Issues and Challenges of Developing and Managing Brand Strategy in a Not-for-profit (Chartered) Body

The Journal of the Medinge Group, vol. 2, no. 1, 2008

Ian Ryder
British Computer Society

No brain-food—just a sector anecdote!
The same rules apply: we all know that “rules is rules”, right? Could we try a maybe?!

I recently (nine months ago) took a new position working in a professional body, one of the largest of its kind in the world, which also happens to be a registered charity and incorporated under a Royal Charter. After a lifetime in the corporate world I can tell you: the rules are different! Not the fundamentals of brand strategy, clearly, but the processes and procedures of development and execution.

Perhaps a few words of explanation about ‘Royal Charter’ are needed, because this means little or nothing to anyone outside UK shores.

The only bodies that can award a ‘Chartered’-status professional qualification are those that have been granted a Royal Charter by HM the Queen. Whilst it is a major honour, this has huge implications if you find you want to do anything significant on branding. There are two main issues and several supplementaries.

First, chartered organizations have a governance structure that requires a Trustee Board (TB) to have oversight and ultimate responsibility for performance. This usually comprises volunteers who are part-time, unpaid, and can come from absolutely any walk of life and any professional background. The TB then delegates authority to a CEO and Executive Board who are responsible for the operational execution of the organization’s strategy (and sometimes they don’t!).

Secondly, any change to the organization’s range of activities or, critically, name, must be approved by what is called the Privy Council—essentially a sign off by HM the Queen.

The “supplementaries” include a range of things related to this governance, involving many stake-holders, members included, who feel they can have a say in this and, therefore, not surprisingly there exists the potential for major disagreements between a part-time TB and the full-time team of professionals and EB who, probably rightly, usually believe that they are best qualified to make such key decisions. One of the biggest pains of all, though, are timing and process.

Often a TB will only sit six times a year and, even then, really substantive issues will have trouble finding agenda time. But it can take a staggering 12–18 months just to get approval for a name change and corporate rebrand, which includes the need for a member-approved motion at an Annual General Meeting followed by a Privy Council seal of approval—not guaranteed, and they only meet twice a year!

This is not to say that such organizations are not fun to work in and with, or that they don’t share many of the same brand challenges as their arguably more fortunate commercial brethren, with only “normal” governance and market forces to manage. All the issues of needing to generate commercial revenues in a competitive market-place in a service business still apply. This means all our much-loved challenges of positioning, product development and management, customer service management and indeed brand and marketing strategy development and execution, in the broadest sense, still apply.

The key challenge is that, if you thought your only issue was to convince your CEO and fellow board members who are likely to have both familiarity with marketing principles and have the final decision, then consider the need to first do that, then take it through the process described above. This is where there is a very good chance the majority of your TB–member agreement has to come from people who may never have even heard of the word brand and if they have, it is guaranteed it was in the wrong context and with such limited knowledge that they won’t understand what you are proposing or why.

Rather than this be just a simple “ramble” about how lucky profit-making commercial organizations are—even those B2B companies that still have far too many “critical but knowledge-challenged” individuals—I thought maybe I’d drop in a brief summary of tips for anyone working in, or agencies considering pitching for, this kind of organization.

1. Get a really detailed understanding of the fundamental governance constraints, together with a timetable of key Committee, Council and Board meetings.

2. Understand the background of Trustees so you can see the scale of your challenge, or the extent of your support.

3. Have a very clear plan and timeline, always important but critical in this case.

4. Creating a small sub-group of three or four from the TB to take with you on the journey will make the final TB sign-off so much easier—it may even be passed!

5. Learn to manage uncertainty and develop your proposals and arguments carefully—and make sure you do this a long time ahead!

6. Exercise enormous quantities of patience.

7. Whichever god you believe in—ask for help!

We’re on our journey though, having developed a new marketing strategy alongside the slower development of our brand strategy using a variant of a process model I’ve used before, this time facilitated by one of the really good, smaller brand consultancies, UffindellWest.1 We will get there, and I look forward to writing up that journey as a case study sometime during 2010.

1. The CEO and owner of which is one of our own Medinge members.

Ian RyderIssues and Challenges of Developing and Managing Brand Strategy in a Not-for-profit (Chartered) Body

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.