Most sectors these days are in a continual state of flux as they seek to reinvent and reposition themselves to become more relevant. There is one sector, in particular, that is frequently seen adjusting its position and rebranding in a bid to reach beyond its conventional boundaries. This is the third sector, which often makes one common mistake that frequently causes rebranding exercises to either lack impact or fail completely.

This occurs when charities embark on rebranding without first asking themselves a few searching questions, namely, what the key reason is for undertaking a rebrand.

This may feel like reverse engineering, however, it is the single most important element to the rebrand that will give the charity a far clearer means to measure the outcome. It will also cut through the potential confusion when briefing agencies and allow all parties involved to have a clearer and more defined set of goals.

If the current brand state along with the projected future brand state are not properly identified at the outset, there is a risk of weakening the business case to stakeholders for investment in the brand in the first place.

Proof that a rebrand has been successful occurs when it reaches out and inspires people to act, to give money, to volunteer, to protest, to use the charity’s services, and to change attitudes. However, merely rebranding is not a guarantee of success on its own, and we have seen charities adopt an entirely new brand identity and then slowly disappear into oblivion.

There are some quite specific key ingredients to a successful rebrand, and they all start with defining the strategic reason for which a charity decides to undergo the process. This reason is best summarised as any one of six ‘rebrand states’ that indicate a need for a change; these are either to:

Realise A New Opportunity

This is where there is a vision to move into a different area or market. Realising a new opportunity is about using brand to step forward and truly make a difference when it’s fundamentally shifting its focus, to become more relevant, to deepen relationships with all stakeholders and build new ones. This is probably one of the most energising reasons for deciding to rebrand.

Deepen And Assert

This is where things are going well, but there are more people to engage. Unlike rebranding to realise a new opportunity, deepening and asserting is a less common reason behind a rebrand, and the subtle difference is key. In this instance, the role of the rebrand has to focus on diving more deeply into what the charity currently offers rather than widening outwards.

Break Out

This is where the brand may have become old, fussy, and stagnant. In many such instances, engagement may still be good. However, there is a need to revitalise the charity’s position and its raison d’etre, to redefine its relevance. This is also an ideal opportunity to use brand to lead in your area, literally breaking away from the crowd and creating standout.


This is where the portfolio of sub-brands has created incoherence and confusion, and a strong, flexible brand architecture is required. As charities respond to the current economic climate by forming new allegiances and developing innovative products, services and initiatives, they frequently stumble at a key hurdle: how to communicate the strength of the collective power of their portfolios. Here we often see poor links and brands that blot out individual strengths.


This is where the sub-sector is volatile, and rebranding is carried out in response to external factors (such as funding cuts and new policies). Building on the brand’s strengths to defend against potential negative effects of shifting landscapes ensures the charity doesn’t get left behind and become irrelevant.


This is where, for example, income is going down, volunteers numbers are decreasing and there is a need to future-proof the brand, reverse the decline and propel the organisation forward. There is a subtle difference here between rebranding to defend, which focuses on existing strengths in response to external factors, and rebranding to future-proof, which also responds to internal factors and is often a more visionary approach.


These six rebrand states loosely fall into one of two categories that I refer to as either ‘carrot’ or ‘stick’.

‘Carrot’ is when a charity is reaching out for a new opportunity, such as breaking out of a sector to lead it, and ‘stick’ is when a charity aims to avoid negative impact or feels their brand has become irrelevant.

Asking what a rebrand can do for a charity requires a subtle but powerful shift in approach to defining the strategy behind a brand change. It places the brand more firmly in the centre of the charity’s communications platform and as a consequence empowers it to shout about what the charity is really here to achieve.

Ultimately there is no exact formula or tick list that governs a good or bad rebrand. It’s a complex, often messy, range of things, but defining the reason for doing so and meshing this with the simple philosophy that is invaluable to creating successful rebrands. Uncovering what really counts and saying it in a way that really matters, will make the difference between rebranding with impact or rebranding for the sake of it.

A rebrand needs to deliver a firm stance for something, it needs to cause a reaction , get past the obvious, and represent the authentic kernel of what the charity is about. Only then will people rally to your cause, give you the funds you need, and make you the change-maker you were conceived to be.