Analysis: The difference a name makes

Charities carry out rebrands in order to revitalise themselves or clarify their purposes, but sometimes the result can be more confusing or even off-putting. Andy Hillier finds out about the pitfalls

Charity rebrands
Charity rebrands

The renaming of the young women's charity YWCA England and Wales as Platform 51 three years ago will probably go down as one of the worst-ever charity rebrands.

The much-derided name was a reference to the fact that 51 per cent of the UK's population are female and that young women use the charity as a platform to have their say. The reference was lost on many and, earlier this month, the charity announced that it would restructure and change its name to the Young Women's Trust.

Branding has become increasingly important for charities in recent years and a name is the centrepiece of any branding. But the decision to change a charity's name is fraught with danger: select the wrong name, or persevere with one that no longer resonates with donors and supporters, and it can cost the charity dearly. Select the right one and it can help to raise the profile of the charity's work, distinguish it from competitors and improve its ability to fundraise.

For example, Prostate Cancer Charity changed its name in July last year to Prostate Cancer UK and embarked on a high-profile communications campaign to promote its new identity. After the rebrand, the charity entered the Third Sector Charity Brand Index of most-recognised brands for the first time and now estimates that its income will have risen by 30 per cent in a year.

According to branding specialists, names fall into three categories: the abstract, the implicit and the explicit. Many charities continue to favour explicit names that explain what they do or the cause area in which they work, but abstract names - such as Platform 51 - and implicit names that merely hint at the nature of the charity's work - such as the Lullaby Trust - have become increasingly popular over the past few years. Certain words or terms have cropped up in names more frequently in recent years, while others have receded: 'action' or 'UK' have been used repeatedly in rebrands, whereas the word 'charity' is falling out of favour.

Owen HughesOwen Hughes (right), creative director at Wolff Olins, the brand consultancy that worked on the rebranding of Macmillan Cancer Relief as Macmillan Cancer Support in 2006, says that naming is the hardest part of branding. "I would always say don't change your name unless you have to," he says. "In the case of Macmillan, the old name made it sound like a pain-relief charity, which was misleading."

SGavin Sheppardome charities become fixated on a change of name when in fact other parts of its communications might be the problem, according to Gavin Sheppard (right), marketing director at the charity the Media Trust. "You have to have a serious conversation about whether it's the name that's holding you back," he says. "Often you'll find that no one thing will solve what you perceive as your communications problem."

Dan DufourA charity needs to establish whether there is a clear business case for changing its name before making the decision, according to Dan Dufour (right), head of brand at The Good Agency. "It's a game of numbers," he says. "You have to ask whether your name is a barrier and whether a new one will help you reach more supporters."

He says charities should test thoroughly whether a name change will actually bring about the desired outcomes. "The trustees of the animal charity Blue Cross asked us to research a possible name change," he says. "What came back was that potential supporters didn't know what the charity stood for. Instead of changing the name, it was felt that it would be better to communicate that the Blue Cross was the animal equivalent of the Red Cross." So the strapline "for pets" was added to an updated Blue Cross logo and the charity also changed other aspects of the brand.

Richard SunderlandThere has been a trend in recent years towards obscure or abstract names, but branding experts are wary of this approach. Richard Sunderland (right), founder of the branding agency Heavenly, says: "If you have an abstract name, you have to spend money explaining what you do - and charities often don't have the budgets for this. You should choose one only if you have an underlying reason."

Sheppard says that if two charities are merging, a completely new name can work. He cites the example of the crime-reduction charity Catch22 as a name that seems to have worked, despite the initial reservations of commentators.

Fashionable and bland names should be avoided, argues Hughes. He says many charities that had official-sounding names, such as NCH (now Action for Children), have switched to having 'action' in their titles, even though the word does not necessarily fit their purpose. The addition of 'UK' at the end of the name has also become overused, he adds.

Hughes says that in his experience boring names tend to emerge when there are too many people involved in the decision-making process. "You can't please everyone," he says. "If you decide on a name by committee, then you can end up with something bland. You should have a clear strategic direction and be bold."

Sunderland says that, in an increasingly digital age, careful consideration needs to given to where a charity's name will appear in online searches, and to issues of intellectual property. "You should take into account how far you need to scroll down a web search before finding a name, whether someone else is using the name and whether you can actually buy it," he says.

Sunderland concludes that in a sector where so many organisations are vying for people's attention, the fundamental principle should be to choose a name that helps you stand out: "I'd say be bold, but not too abstract."

EXPERT VIEW: Four branding specialists give their verdicts on 10 of the more prominent charity rebrands of recent years - which include more than 10 changes of name

Platform 51Platform 51: Formerly YWCA England and Wales

The charity changed its name in 2010. The new name referred to the fact that 51 per cent of people are female, and girls and women used it as a platform to have their say. The charity announced earlier this month that it would be renamed as the Young Women's Trust from November as part of a major restructure.

- Gavin Sheppard: "If you have to spend a lot of time explaining a name, then it's not great. It's a little too abstract. Well done to the trustees for taking the decision to review it again so quickly."

- Dan Dufour: "You don't get an understanding of what the charity does from the name alone."

 Catch22Catch22: Formerly Rainer Crime Concern 

Inspired by the Joseph Heller novel, the crime-reduction charity's name refers to the catch-22 situation faced by many of the people it works with. The name change took place in 2008 after the merger of the charities Rainer and Crime Concern, and was criticised by some branding experts at the time.

- Dan Dufour: "The name was a real risk but actually it's one of my favourites in the sector. It has helped to create something different from other crime charities."

- Richard Sunderland: "Despite the name being quite abstract, it comes out top when you search in Google, which indicates that it has been a success. Its income has risen since the change - which is another indicator of success."

Action on Hearing LossAction on Hearing Loss: Formerly RNID

The charity changed its name from the Royal National Institute for Deaf People in 2011 as part of its centenary celebration. Research revealed that the RNID initials were often confused with the sight-loss charity the RNIB or the lifeboat charity the RNLI.

- Richard Sunderland: "I prefer RNID. I can see why it decided to change - the new name sounds more proactive, but it's a bit long-winded."

- Owen Hughes: "The new name feels a bit too politically correct for me."

Blind Veterans UK

Blind Veterans UK: Formerly St Dunstan's

St Dunstan's was a household name in the 1950s and 1960s for its work with blind former military personnel, but research showed that 84 per cent of the public had not heard of it or knew what it stood for. It rebranded as Blind Veterans UK in 2012.

- Richard Sunderland: "It's gone for the 'does what it says on the tin' approach. The new name works better than St Dunstan's, but it's another example of a charity using 'UK' in its name."

- Dan Dufour: "It's a logical step forward. It is very descriptive and has a degree of emotion attached to it, which will help it reach a new wave of supporters."

Prostate Cancer UK

Prostate Cancer UK: Formerly Prostate Cancer Charity

It decided to change its name in July 2012 after research showed that the old name was relatively unknown. The rebrand was supported by a high-profile communications campaign featuring the comedian Bill Bailey.

- Gavin Sheppard: "It's a subtle change that works quite well. It has managed to modernise without completely changing its name."

- Richard Sunderland: "It's a safe choice but perhaps it could have tried harder."

 Royal Voluntary Service: Formerly WRVS

The older people's charity was called the Women's Royal Voluntary Service until May this year, but decided to drop the "Women's" from its name to make it clear that its volunteers and beneficiaries were both male and female.

- Dan Dufour: "The new name still feels a bit too traditional and I question whether it has longevity. It might attract a certain type of supporter now, but will it appeal to younger volunteers?"

- Gavin Sheppard: "Again, it's a subtle change that has managed to modernise the brand without completely changing the name."

TThe Lullaby Trusthe Lullaby Trust: Formerly Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths

It changed its name in April after research showed the old name was cold and off-putting, and because it wanted to reach more young and vulnerable parents. The name does not say what it does, but it has been widely judged to be a success because of its warm, child-friendly associations.

- Dan Dufour: "I really like the new name. The old name was quite clinical; the new one is warmer and reflects that it works with parents, not just health professionals."

- Owen Hughes: "The old name suggested it was a charity aimed solely at professionals, but the new one doesn't."

Action for Children

Action for Children: Formerly National Children's Home

The children's charity changed its name in 2008. The new name faced opposition at the time from children's charities with similar names, including Action for Kids, but the Charity Commission allowed it to stand.

- Gavin Sheppard: "The word 'action' features in the name, but it works for me. There's no other major children charity that uses the word 'action' in its name, so it helps to distinguish its brand."

- Richard Sunderland: "The use of 'action' in names is starting to feel samey."

The Money Charity

The Money Charity: Formerly Credit Action

The financial education charity changed its name earlier this month. The charity says the new name better reflects that it helps people to manage their money effectively.

- Dan Dufour: "The new name is much softer, but Credit Action sounds more like a charity that helps people."

- Gavin Sheppard: "This feels like a really sensible change. Nice clear messaging and very timely."

AmbitionAmbition: Formerly Clubs for Young People

The youth charity changed its name last year after feedback showed that its old name no longer reflected the nature of its work. The new name reflects the charity's aspirations for the young people it supports through its membership of local youth organisations.

- Dan Dufour: "It's a dangerous choice. It's a provocative and emotive name, but no one knows what the charity does from the name alone."

- Gavin Sheppard: "I'd question whether people would actually find the charity when searching online because Ambition is quite generic."

When it doesn't do what it says on the tin

The charity sector seems to specialise in names that are obscure, puzzling or downright weird. Here are some of Third Sector's favourites.

Walk the Walk Worldwide

It might sound like a charity set up to encourage people to go trekking, but it actually runs events at which women wear bras to raise money to prevent breast cancer.


The name may conjure up images of a leafy middle-England suburb, but it's a Jewish charity in south London that supports vulnerable children and families.

The Angel Foundation

Alas, it doesn't provide funds to teach children how to behave better, but runs the Christian TV channel and website God.TV.


This was the trading name of the National Grocers' Benevolent Fund, until Caravan was rebranded as GroceryAid last November. Caravan apparently referred to "a group of traders journeying together".


Does it provides food to camels, perhaps? No, it's actually the Campaign for Female Education and it operates in rural Africa.


As the name suggests, the charity was formed by 10 businessmen to fund local projects in Wales. It is now a leading cancer charity in the country.

Lankelly Chase

A bit like Hounslow Heath, perhaps? In fact, it's the name of a foundation that supports people who face multiple deprivation, including homelessness, substance misuse and extreme poverty. The names refer to places associated with two trusts that merged in 2004.


No, it's not a form of Japanese soup, but a Catholic mission charity.

Shaw Trust

You wouldn't know from its name, but it's one of the largest providers of employment services for disabled and disadvantaged people.

New Wine International

No, sorry, it doesn't import wine for the public benefit - it delivers training in churches.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in
RSS Feed

Third Sector Insight

Sponsored webcasts, surveys and expert reports from Third Sector partners

Third Sector Logo

Get our bulletins. Read more articles. Join a growing community of Third Sector professionals

Register now