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How to land a charity rebrand smoothly

30 July 2021

Many of us have been there. We’ve invested months, sweat, blood (and sometimes tears) in developing a new brand. Now we need to navigate launching it without criticism.

The first thing to know is that there will always be a journalist waiting for an opportunity to report how much the new logo cost, as Royal British Legion sadly found out.

Then there is the reality that the fact remains that many people still associated the word ‘brand’ with visual identity design or a logo. They won’t appreciate or understand the amount of work that goes into laying the strategic foundations. The amount of research conducted to craft the right solution or the amount of stakeholder engagement required to gain agreement.

Branding in the charity sector is highly emotive. People care deeply about charity causes and brands. They can be sceptical of branding’s worth and resistant to change so we must explain branding within the societal context and link it back to the benefit for the beneficiary. We also need to do everything within our power to communicate the need for change to our existing audiences, before any external communications.

Top tips and some charities who have used them effectively

  • Communicate the reasons for change to your existing audiences through all available channels first. Ground the reasons for change in clear evidence and research.

Mind embodied this audience first, evidence-based approach during its May 2021 relaunch

Mind launched a new purpose, strategy and brand refresh to coincide with mental health awareness week. With its CEO saying the refreshed brand came “after extensive research with a range of people with lived experience of mental health problems, staff and volunteers at national Mind and our local Minds across England and Wales”.

Once the dust had settled on the strategy launch, design press were targeted with pieces featuring in Design Week and Creative Review.

The rationale was explained by Chief Executive Paul Famer, who led with their new purpose and pointed out the involvement of people with mental health problems:

“In the last decade, the landscape surrounding Mental Health has changed immensely. There have been some hugely positive shifts in attitudes towards those of us with mental health problems, as well as increasing challenges, as more people come forward for support, placing great strain on services. We needed to make sure these changes were reflected in our visual identity as well as out values and ambitions. That’s why we’re launching a new purpose: We’re here to fight for Mental Health, for support, for respect, for you. Our refreshed brand is designed to be more modern, diverse, accessible and legible. In turn helping us to become more engaging and recognisable and reach new audiences so we can collectively fight for better Mental Health.”

  • Target different press with different messages. Charity sector press for purpose and strategy. Design sector press for visual identity design. Marketing press for advertising and campaigns.

Blood Cancer UK exemplified this during its April 2020 relaunch

Blood Cancer UK proactively approached charity sector press about their name change in advance of their brand launch. At the point of launch CEO, Gemma Peters, wrote a very honest blog. A masterclass in transparency and authenticity, linking the changes back to the social context and beneficiary:

“People with blood cancer are at a much higher risk of becoming seriously ill if they get the coronavirus, and so we’ve seen demand for our services dramatically increase as the same time as we’ve had to shut our office and manage the widespread cancellation of our events. This has tested us as a charity like we’ve never been tested before”. 

They also targeted design sector trade press and shared a case study with CharityComms. They didn’t disclose the cost but made the point that the project had been funded by a major donor.
  • Lead with a new purpose and strategy and the societal reasons for the changes, with a focus on what it means for beneficiaries. A pro-active interview with the CEO for charity sector trade press is a good idea, as is a heartfelt blog.

RNID adopted this approach for its November 2020 relaunch

RNID proactively approached charity sector trade press about their name change in advance, with an interview with CEO Mark Atkinson.

At the point of launch they focussed heavily on their new purpose first and foremost, with a blog on their website, linking the change back to the social context and beneficiaries:

“The focus on the daily issues deaf people have faced during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as the barriers to communication caused by face coverings, has highlighted the need for us to be a stronger brand. Returning to RNID and redefining our purpose is a critically important step in our journey to make life more inclusive for deaf people and those with hearing loss and tinnitus”. 

They followed up by targeting design sector trade press and shared a case study with CharityComms

  • Whether you disclose the price tag is up to you. You don’t have to. Although in an era of transparency it could look like you are hiding something if you don’t. If you do, you might want to consider sharing the amount spend on the ‘design’ stage as the part most people will associate with the word ‘brand’.
  • You can reduce criticism by reporting what you’ve spent as a percentage of income and emphasising whether you benefited from any discounts or pro-bono, as well as a gradual roll-out to avoid any waste.

Adoption UK did this during its January 2021 relaunch

Adoption UK launched a new brand to coincide with their 50th anniversary.

The charity didn’t disclose the cost but made a point that they wouldn’t be throwing out old materials to avoid wasting money and linked the change back to their new vision and values and benefit to beneficiaries.

In another heartfelt blog from their CEO on their website at the point of launch, the charity said:

“We’re marking our milestone with a bold new look to signal that we’re ready to redouble our efforts to help crack the challenges facing adoptive families. We are open, determined and stronger together, and our new brand reflects these values as we work towards our vision of an equal chance of a bright future for every child unable to live with their birth parents”.

But even if you do all of this remember to prepare yourself and your team for some criticism – especially via social media. Design is subjective so not everybody will like it and that’s OK.

I hope this blog will help avoid any crash landings.

Further reading:

Image: Jessica Ruscello on Unsplash

Dan Dufour

creative brand strategist, BrandDufour

Dan is specialist in brand purpose and one of the sector’s leading brand strategists. He has worked on brand development across all sectors including Rightmove, London 2012 and Cancer Research UK. He's best known for his award-winning work across all corners of the charity sector, including Shelter, Parkinson’s UK, RSPB and Scope. Dan established CharityComms Brand Breakfast and is an author of our best practice guides to branding and integrated communications.