Case Study: The Young Women's Trust emerges from two rebrands

It used to be the YWCA, then Platform 51. Now this charity founded in the 19th century has a new mission and a fresh identity. Susannah Birkwood reports

The chief executive of the Young Women's Trust Carole Easton, and its new logo
The chief executive of the Young Women's Trust Carole Easton, and its new logo

The rebranding of a charity is a demanding, often controversial and sometimes expensive process that is best done as infrequently as possible. But the Young Women's Trust has been through two such upheavals in less than three years as it has made necessary adjustments to changes in its income and activities.

The charity was founded in 1855 as YWCA England & Wales and in the past offered services including accommodation, education, prayer circles and social gatherings to women under 30. But by 2010 demand and funding for these activities were dwindling and the trustees decided on radical change, including a new name – Platform 51.

They chose this unusual name because 51 per cent of the population are female and the new function of the charity was to act as a platform for women of all ages to express their views, and to campaign on their behalf.

By last year, however, it was clear that the size and structure of the charity were no longer sustainable: its accounts for 2012/13, filed with the Charity Commission, show that it had an income of £3.4m but an expenditure of £6.4m. It also had reserves of £1.3m that year, compared with £3m three years previously.

The trustees decided to stop providing face-to-face services to beneficiaries, to transfer most of its centres to Changing Lives – another charity that works with vulnerable women – and to close the rest. They also changed the strategic focus and mission to do more campaigning on behalf of a more specific demographic – women aged 16 to 30 at risk of life-long poverty.

Another name change was clearly in order and this time a more literal one was chosen: the Young Women's Trust. The charity now has a single office in London with 14 staff, compared with 117 a year ago, and aims to eradicate its deficit in two years.

Its activities since the change include publication in September of the initial findings of its 'Scarred for Life?' Inquiry, which looks at the effect on individuals and society of young women not being in education, employment or training, and the launch in July of Work It Out, a new coaching service run by telephone and online.

So how is the charity coping with its new identity? Carole Easton, a former head of ChildLine and Clic Sargent, who was appointed as chief executive in January 2013 to lead the restructure, believes that a charity's brand awareness increases gradually over time if the cause it is fighting for is sufficiently pressing.

"The important thing for me is not the organisation or even the brand," she says. "It's having something to say that people need to hear and then want to do something about. You could call us The Red Telephone if you so chose – the name change followed the fact that we had something important to do and to say."

The rebrand cost the charity about £30,000, with the new website accounting for two-thirds of that amount. The advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi worked pro bono on the new logo, which has changed from being in a white font, spelling out the brand name on a purple, pink and green background to an orange-coloured arrow in the shape of a W pointing upwards.

The charity decided on the name after consulting young women. Alternatives such as the Young Women's Association were discussed, but Rebecca Gill, director of policy, campaigns and communications at the charity, says the beneficiaries' affinity with the word trust tipped the balance.

Although many people are still unfamiliar with the name, Gill isn't worried. "We haven't been going as the Young Women's Trust for a year yet, so I'd be pretty concerned if we had a high profile with the public and I'd want to know which disaster had struck," she says. "We're very confident that we have a name and a message that will resonate with the wider public, with decision-makers and with young women in the coming years."

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