NEW THINKING: Mess about with your brand at your peril, Mark Phillips tells charities in Rogare’s inaugural Critical Fundraising Lecture 

Charity rebrands are often driven by inappropriate commercial mindsets and sensibilities that consider a change in name, logo or colour palette as reason enough to drive people to give, while ignoring how donors want to connect. 

As a result, major rebrands can alienate donors and result in significant falls in donated income.

The argument is made by Mark Phillips, general secretary of Bluefrog Fundraising, in the inaugural Rogare Critical Fundraising Lecture, which closed the recent joint event hosted by Rogare and Kingston University Business School.

The lecture – Why you should stop f***ing about with your logo and stick to fundraising instead – can be viewed here on Rogare’s website (where you can also download the full text of the lecture) or here on Mark’s blog. 

Commercial brands, Phillips argues, make simple promises to customers that they can trust that products and services will deliver a certain benefit, whereas branding for charities is different. Because of the nature of the financial relationship, a charity brand has to say to a donor that ‘we rely on you’.

Phillips points to a change in British advertising in the 60s and 70s, during which marketers moved to a more emotionally powerful and hard-hitting style that they used not just to sell goods and services, but to also shape public opinion.

Many charities, Phillips argues, followed this style by producing more controversial advertising during the 1970s and 80s. But as these charities, under the guidance of commercial marketers, began to adopt the practices of the corporate world, they began to look like, and be perceived by donors as, companies. The understanding of why people give got lost in the process.

Phillips’s core argument in the Critical Fundraising Lecture is that the attitude to charity brands that became ingrained in the 80s is still with us, and many charities approach rebranding with commercial corporate mindsets and sensibilities. They change what they are called and their visual identies, and the stories they want to tell, rather than consider how their donors want to connect with them. And this change is, still, often driven by incomers from the commercial world who want to stamp their mark on their new calling.

Mark Phillips said in the lecture:

“I’m constantly amazed that when rebrands go ahead, it’s always what a charity looks like or how it describes itself that dominates the process. It appears thatfew rebrands involve much time trying to understand what can actually bring donors closer to an organisation. Consequently, many of the huge benefits that can be gained by incorporating the needs of donors into the new brand are regularly missed.”

In the worst cases, this often results in a drastic loss of income because the rebrand has eviscerated the charity of the things donors most connected with and loved. And, even when income increases after a rebrand, this often coincides with a huge increase in fundraising spend, so it’s not always possible to attribute the increase to the rebrand.

Phillips said: “When a charity rebrands, they look and sound different. That’s the idea, isn’t it? But how can that possibly help raise more money? There are hundreds, maybe thousands of supporters that suddenly think. Ooooh. Who’s this?…After a major rebrand, there is a major danger that the organisation will be seen as yet another, unknown charity. And the result is that many donors, despite being told, don’t realise what happened to the old organisation that they knew and loved. Their loyalty remains with that original brand, and they don’t give to this new charity as they wait in vain for that appeal with the old brand to drop through the letterbox.”

Phillips said that despite criticism that he is a “brand grump”, he “loves great brands”.

“I’ve seen their power in action,” he says. “That is why I think a great brand should be fiercely protected and not dropped because someone new thinks it’s time for a change. When someone loves you for who you are, you change at your peril.”

Further reading and viewing

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