A whole host of charities have rebranded in recent weeks, ranging from household names such as Oxfam and Cancer Research UK to less well-known ones such as the Institute of Cancer Research and the Disasters Emergency Committee.
With many charities experiencing falling income levels, spending money on a new logo or entire brand identity might not be the most obvious use of donors’ money. But Natasha Hill, director of brand and strategic marketing at Cancer Research UK, believes that rebrands can make good financial sense.
"There’s no sign of the economy improving," she says. "Charities are trying lots of things. They are starting to look at many methods that can improve their fundraising performance. They feel they need to make sure that their supporters are certain about the charity’s purpose."
She says that her own charity took the decision to rebrand after three years of relatively flat fundraising performance. "Our previous rebrand, when the charity came into existence as the result of a merger, showed us that it could be a driver for growth," she says. "We enjoyed double-digit growth for several years."
Hill says that it is difficult to measure the effectiveness of rebrands overall – and in particular to assess the benefit of a rebrand to the average charity. "One reason for this is that each one is different and there are many factors," she says.
This is partly because no one carries out a rebrand in isolation, she says – it is usually one of a number of steps taken simultaneously to improve a charity’s communications and fundraising work.
Matthew Bradby, marketing and communications manager at the Queen’s Nursing Institute, which recently rebranded, says that many organisations are being driven to rebrand because either, like his own, they are very old organisations with logos dating back to the 19th century, or their logos don’t work across a broad range of media.
"Some logos designed 10 years ago with limited technology are really showing their age," he says. "A lot of branding just isn’t suitable for the modern world."
QNI’s rebrand has worked, he says. "Since we rebranded, we’ve been taken more seriously by institutional funders and government."
Lara Jukes, director of fundraising at the Institute of Cancer Research, which also rebranded recently, says that it is often obvious the time has come for a rebrand. She recommends that charities measure their effectiveness afterwards.
"We will be collecting quantitative data, mostly relating to fundraising, to see whether our rebrand was effective," she says. "We will also be collecting qualitative evidence through interviews with donors."
Even if the evidence supports a rebrand, however, charities that follow that route risk the disapproval of their supporters, who might feel that paying a design agency is not a good use of charitable funds.
Beth Breeze, a researcher at the University of Kent, says that her research into donor motivations found that charity supporters held contradictory views on the subject.
"Donors said they found it hard to distinguish between thousands of charities and valued organisations with strong identities," she says. "But they didn’t want charities to spend money on building identities.
"It’s another symptom of the same inconsistency that means they don’t want money spent on administration costs, but they want someone to answer the phone when they call with a query."