When charities attack…

Whoa! Looks like someone may get strangled by a pink ribbon or left for dead with a yellow wristband around their neck. Check out this WSJ article on the legal battles brewing as non-profits protect their brands and trademarks.

Can’t we all just get along, you might think? Well, not when big bucks and big donors are involved. Susan G. Komen for the Cure has sued “kite fliers, kayakers and dozen of other themed fundraisers” for using the “(blank) for the cure” tagline in their messaging. And if you want them to see red, just try to use pink (their “signature hue”).

At first, you may have the reaction I had, which was “Geez, lay off the people trying to help other people!” But when I read further and thought about this more, I see the issue. One charity named Wounded Warrior Project is locked in a heated battle with another charity also entitled Wounded Warriors over using the URL www.woundedwarriors.org.  It seems many supporters got the two mixed up and have money to one thinking they were giving money to another. Lance Armstrong’s organization LIVESTRONG gave strict parameters to a woman who tried to use HEADstrong as her charity name, in honor of her son. She says she came up with the name before he dies in 2006 and that his nickname was Head, so that’s why she’s using it. LIVESTRONG is giving her some font and color parameters to ensure her charity is not confused with his.

This makes sense, especially when large organizations like LIVESTRONG and Susan G. Komen’s Race for the Cure have put so much money and time into building a strong non-profit brand. One lawyer in the article even stated that protecting these brands is about ensuring  donors’ funds are used and administered responsibly. I would agree with him. After all, if I’m spending money to support a cause, I want to ensure that their advertising and efforts don’t get diluted by someone else.

It’s a fact of life that non-profits are finally getting on board the brand bandwagon. Non-profits who build strong brands much like consumer companies do is even mentioned in my book. I applaud their efforts to create an emotional connection with their audiences, and to stretch their marketing dollars further by clearly and consistently communicating that brand in everything they do.  Of course they want to protect that investment and avoid customer confusion. Yes, it’s all a bit silly when it comes to philanthropy but it does make prudent business sense. So if you have any ideas about using pink ribbons for your cause, just put it down and back away…..slowly.

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