Charity rebranding: a change of vision and strategy

This week, the Parkinson's Disease Society becomes Parkinson's UK, the latest charity to rebrand. Emily Ford finds out why charities do it and what risks are involved

Parkinson's UK promotional material
Parkinson's UK promotional material

In February, the Army Benevolent Fund became ABF - The Soldiers' Charity. Last month, The Printers' Charitable Corporation was transformed into The Printing Charity. This week, the Parkinson's Disease Society formally becomes Parkinson's UK in a £200,000 rebrand that has already upset some members. Rebrands appear to be flavour of the month among some of the UK's oldest charities, but are they more than a logo or name change? And are they worth the money?

It may be early days, but Steve Ford, the chief executive of Parkinson's UK, already thinks they are. The Parkinson's Disease Society had an unprompted brand awareness of only 1 per cent, according to nfpSynergy's Charity Awareness Monitor. When Ford took over in 2005, he modernised the charity and increased staffing by about 30 per cent.

The organisation changed, but its image didn't. "We were presenting ourselves as old-fashioned and stodgy," he says. Criticisms included not making enough noise about its campaigns and not being friendly enough in its language. "People living with Parkinson's didn't always feel involved," he says.

Ford chose to hire an external agency for the rebrand because it offered a safe environment for staff to say what they thought. "People were able to be honest about what they liked and didn't," he says. "It showed us the areas that we needed to change."

The charity made a huge effort to involve its members throughout the process, so it wasn't prepared for the highly negative reaction that broke out on its web forum. "It was a handful of people realising that the charity had a new strategy and wanting to be more involved," Ford says. He defends the outlay: the £200,000 rebrand cost 1 per cent of the charity's turnover and he aims to recoup this money within a year as part of an ambitious fundraising strategy that, he says, would not have been possible before.

While the sector is waking up to the power of branding, brand consultants are often seen as villains who are out to steal charities' funds, according to Dan Dufour, a consultant at brand agency The Team. The company worked on the Parkinson's UK rebrand and has worked at Shelter, which rebranded in 2004. "Brand becomes a dirty word because charities don't understand it," he says.

Dufour says charities associate brands with supermarket products or corporate giants and resent the price tag: branding jobs usually cost between £20,000 and £200,000, sometimes more. Contrary to accusations that it's merely logo twiddling, a rebrand involves a complete rethink of a charity's strategy, services, vision, mission and values, as well as its visual and linguistic identity. Dufour says: "Branding is making sure people have an accurate understanding of who you are and what you do. If supporters are confused about your mission, they will be less likely to give."

The most common motivation for a rebrand is to increase income and reach more people. Dufour says that rebranding makes charities more effective because they can work to consistent guidelines, which makes it easier to produce new materials.

Yet rebrands can be disastrous - think of the Post Office's ill-fated change to Consignia. Dufour says the main reason charity rebrands fail is that ideas are watered down in the effort to please everyone: "People design by committee and are not bold enough, so the end result doesn't stand out."

Changing a name is also a major risk. "Abstract names such as Orange or Apple are not going to work for charities," Dufour says. Centrepoint, the homelessness charity, briefly adopted the slogan 8.59, the time that the working day starts, before quietly reverting to its old identity.

Dufour advises changing a name only if it is no longer relevant or it is off-putting, as was the case with the Parkinson's Disease Society. "People thought 'disease' sounded contagious," he says. "Others didn't like 'society' because it sounded old-fashioned and elitist. Younger people were saying 'that's not the kind of organisation I would turn to for support"."

The charity rejected The Parkinson's Charity as too conservative, whereas Beat Parkinson's was seen as too aggressive and like a new small charity. "Parkinson's UK gives the impression that we are the national charity," Ford says. And because the name sounds rather corporate, the agency paired it with a campaigning strapline: "Find a cure. Join us."

One charity that made a success of rebranding is Macmillan Cancer Support, which changed from Macmillan Cancer Relief in 2006. It had been underperforming significantly: although it was a top 10 fundraising charity, it had ranked only 28th in terms of awareness in 2004 on the Charity Awareness Monitor.

Misperceptions were putting people off. "The association was with 'angels of death' - that we were nurses dealing with people at the ends of their lives," says Lynda Thomas, director of external affairs at Macmillan. "People were saying 'we don't need you"." Two million people live with cancer in the UK, so Macmillan felt it could do more. After its £120,000 rebrand, the charity now ranks eighth in awareness, income has increased from £97.7m in 2005 to £118m in 2009, and it helps and advises about twice as many people.

Not every rebrand goes smoothly. In 2008, NCH became Action for Children. But there are not many names to go round in the children's sector, and the similarly named Action for Kids, a disabled children's charity, reacted angrily. "There are only so many names that exist," says Polly Neate, executive director of external relations at Action for Children. "We have tried to work with them as much as possible to ensure that people don't confuse us."

As Parkinson's UK discovered, the reaction to rebrands will always be subjective. Action for Children says it has seen a positive response, but one charity rebranding expert, who didn't want to be named, says that for him the brand "lacks real punch or originality".

Ultimately, branding is no sticking plaster for deeper strategic problems, warns Thomas: "Think really carefully about why you are doing it."

Who's rebranded recently?

February 2010: The Army Benevolent Fund gets a new name
March 2010: A shorter title for The Printers' Charitable Corporation
2006: Rebranding raised income at the former Macmillan Cancer Relief
2008: NCH's new name caused a row with another children's charity

ROAD TO THE REBRAND

How the Parkinson's Disease Society is becoming Parkinson's UK, step by step

Autumn 2008: Early internal research. Trustees agree budget

January 2009: Tender process run for agencies. Brand steering group established

February 2009: The Team is appointed as the rebranding agency

March/April 2009: Interviews carried out with staff, beneficiaries and stakeholders. Findings are presented to the board, which agrees to look at a name change

May 2009: Steering group and directors discuss vision, mission and a new five-year strategy. The Team presents long list of proposed names and tests them on focus groups

June 2009: Steering group recommends Parkinson's UK as the new name

July 2009: Board agrees new name and brand. The Team presents mood boards, which use a collage of materials to provide a visual demonstration of ideas, and three possible designs

August 2009: Steering group chooses the design

Autumn/winter 2009: New name, vision and strategy announced to staff and branches. Development and testing carried out for new materials

January 2010: Implementation of the brand begins on communications materials and website. Presentations given to staff on strategy and brand preview

February 2010: Brand launched to members and staff. Mailout goes to 30,000 members. Low-key announcement made in trade media

March 2010: New-look website development. Staff and branches trained in implementing the brand

April 2010: Official name change coming on 8 April. Answerphone and website updated. New look The Parkinson magazine sent to 30,000 members. Brand to be rolled out locally during Parkinson's Awareness Week (19-25 April)

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