Charity

Charity mergers – a brand road map

Charity brand consultant Ollie Leggett introduces his step by step guide to merging two charity brands. This is our road map to help not-for-profits bring together two good brands into a single excellent and unified brand, capable of winning hearts and minds, internally and externally.



I recently spoke to the trustee of a health charity which is in the process of merging with another, to create a £m+ organisation.

Both are engaged in research to find a cure for a specific disease, both support people with the condition, and the two charities have chosen to do something that’s all too rare in the charity sector – they’ve put their charitable objectives ahead of their egos, acknowledged that they will achieve more and deliver better value if they join forces – and they’re in open talks about how best to merge. 

With much of the ground work already underway – a ‘Project Board’ appointed, a Memorandum of Understanding in place, an application to the Charity Commission granted and a Chief Exec standing down – their next step will be to review the branding, values, and messaging they want to project as a merged organisation. 

Realising that branding will be one of their biggest challenges, the charity asked IE Brand to create a road map for how to approach the exercise, in order to optimise the chances of creating a unified brand capable of winning hearts and minds, both internally and externally.

The result is a step by step guide to bringing together two good brands into a single excellent one. One bound by shared beliefs, culture, mission, tone of voice, messaging and a consistent visual identity. One that reflects the very best of both organisations, ports good will and inspires proud ownership in management, staff, volunteers, and supporters alike. 

Read on for a road map to a successfully merged charity brand...

Initiation (Plan to succeed) 

  • Build a great team – Senior marketing, communications and fundraising personnel with genuine delegated authority, reporting to ‘Project Board’ incorporating executive, trustees and senior stakeholders.
  • Write a great brief – IE's Brand Brief Template can be really useful as a base document. 
  • Define your success measures – This might be to minimise opposition, maximise integration and synergies between the two organisations. Creating clarity of purpose. Driving up awareness. Deepening emotional engagement and brand loyalty. Improving fundraising appeal. 
  • Engage the right agency partner(s) – Guidance in the IE Brand book.  

Engagement (Take your audiences with you) 

  • Map your key stakeholders – Who are they and what is their relative importance: 2 x 2 power/influence matrix helpful here. Plan how to keep them informed throughout the process. 
  • Conduct a listening exercise – Cover off internal and external audiences using rigorous qualitative and quantitative research. Qual = 1 to 1 interviews and focus groups. These will generate deep insight in small numbers. Quant = e-surveys of larger sample groups to provide statistical integrity to qual findings. Research scale dependent upon organisational appetite for research, available budget and timescales. 

Insight (Let the data decide) 

  • Research analysis – Two reports: one is a summary of all we’ve heard from every audience, but key one is top ten behaviour changing findings. Don’t stop at ‘here’s what we heard’, move onto ‘so what?’. 
  • Competitor mapping – Consider competitive landscape, establish existing position, identify USPs and select desired future position. 
  • Socialise the findings – Clear research findings will directly drive all subsequent creative and marketing / communications activity – thus ensuring opposition is minimised. It’s hard to argue with data.

Naming (Preserve equity. Signal change) 

  • Existing names – Ideally take baseline measure of existing brand equity (unprompted and prompted awareness) of both charities from which to measure progress. 
  • Identify ‘hygiene’ words – These are essential, descriptive words that define the ‘space’ in which you operate. These may include disease name plus words like charity.
  • Territories – These are not geographic. We’re looking for ‘areas of meaning’. E.g. ‘research’ and ‘care’. Naming is typically a workshop process followed by longlisting and shortlisting. 
  • Testing – Where multiple possible solutions remain, return to the people you spoke to in the research phase to test. A great opportunity to re-involve key audiences. 

Key deliverables 

  • Brand architecture – What entities lie beneath the ‘parent’ brand? How can we organise them to ensure their proximity and relative importance are clear to outsiders? 
  • Core beliefs and value proposition, messages and tone of voice – Again, best undertaken through workshops and then over to copywriters. Messages should be: differentiated by audience; communicated with a defined tone of voice; and drive toward key calls to action. 
  • Visual identity – This goes way beyond logo into the realms of colours, fonts, use of imagery, textures, shapes etc. It must be ‘digital first’: optimised for web and social. 
  • Brand guidelines – These encapsulate your brand and enable you to police and protect all this investment. 
  • Templates for key collateral – Templates enable ongoing independence from brand agency: they typically include Word, PowerPoint and Adobe InDesign files. 
  • Don’t forget your website(s) – Leaving your website (your key digital comms tool) until the new unified brand is ready to launch is a classic error. Far better to run the brand and website projects in parallel. Website research can be integrated into brand research (which delivers economies) and a single agency for brand and web can deliver a more integrated approach within a shorter timeline. 

Launch (Don’t do it) 

  • Never let the rebrand become the headline – No big launch parties. Launch your new strategy or your impact report, celebrate your merger and the expected efficiencies/enhanced impacts, but never celebrate your rebrand in and of itself. It will only attract criticism. 
  • Focus ruthlessly upon your charitable purpose, your strategy and stories/ statistics of impact. 

Likely project timeframes

Brand

10-12 weeks (assuming upfront research is necessary)

Website

12-16 weeks depending upon scope, scale, level of core business systems integration and level of internal resource available to populate new site with updated content (via content management system).

N.B. Brand and website projects can run concurrently, with an overlap of 4-6 weeks. 

Useful further reading 

IE’s free brand book, Not-for-profits: why, when and how to rebrand

IE blogs:

IE case studies involving naming and branding:

Two charities have chosen to do something that’s all too rare in the charity sector – they’ve put their charitable objectives ahead of their egos, acknowledged that they will achieve more and deliver better value if they join forces – and they’re in open talks about how best to merge.

Ollie Leggett
Managing Director & Brand Consultant, IE Brand