Sunday, 9 May 2010

Charity Begins At Name

The charities formerly known as Age Concern and Help the Aged have just amalgamated into a conglomerate known by the meaningless and rather sinister brand name of 'Age UK'.
A quick Google uncovers a rash of recent charity makeovers, all ostensibly executed by the same re-branding agency.

Instead of reassuring terms such as 'Association', 'Campaign', 'Concern', Trust,
'Foundation' or 'Action' next to our major charities, we are now seeing the reductionist;

Asthma UK
Heart UK
Meningitis UK
Disability UK

It can only be a matter of time until Cancer UK and Oxfam UK join them. Is it just me or does this make charities sound more like faceless corporate entities who no longer give a stuff about the public interest, rather than the charitable institutions that they were founded as? Would anyone now feel inclined to leave all their worldly goods to Age UK when it doesn't sound like a charity on their side any longer, or even a charity for that matter? Recent rumour of their strong-arm tactics on 'persuading' the very elderly they are supposed to advocate and protect, to leave them large sums of money using coercive door-to-door bequest 'salesmen' hasn't helped.

And which re-branding agency is receiving all this money for the same one-trick pony concept on each charity?

I mean I've just predicted all the main cancer charities amalgamating into 'Cancer UK', so where is my £2m re-branding consultation fee please? In fact I'll make a similar charge to add 'UK' to the end of any charity yet to be UK'd, slightly less for the smaller charities - I'm not greedy. My website designer friend Dan can come up with a funky logo for each no doubt. And who needs a Focus Group anyway since they seem to ignore the views of their supporters irrespective?

Several years ago it was proposed that the Leonard Cheshire homes and day centres for the disabled should lose the name 'Leonard Cheshire'. Who after all still knew or cared about the mouldly old heroic WWII air ace who once decided that severely war-disabled servicemen need not regard their lives as over, but could still be helped to lead productive and rewarding lives with the right TLC, training and support (a charity which has since expanded to serve disabled people across the board)?

Luckily, enough people still remembered who he was to defend the retention of his name in the charity formed by him and there was sufficient outcry to persuade the re-branders to mollify their efforts to the masterstroke of adding 'disABILITY' to 'Leonard Cheshire'. Will his late (and no less amazing) wife Sue Ryder suffer the same threat in due course?

But every charity benefits from a good story doesn't it? And they don't come much better than the true love and inspiration story of Leonard Cheshire and Sue Ryder.

We certainly need at least a few charities left we can still Trust.

Sue and Leonard
(left more than a park bench)


berenike said...

Goodness. I didn't know about the Help the Aged bequest-hunting. That makes their definite non-opposition to euthanasia even more sinister :/

Steve said...

Prince's UK has slightly more sinister overtones than Prince's Trust I'll agree... not sure mama would approve.

Tessa said...

One more example of the way in which what starts out as a charitable impulse attracts the parasites (mistyped 'parashites' first time - very Freudian) that turn it into a business. That's why I still prefer to give coins to the homeless kid on the street, for example, than to a 'charity' that relies on well-meaning volunteers to do all the work involved in running a shelter, while paying vast sums to managers, professional fundraisers, ad agencies, branders, etc.

Nota Bene said...

Hands up here...I'm very biased on this one. We worked for several years with a leading charity re-branding agency - Spencer duBois, and still work with a DM agency that works for many charities. We organised a debate on the subject of 'Charity branding - cost or investment?' this was attended by some 120 senior people from the not for profit sector. In a nutshell, charities do need to compete - people are as likely to spend their money on a piece of cake, a CD or a pair of shoes as give their money to a charity - so a lot of work goes into branding in the sector. Unfortunately, charities do need to market themselves professionally to raise funds. If it means they have to act like businesses, that is a sad reflection on our society and our consumer mindset rather on the charities themselves which remain focused on raising maximum funds for their cause with the minimum outlay. Tessa - it's most likely the money you give to a homeless kid will be spent on drugs or drink which does them no favours...and there are something volunteers can do, and other things that you need paid employees or agencies for. But I don't disagree with the thought that Charity UK is hardly imaginative....

Rol said...

What I want to know is why do they all have to have ribbons? Can't someone come up with a ribbon alternative? I dunno, a hacksaw or something. Anything but another bloody ribbon!

Steerforth said...

When I became unemployed, I sought out the "Distressed Gentlefolk's Society". Amazingly, they still exist, but like the Spastics, they've rebranded and now have a completely different name.

Dan said...

Very witty comment from Steve. And flattered you think I could do a logo design for them. I'm still reeling at the 2012 Olympics one.

I think they key thing here is that charities MUST run as businesses. For instance, if you are brilliant at marketing, Oxfam will and should pay you well.

But your point about unimaginative re-branding is totally true - there is, paradoxically, nothing in the rebrand that would stimulate that giving part of the brain...

So why remove the words that matter and homogenise the "brands" into colour-chart menainglessness?!

Very good point.

And Tessa's well-meaning remrk "That's why I still prefer to give coins to the homeless kid on the street" is sadly, according to a guy I spoke to who works for a homeless charity, a mistake, as Nota Bene un, noted well.

Wisewebwoman said...

I'm one of those who hates to see my money going to a charity that allocates 50% of its collected funds to its 'overhead', sometimes more.
I do a thorough research and demand financial statements due to the parasites feeding off good charities (i.e. I stopped giving to Salvation Army once I heard the CEO was earning millions).
I am selective, but I believe successful in my due diligence on this. I recommend it.
And yes I do toss money to street people and if it goes to booze or drugs to ease their pain for a wee while, so be it. When I have time I ask them what they need and go and buy it, usually a meal.

The Sagittarian said...

It does make it all sound like an industry doesn't it, but then again thats sadly what the whole shooting match of 'charity' seems to have become.

The Poet Laura-eate said...

Berenike, thanks for dropping by. I didn't know about the euthanasia thingy. Crumbs. Youthanasia, now there's a concept we can all approve of - especially the feral hoodies of the parish.

No Steve, far too dangerously Republican for Ma'am.

Tessa, I take your point, but I refuse to subsidise street people to kill themselves. Perhaps that's moralistic of me, but I'd be happy to buy them a sandwich or a tin of dogfood (and have on occasion), just not to support their drug or booze habit.

NotaBene, I accept what you say about charities having to be more professional these days, but does that have to mean soulless and unoriginal? They are losing their connection with people in my view which is surely no more helpful to them in the long run than becoming a little tired in image. I agree with you re the homeless guy-direct (see reply to Tessa above)

Rol, yes I liked them at first, but I do agree they're flogging the ribbon idea to death as well.

What, you mean they are now the 'Distressed Non-Specified Person's Society UK' Steerforth?

Thank you for your thoughtful reply Dan. And yes, you could easily turn out knock-your-socks-off logos.

WWW - am most impressed by your level of research. If there were enough hours in the day I would follow suit. Or perhaps you could just publish your findings on your blog...?

A sobering though Sagittarian - the 'industrialisation' of charity indeed.

berenike said...

There's always Mary's Meals. Or the Little Sisters of the Poor (who care for the aged poor).

Or this chap's school. (Don't watch this if you're already feeling inadequate and feeble :/ )

teeni said...

Very nice of you to give mention to a very deserving couple and thanks for bringing my attention to them. I do agree with you that the name changes are very cold sounding.