Know when the time is right for a rebrand

When a charity's brand starts getting in the way of its work, it might be time to spend some money on a new look. Ian Griggs reports on how charities should approach a rebrand and where they can go wrong

Charities that have recently rebranded
Charities that have recently rebranded

It is a process that can cost hundreds of thousands of pounds and getting it wrong can cost even more in terms of donations; so why do charities rebrand themselves and when should they do it?

It might be time for a change when a charity feels it is achieving its goals in spite of its brand and not because of it, or when it is spending time and money overcoming its brand's shortcomings, rather than reaping the benefits of its strengths.

The trick, says Max du Bois, executive director at brand consultancy Spencer du Bois, is spotting the signs of decay, deciding on a rebrand before it is too late and knowing how far to take it.

"Falls in membership or fundraising income, as well as the loss of service contracts, are all signs of a problem," says du Bois. "The smart move is to stop the rot before it takes hold and make sure your brand and communications inspire the people you want to reach to act in ways that help you - from giving time and money, to changing behaviour or legislation."

New identity

Timing is everything and the triggers for change are varied, says Neil Smith, creative director at design and communications agency Howdy!, which recently helped The Queen's Nursing Institute and the church of St Martin-in-the-Fields through the rebranding process.

"The Queen's Nursing Institute has been around since the 19th century and has changed from an organisation that trained district nurses to one that campaigns for better care in the home," says Smith. "For St Martin's, the trigger was different. It had refurbished its building and felt it was the right time for a new identity."

From this month, Cancer Research UK will reveal its new logo to the general public after spending £680,000 on refreshing its brand.

Richard Taylor, executive director of marketing at CRUK, says it had good reasons for refreshing the brand. "We found that our income had stalled and were concerned that our brand was not getting through to the public," he says. "We feared that they were unable to distinguish between us and other cancer charities."

The charity has a new logo featuring a 'C' made up of dots that represents breaking down cancer through collective action. It also has a modern colour palette.

Re-energised staff

Most of the CRUK rebrand budget will be spent on changing the logos of the top 20 per cent of its 500 shops around the country and on changes to its publications. "We think the changes have inspired and re-energised our staff, and our fundraisers believe it will help us to connect with more people," says Taylor. "The real test will be if fundraising improves and the number of our supporters increases."

Prostate Cancer UK, previously the Prostate Cancer Charity, has also rebranded and spent £190,000 on the process.

The charity felt it did not stand out as the leading authority on prostate cancer and wanted to reach out to more men, increase its influence with NHS decision-makers and raise more money. Seamus O'Farrell, marketing director at the charity, says: "We felt we could be more effective without using the word 'charity' in the title because it did not convey our authority as an organisation. The logo is symbolic of people coming together to help men's health."

The charity aims to quadruple the number of calls to its helpline in four years, radically increase the number of visits to its website and increase annual donations as a result of the rebrand.

During the process, the charity carried out some internal analysis to find out how its staff talk to each other and to the world outside. "We discovered that we needed to 'man up' and be less euphemistic and less embarrassed when talking about prostate cancer," says O'Farrell.

Time will tell if the aims of these two cancer charities are met, but it is generally agreed that a minimum of one year is needed to see if the changes are having any effect.


Some charity rebrands, such as the reinvention as Platform 51 of YWCA, the charity that supports girls and women, have raised eyebrows in recent years. Brand specialists are naturally circumspect about naming and shaming charities that have made a mess of rebranding themselves - but they warn of serious pitfalls.

"If you have a recognised brand, there is a danger you can throw away all the goodwill that is tied up in that logo and that you won't be as easily recognisable," says Smith.

According to du Bois, few charities get it totally wrong because trustees scrutinise the process closely; but many could do it better.

"The not-for-profit sector is rarely as dazzled by the bling of branding as the corporate world because there is far more scrutiny," he says. "But when it goes wrong, it's serious. A wrong move means you won't maximise your fundraising or influence and people will fail to engage with your organisation, and that will cost you money."

- Read our interview with Vicky Browning, director of CharityComms

- See how Brook and FPA combined their communications teams

- Find out how charities are using apps as part of the digital marketing

- Discover how to create an effective communications campaign 

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