooster Group, a marketing and branding agency that conducted everything from focus groups to something akin to improv sessions to Haiku-writing workshops with involved stakeholders. That discovery process was meant to uncover feelings that would inform the makeover. Before Rising Ground was selected, some 1,399 runner-up names were left on the cutting room floor.

Then the board of directors had to be brought along.

Barber explained to some of the old guard on the board that a new name could help with fundraising. Crossan Seybolt, who has served as a member of the board for well over a decade – and as a former art history major admits he is a fan of “old and moldy things” – began to look at the idea from different perspectives. 

“The one thing that struck me the most was ... I had always thought about  the board's point of view. I had never thought about it from a kid's point of view, or a client’s,” Seybolt said.  “So I tried to move my mind to that side of the table.”

So now, the $100 million dollar nonprofit with over 1,400 staff members operating out of some twenty-five sites in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan and Westchester County, has a logo filled with cheery, sunshine colors on the orange and yellow color spectrum. It can resemble both a sun rising over a series of hills or a person with arms radiating outward. It stands next to the words Rising Ground with the tagline: “Paths to positive change since 1831.” 

The tagline was important for stakeholders who wanted to make sure the organization’s history was acknowledged. In addition, as an homage to the organization’s founders, their Yonkers campus is being named the Leake and Watts campus and another Yonker’s site is being renamed the Leake and Watts Residential Treatment center.

Executive Director Alan Mucatel warmed to the idea of the name change as he mulled over the theme of “Rise” that began to emerge during the discovery process with Red Rooster Group. It speaks to the idea of moving up while having a solid foundation.

“This very notion of helping people to move from one place in their lives to a better place in their lives – as they see it for themselves – is actually so basic to everything we do,” Mucatel said. 

The idea of ground speaks to the educational base provided in the organization’s preschool programs, or the connection to family that happens for children in foster care services, or the skill development that helps clients and families participate more fully in their communities, Mucatel explained. 

“It was important to us to find a name that encompassed all, and didn't need the specificity,” Barber said.

The rollout is about as expansive as the new identity. The new name has  been incorporated into the tighter mission and vision statement, along with the new elevator speech for use by board members and updated boilerplate text about the organization. The new logo has been emblazoned onto a new risingground.org website and onto t-shirts, umbrellas, stress balls and and plenty of other tchotchkes. The organization is holding 28 events in 27 hours to share the announcement with stakeholders – clients, board members, friends and staff – many of whom who were involved in the discovery process, but had not yet been told the new name.

Mucatel is pleased with the overall re-branding process and feels confident that the organization is not leaving its history behind in any way. He looks forward to using the new name. “I know it will roll off my tongue very, very naturally,” Mucatel said. “I just feel like we nailed it.”

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