Brands need some give

Like any other business a charity competes for your money. But David Bernstein questions the amount some worthy causes’ names contribute to their standout

One Parent Families has a new logo (DW 22 May). The charity decided not to change its name, other than removing the prefix ‘National Council for’. It rejected the ‘more abstract and aspirational brand names such as Canopy and Juggle’, though what is aspirational about either baffles me. The logo device – turning the ‘ili’ of the word ‘families’ into a family group – is clever and relevant, focusing on what the charity stands for.

What does Scope stand for? Half the people my wife calls on, collecting, have no idea. She explains that it’s a national disability organisation which focuses on people with cerebral palsy. Only if that doesn’t get a response does she fall back on the old name, the Spastics Society.

The Royal UK Beneficent Association switched to its acronym Rukba which needed a descriptor ‘helping elderly people stay independent’. The mental handicap charity elided two key components in its name Mencap. One charity’s elision became a word in its own right – Oxfam. A descriptor is unnecessary. Not so for the Medical Foundation, which doesn’t sound like a charity, with its explanatory line ‘caring for victims of torture’.

Had One Parent Families re-branded itself Juggle presumably an explanatory descriptor would have been needed, for example, ‘supporting one parent families’ which rather negates the exercise. By (in the words of its head of information Ruth Coleman) ‘rationalising our existing name’ it was free to add a dimension in its descriptor. Though ‘making change happen’ is a generic which almost any charity can claim, it will be seen only in conjunction with the explicit brand name.

The charity name Sense is not explicit. Neither the name nor its descriptor ‘touching people’s lives’ informs the potential donor of the nature of its worthy activity – caring for deaf/blind children. Crisis reinforces its name with ‘fighting for homeless people’. Care needs the help of ‘where the end of poverty begins’. Coleman reminds us that ‘the most important thing is getting the message across’.

Most major charities do that without the help of a descriptor because their name is explicit and/or they have over the years told us what they do. Think of Help the Aged, Friends of the Earth, British Red Cross, Salvation Army, Shelter, Samaritans.

In a competitive environment the new or small charity has to be direct. I get a mailing from an organisation called Power. An offer of cheap gas? No, a descriptor says ‘for victims of conflict’. I’m not much further forward. I’m less confused by Women at Risk, Free Tibet and the Donkey Sanctuary.

Charities need to distinguish themselves primarily because they have so much in common. The tasks, strategies, problems they face, language they need to use – all are very similar. The same buttons are pressed. Passivity is anathema. So… Action for Blind People, Action for Disability and Development, Action for Children in Conflict, Action for Kids, Action for Street Kids, and so on.

The European Children’s Trust, presumably because it was confused with The Children’s Trust, became EveryChild with the descriptor ‘helping children worldwide’. This puts it within touching distance of World Children’s Rescue Fund, World Emergency Relief (‘giving children a living chance’) and World Villages for Children (‘helping children break free from a life of poverty’). Then there are SOS Children’s Villages, the Children’s Society, Children in Crisis (‘reaching out to forgotten children’) – all attempting to save the children…

Is it any wonder that children’s charities wish to stand out yet, at the same time, use the emotive c-word? One such, the Peper Harrow Foundation, has become Childhood First. I wish it well, but I also wish it had chosen something less generic in both its name and its descriptor ‘a chance for young lives to start again’. This is not far away from ‘giving children back their future’, belonging to Barnardo’s which, reassuringly, has stuck to its own name and the brand equity it represents.

One Parent Families, similarly, has recognised and played to its strengths. It has chosen not to adopt a fancy new name, but to refresh it, integrating the logo into it thus making the whole work harder. The brand, says CGI Brandsense marketing manager Tom Adeney, was looking ‘tired and staid’. I can but agree, having worked in the 1970s on the previous name change – from the National Council for the Unmarried Mother and her Child.

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