What's behind health charity rebranding moves in Canada

Canadian health charities rebrand and merge as they compete with online fundraising campaigns.

Basic suspicion of institutions fuels cynicism that charity sector aims to counter

The Canadian Diabetes Association changed its name to Diabetes Canada as it strives to reflect its relevance. (Diabetes Canada)

A major Canadian diabetes charity is the latest to announce a rebranding campaign, as the health charity sector faces pressure to stay relevant amid competition from crowdfunding sites.  

On Monday, the Canadian Diabetes Association became Diabetes Canada, saying the name change is part its latest campaign to end diabetes and to help people living with the disease to live free of stigma, discrimination and complications.

"There is no doubt it is an incredibly competitive marketplace," said Rick Blickstead, president and CEO of Diabetes Canada.

The people with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes in Canada include all ethnic populations and ages, he said. 

"What we wanted to do was become even more relevant for them to show an organization that is part of their future, not just part of their past."

The type of competition has also expanded. Charities that directly fundraise online to patients, such as GoFundMe Canada, are part of the trend, said Bruce MacDonald, president and CEO of Imagine Canada. It works with the country's 86,000 registered charities and nearly 95,000 not-for-profit organizations to strengthen charities and their operations.

"I think this direct-to-recipient or patient is one of the biggest trends that we are in fact looking at," MacDonald said.

The good news, MacDonald said, is it shows Canadians continue to be generous.

"One of the interesting tensions that we do find in this sector is that charities are under unprecedented scrutiny to be transparent and accountable for their dollars," MacDonald said. 

For instance, the charity sector has guidance from Canada Revenue Agency defining what is a charitable or political activity, he said.

GoFundMe Canada's website offers a money-back guarantee if something isn't right.

So far, Canadian GoFundMe campaigns have raised $140 million from 1.8 million donations. In 2016 alone, GoFundMe campaign organizers in Canada raised more than $66 million, with medical and healing-related campaigns the most popular category.  

Judith John, a health marketing consultant and a patient advocate who has worked in senior communications roles at some of Toronto's largest hospitals, said there can be a misperception about how money should be spent.

"When you give to a big organization, sometimes it can feel like that money's lost, except it provides an infrastructure that is critically important," John said.

Suspicion of institutions

Commenting on the Heart and Stroke Foundation's recent rebranding to Heart & Stroke, John said it offered a chance to reintroduce the charity's research efforts to Canadians of all ages in a way that is more meaningful, without the word "foundation," which she called "meaningless."

"I think there's a basic suspicion now of institutions. When I grew up, you believed in the school system, you believed in government, you believed in big organizations," John said. "Now there is definitely a much more wide cynicism about it."

In the case of the merger between the Canadian Cancer Society and Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, it aligns administrative costs and their message, she said.

"They were both feeling the need to clarify their common goal, which is to support research around cancer," John said.

Social media has provided people with more access to information more immediately, she said, including where donations are going.

For Diabetes Canada, Blickstead said, the new ad campaign launched during the Grammys to focus on making a difference.

"We know that young people today are more episodic in their giving, that they will focus on an important story," Bickstead said. "That is one of the reasons we are trying to make our stories as impactful as possible to tell the story about the person with diabetes to make sure that people understand we have challenges right here in Canada every day that we need their help to solve." 

With files from CBC's Vik Adhopia


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