What's in a Name?
The scenario had become all too common for Christian Children's Fund. Mike Pressendo's young son had chosen to sponsor a Cambodian child through the Christian Children's Fund Web site. But when the Cambodian affiliate — called ChildFund Cambodia — sent his sponsor package, it immediately caused confusion for the boy. Why, when he had sponsored a child through Christian Children's Fund, was he now receiving information on the sponsorship from another organization?
The answer was simple, actually. And, luckily, Pressendo, vice president of global marketing and strategic resources at the organization, which is now called ChildFund International, was able to explain it. CCF, at that time, operated programs in more than 30 countries via affiliates like ChildFund Cambodia. In fact, ChildFund Cambodia and ChildFund International, the U.S. affiliate, are ?two of 12 organizations scattered across the globe that are part of the ChildFund Alliance, a partnership of affiliates all with the same mission that operate almost as international chapters of the same organization.
But multiply the confused boy scenario by the number of sponsors coming through the 12 alliance organizations — and take into account that most sponsors don't have the insider knowledge Pressendo has — and the result was brand confusion that often resulted in phone calls and inquiries to the organization to clarify the ?relationships.
"Fortunately, he's in my house, and I was able to explain to him what was going on," Pressendo says. "But how many other people did we do that with who might have thought that we sold their name to some other entity? You know, you called in response to a Christian Children's Fund television spot and chose to sponsor a kid in one of our alliance member countries, and so you [received] materials that were inconsistently branded."
After struggling for years to overcome this confusion, the U.S.-based affiliate organization decided two years ago to change its name from Christian Children's Fund to ChildFund International to better align itself with its alliance.
"The desire was really to build a global brand that represented all of us," says Anne Goddard, president and CEO of ChildFund International.
Name changes and rebrandings aren't new to the organization. ChildFund International originally was founded in 1938 as China's Children Fund with a focus on building orphanages for children left homeless after the Sino-Japanese War. But by the mid- to late-40s, as the organization began helping children in the Philippines, Burma, China, Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Borneo, India, Europe, Lebanon, Syria and Palestine, it became clear that the organization had outgrown its name. Keeping with the CCF initials, in 1951 it changed its name to Christian Children's Fund. Soon after, Christian Children's Fund of Canada was formed as CCF's first official international affiliate, followed by affiliates in Africa, Denmark, Germany, Great Britain and Australia.
In June 2002, to capitalize on the strengths of its affiliate organizations — which by then numbered 12 around the globe — CCF formed the ChildFund Alliance, which operates with a board made up of delegate board members from each affiliate and allows for the sharing of best practices and resources, and better management of program efficiency and accountability.
The trouble was, as the story of Pressendo's son shows, from a name standpoint, there was no consistent link between individual affiliates and ChildFund Alliance — or to one another, for that matter. Affiliate names included ChildFund Australia, Christian Children's Fund of Canada, BORNEfonden (Denmark), Un Enfant Par La Main (France), Barnfonden (Sweden), and Taiwan Fund for Children and Families, to name a few.
To add to the confusion, the U.S. affiliate, Christian Children's Fund, while founded on Christian principles, hadn't made evangelizing part of its work for more than 30 years and served children of all faiths. Yet a handful of constituents still supported the organization for what they thought was faith-based work.
In the two years prior to launching the new brand, the organization's leadership talked with its staff, board and donors to hear their viewpoints on the change and foster dialogue. Focus-group research led it to settle on the name ChildFund International "because that was one name that really resonated with our supporters," Goddard says. "They really saw us as an international organization working in countries around the world." And it chose the color green — which communicates hope, she adds — as the hue for the new brand.
The organization held "lunch and learns" with staff and had board retreats to talk about the rebranding. After deciding on a logo — the word ChildFund, with the "i" in the shape of a small child — the organization held an internal campaign with staff to name the child depicted in the logo. Staff chose the name Watoto, which means "children" in Swahili. The organization gave staff new T-shirts and deemed them official business attire, and just before the new brand was official, had a week of farewell to its old name that involved a day of staff wearing the old CCF T-shirts, displaying memorabilia from that chapter in the organization's history in the lobby, and lowering the old flag and raising the new flag.
These activities, Goddard says, helped staff members feel that the work they had done as CCF was respected and invigorated them for the new chapter ahead for the organization. It also enabled the organization to anticipate questions that donors might have that it maybe hadn't thought of.
"We had a lot of equity in the old name, and we had a lot of attachment as individuals, and supporters did, too," Goddard says. "We feel it's not abandoning our past. We're building on our past. I think you need to recognize that, and we celebrated the accomplishments by showing all of the memorabilia around the office and different awards we had gotten over the years under our old name. You have to respect the past, which we certainly do … .
"That resonated with staff," she adds. "They were excited. We have staff that have been here for 20, 25, 30 years, and they appreciate the fact that we're appreciating their history and knowing that we're building on that, not leaving it behind."
The organization dipped its rebranded toe in constituent waters in September 2008, testing co-branded materials that said, "Christian Children's Fund, member of ChildFund Alliance." The tests showed no adverse impact, so the organization rolled out co-branded materials to all constituents.
In April 2009, the organization mailed a letter to constituents announcing that it would be changing its name to ChildFund International in July 2009. The letter explained the alliance and why the organization was changing its name, and emphasized that it did wonderful work for children under the old name and would continue doing wonderful work for children under the new one.
After the letter went out, Goddard says the organization fielded a lot of questions, everything from whether the rebrand would change the organization's structure to whether staff members were going to lose jobs because of streamlining. Some people wanted to talk to board members, some wanted to talk to Goddard, and some talked to frontline staff answering the phones.
Before the rebrand, the organization had done research to gauge how its current constituency would feel about the name change. The research said that the organization would lose 3 percent of its supporters, and a larger percentage would be on the fence over it. So the organization wasn't surprised when it got flack from some constituents for making what they perceived to be a move away from its Christian roots.
"Folks were of the misimpression that we were an evangelical organization advancing the gospel," Pressendo says. "People [were] saying that [the rebrand] was being politically correct and things like that."
The FAQs section on the organization's Web site shows the straightforward tact with which it has handled the issue: "Although founded on Christian principles, Christian Children's Fund had not made evangelizing a part of our work for more than 30 years. We have a strong faith heritage, and we've never shied away from it. Many donors have shared that their giving is motivated, not because of our name, but because of our experience in making a difference in the lives of children. We will continue to serve children of all faiths."
"The mission has broadened considerably over the years," Goddard says. "Now we feel this name, with the alliance that was only formed in 2002, really represents the true breadth of the organization. So it wasn't as much moving away from something as moving toward something.
"We were a global organization, ?but we didn't have a global brand," she continues. "So the driver was to become that one ?organization with one name that we could represent as a global brand to our public and supporters."
Like most organizations, ChildFund International is down in terms of revenue. But thanks to diligent monitoring before and since the name change, Pressendo is able to tell to what degree the economy is accounting for that deficit versus loss of constituents due to the rebrand.
"We knew we wanted to monitor and measure the impact of our rebranding, so we started more than a year ago just monitoring some of our baseline activities, you know, inquiries, cancellations, all that kind of stuff," Pressendo says. "And we noticed an uptick in what we call cancellations. So it may be somebody that just stops paying, or somebody that calls to cancel. But we keep them in what we call our delinquency cycle for seven months as we attempt to win them back. In many cases, people just don't even realize they did it because their credit card expired or they got a new card number or they changed bank accounts or whatever, so that's a significant number of them.
"We didn't start talking to our supporters about the rebrand until April," he adds, "but we noticed an increase in cancellations beginning last September, which corresponds with the economy. And that's what we've continued to see ?since then."
As of right now, Pressendo says the organization has noted cancellations because of the rebrand in the 1.5 percent range, far less than what was projected. The vast majority of constituents supported the name change. To celebrate the rebrand, in July, the organization mailed constituents a branded calendar that helped tell the organization's story, depicted through words and pictures, Pressendo says.
"It's challenging to do this at a time when we're experiencing the worst economic setback in any of our lifetimes," Pressendo adds. "But as near as we can tell, the negative economic impact we're seeing is from the economy, not from the rebrand."
Goddard adds that while her biggest concern with regard to pulling off the rebrand successfully was the economy, at the same time, the economic downturn made the rebrand imperative.
"It's a global issue, the economic downturn," she says. "There are more families worldwide going into poverty now than before. And a year ago they were estimating 53 million more families would go into absolute poverty around the world; now that estimate's up to almost 90 million families. A lot of that's going to affect children, so our need was growing … . So we really feel this new name and global brand is going to increase our outreach and support from supporters. Because the economy was making things worse for our families that we work with and children, we had to act."
The move from Christian Children's Fund to ChildFund International was more than just a renaming. It was a rebranding that served as a springboard to a new strategy to enhance supporter engagement and the organization's programs for children. A key to that strategy was establishing and maintaining consistency of brand, something Goddard says had fallen through the cracks over the years.
"I think when you're a 70-year-old organization, you can get maybe a little messy and be inconsistent in how you message things," she says. "So this is a much more consistent look to our organization. We've really adopted the color green as part of our identity, so it's really a crisper look and it tells our story in a crisper way."
Though each affiliate handles its own fundraising in its own country, the organization now has a branding manual that all 12 follow within the context of their countries that outlines the scope and use of the brand.
The organization also launched a new Web site on July 1 that introduced the new brand and offers a lot more functionality to involve supporters in its work. For instance, sponsors who visit the site are invited to share their stories and connect with other supporters. The organization also created Twitter and Facebook pages, and is taking a much more integrated approach to its marketing, doing its media buying now through an integrated agency.
"I don't think this organization realized how to leverage the online channel—even something like [search engine optimization (SEO)]," says Pressendo, who joined the organization in September 2008, having previously led the marketing and branding initiatives at the Make-A-Wish Foundation of America. "Our old Web site was not optimized for search. To me, that's probably one of the most elemental, basic things that you need to do to be effective at online marketing.
"For whatever reason, historically, we did not promote our URL in our television advertising," he adds. "Now we do. Historically, I think 20 [percent] to 23 percent of our sponsorships came through the online channel. Now it's up to about 50 percent."
Since its beginnings as China's Children Fund, the primary way individuals have supported the ?organization is through sponsorship of individual children, many times from birth through young adulthood. The organization's major acquisition channel is DRTV, but this year it's planning on changing its media mix. Historically, ?the online channel accounted for 3 percent of its media mix, and it intends to increase that to around 20 percent, including search, SEO, display advertising and social media.
Pressendo says supporters acquired through the online channel are higher-value and tend to stay with the organization longer, as many other nonprofits have found. Plus, it's a smoother conversion process, as a sponsor can search through a list of children and see if there's a child in a region or gender or age that appeals to her personally, select that child, and fulfill the sponsorship immediately. The delay in the process for DRTV responders who call to receive a package with sponsor child information in the mail can make conversion more of a crapshoot.
"Our assumption is that now that we're getting half of our folks converting [online], that means significantly more value and higher conversions, but we need to play it out," Pressendo says.
Over the next six months, the organization also will deploy the first phase of a technological overhaul that Pressendo doesn't shed many details on, but that promises, if all goes according to plan, to revolutionize the organization's ability to analyze and communicate program effectiveness back to sponsors and stakeholders.
"We're deploying a global child status index that works throughout the world, independent of cultural variances, so that we can track not that we've delivered services to the kid, but that the children have progressed, whether it's nutritionally, educationally, advocating for their own needs in their communities," Pressendo says. "Right now, [sponsors] get a report card where we talk to them about what has happened to benefit that kid, but we'll really be able to tell whether we're actually making a difference, not just delivering services."
ChildFund International's history is a lesson in the importance of an organization's name and mission being in sync. In the same way that the organization's mission had outgrown its initial name, the name change to ChildFund International also reflects the growing breadth and depth of the organization's work as an international organization and global brand.
"An organization changes slowly, and then all of a sudden you realize the changes have happened so much that you need to step back and [see if you are] putting out the name that really reflects who you are," Goddard says. "And I think that happened in 1951, and I think it happened July 1, .
"People were always confused," she adds. "The first conversation with a supporter when I introduced myself was always to clarify about our religious affiliation. So that doesn't happen now. … And I think that's a positive thing when you can start telling what you are rather than what you're not."
Goddard advises other organizations to use rebrandings as an opportunity to refine and refocus their messages, and to take the necessary time to plan before rolling out a new brand.
"I think the very detailed planning ?behind the scenes came out with a smooth rollout to our sponsors and supporters," she says. "As of July 1, they [no longer saw] any old communications or old documents, old look and old logo, etc. So to them it was ?really a clean, new, fresh look."
The majority of the children the organization serves and the majority of the people serving the organization aren't from the United States, but more than 60 percent of its supporters are, which Pressendo says made it critically important for the organization to establish not just a name but a brand that's globally relevant.
"We put a lot of effort and research into even the colors we chose," he says. "In certain cultures, certain colors have various connotations, either positive or negative. And even [with] the name and the logo, it was very important to us to have something that all of the alliance members and our countries could get behind and to be more representative, because the old name didn't really portray the nature of the work we did."
Like ChildFund International, many of the other affiliates have rebranded themselves to take on the ChildFund name (and then their geographic locations), with plans for them all to convert to that naming convention.
"With 11 other members in other countries using the same name — ChildFund — and us presenting ourselves to the outside as one alliance with common standards and a common brand, we think it's going to increase support for our work," Goddard says. "And it's all about the children; it's all about raising more resources to help them."
The organization is hoping that as its global brand of 12 affiliate organizations in one gains increased recognition and establishes a profile in the public's mind, it will bring increased support.
"I think we're the same great organization with the same great commitment to children, and I think the reason we've had so many loyal supporters come with us on this journey is they realize that," Goddard says.