Why a charity should change their name

In a challenging environment, there are many reasons why a charity should change their name. As circumstances change it’s important to adapt, to be sure that you continue to deliver your message effectively to your audience. Clear communication is vital. In this situation it’s important to consider not just why you need to change, but how you need to change.

That was the dilemma faced by Wolverhampton-based Compton Hospice, who earlier this month announced the decision to adopt the new name, Compton Care. Research had identified that the word ‘hospice’ had a negative perception and was a barrier to people accessing the charity’s services and support. In such a situation it’s clear that a change was needed. But was the name – and the word ‘hospice’ – the change to make?

Changing the name of a charity is a significant change, but there are plenty of examples of charities that have taken that step, as they respond to new challenges. In 2006 Macmillan Cancer Support removed the ‘relief’ from their name and replaced it with ‘support’, because it was a better description of what they do. After 100 years, the Royal National Institute for the Deaf changed their name to Action on Hearing Loss, in 2011. They wanted to better describe not only what they did, but also who they worked with – those with, and at risk of, hearing loss – not just deaf people. Both of these examples reflect a charity that was looking for greater clarity in their name.

When ‘spastic’ began to be used as a term of abuse, the Spastics Society recognised it was time to change. Their name was holding them back. Businesses were reluctant to support them. So in 1994 they became Scope. As well as removing a barrier to engagment, the new name also opened up the possibility to work with people living with a wider range of disabilities, not just cerebral palsy.

For any charity that is weighing up the benefit of changing their name, there are two key issues to consider. The first is purpose. People are bombarded with information, whether that’s in print, online or on the street, which limits your opportunity to grab their attention. You need to be distinctive and memorable. So you want to focus attention on your ‘purpose’ – the reason you exist. What’s the condition, community or cause that you specialise in? This is your opportunity to differentiate your charity from all competitors, so this should be the focus of your communication. Your name is the first step, so if you can introduce it there, that’s a great start. The more descriptive you can be, the better. Remember, your name (and possibly strapline) may be the first – and potentially only – thing people will hear or read.

The second issue is trust. Charities have been under a lot of pressure, over fundraising tactics, staff salaries and most recently, behaviour. In this environment, the clearer and more transparent you are with your communication, the greater the level of trust you will nurture with your audience. A foundation of trust will help to build long-term relationships with supporters. If there are difficult themes or topics in your work, it will also make it easier for you to share those with your audience. Building trust begins with your name.

Although we’re focusing on your name, it’s important to recognise that your name is just one of the tools at your disposal. You have a whole tool box to work with. Your name might be the first thing people hear, but your logo is often the first thing people see. To support these you have typeface, colour, imagery, language, and a design style to pull them all together. Understanding the role of each element, how they can complement each other and share the burden, will help you to communicate with clarity, rather than confusion. And take some of the pressure off your name.

A willingness to consider, if not embrace, change in the way a charity communicates, is vital for any organisation that wants to remain relevant in an increasingly turbulent environment. The decision to change a name is perhaps the most significant commitment a charity can make. If you find yourself in this situation, it is important to remember that any new name should reinforce your purpose, not confuse or conceal it.

If you have questions about how your charity communicates, drop Jonathan an email.


Photo: Flickr – George Armstrong ©Creative Commons