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The UK-based Donkey Sanctuary was registered as a charity in 1973 and is now the world's largest donkey and mule charity with an annual budget of £24m ($31.4 million). Since its formation by Dr. Elisabeth Svendsen MBE, the charity has provided a sanctuary for life for 14,500 donkeys and mules. It works across 28 countries and provides 400,000 treatments to donkeys every year.
Initially we were asked to bring coherence to The Donkey Sanctuary brand by looking at the colorways and structure of the current identity system. We quickly realized, following a visit to the Sidmouth Sanctuary, there was a palpable and intense emotional feeling that was not communicated by the existing brand design and structures. At that time, the existing system (see last image) consisted of a menagerie of fonts, colors, photography and cartoon animals that did not clearly brand it. We imagined a brand that would relay the spiritual feeling of love and devotion exhibited by the sanctuary’s caretakers, vets, trustees and supporters.
We set about challenging the charity to communicate what we saw at every touchpoint. We presented a new brand proposition, not simply a makeover, which created heightened appeal and consistency for the charity as a visitor destination and as a worldwide animal charity.
We can’t release figures due to confidentiality agreements, but the budget for the project was very tight. This was a great opportunity for us and the charity to deliver something profound through design for good.
We wanted to take the organization much further than it expected to go—to make their brand more widely known and more recognizable with the realm of charitable organizations and also as a destination. Everyone involved wanted the best for the organization, but it had to be right. Everyone at the Donkey Sanctuary loved their charity, and was rightly reluctant to make too much change or to take too many risks. The process was a gradual one of winning confidence, testing, researching and reassurance. Part of that reassurance was created through extensive research, both internally and externally.
Internally, we held face-to-face meetings with key stakeholders. We interviewed stakeholders to find out what changes to the identity of the organization they believed needed to be made and what components needed to be updated. Our progress was presented regularly throughout the redesign process so that everyone had the chance to collaborate and provide his or her feedback, thoughts and concerns.
External research was done through online questionnaires to hot, warm and cold audiences at regular intervals. The key questions centered on the need for change within the branding system and then testing the effectiveness of the visual and verbal expression of the new proposition. There was unanimous approval for change and for the new proposition.
We created a new brand proposition: “Selfless Devotion.” Our aim was to heighten appeal and deliver consistency for the charity as a visitor destination and as a worldwide animal charity. We paid close attention to what people liked most from the current branding and used what we could within the new identity. Research showed that the supporters loved the use of illustrated donkeys and liked the fact that there were two donkeys set in a holding device to signify protection.
Our first task was to bring the new proposition to life throughout the charity, bringing all our findings together—mixing thinking, instinct and creativity to create an emotional connection that would help the charity grow internally and externally. We reappraised every single touchpoint. This meant sensitively revisiting the two key elements: color and logo.
If you put a range of charity communications together, you’ll see what stands out: very little. It’s a sea of red and blue. The Donkey Sanctuary was no exception; its main color was blue. But ask anyone what color they associate with donkeys and the answer will be brown. We realized that in terms of making an immediate emotional connection, brown would provide a massive advantage and be a powerful differentiator in a uniform marketplace.
Since our research showed that people loved the donkeys in the previous logo, we knew the presence of the animal in the new identity was key. Could we use donkeys in some way to communicate the new proposition instantly without the need for words, anywhere in the world? To make the logo relevant and also build on the incredible legacy of the sanctuary’s founder, Dr. Elisabeth Svendsen MBE, we decided to use the first two donkeys saved by the charity—Naughty Face and Angelina. We commissioned Chris Mitchell, a famous iconographer, to craft a sketch that captured the feelings of sanctuary and care.
The two donkeys within the image formed a heart. We initially resisted using the heart to represent selfless devotion due to the number of heart-based logos in the market. But as the project developed, the heart became more and more relevant, no other icon could instantly capture the spirit of the charity. The resulting brand identity has created a clear and consistent badge and proposition for the charity that works internationally and across all media channels.
The typeface we used within the new branding was also scrutinized. The Donkey Sanctuary plays many roles—from visitor center and campaigner to educator and global voice on animal welfare. Our visual and verbal tone needed to be adaptable in order to address the needs of the varying target audiences. Houschka Pro, with its many character variations, allowed us to dial up the playfulness or seriousness of the message.
A critical element in the acceptance of change has been The Donkey Sanctuary’s willingness to engage with their volunteers and supporters. Much of this communication was face-to-face, with 90 percent of the staff receiving a direct presentation about what the new brand meant and what it hoped to achieve. The research also revealed that 94 percent of their supporters “would support and understand the decision to change the identity” or “wouldn't mind so long as 85p in every £1 continued to support charitable activities.”
Sadly, the founder, Dr. Svendsen, died three weeks into the project. This meant we needed to be especially sensitive with the strategy and evolution of the brand. We were very aware that the intended audience could see this as a reactionary rebrand, and so it compromised the level of trust both internally and externally. However, Dr. Svendsen’s passing made us even more determined to capture the spirit of the charity and to build on the legacy of this incredible woman.
We think the designs pull on all the right heartstrings. The look, feel and tone of voice allows us to turn up the volume of emotion depending upon the audience and our desired response. At one point, the branding might be used to introduce the audience to a distressing advertisement that brings home the reality of mistreated animals. At another point, the same branding is used at The Donkey Sanctuary to welcome guests whose engaging experience on site could lead them to adopting one of these lovable creatures. Since the new branding was launched, The Donkey Sanctuary has experienced the following:
This case study is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Looking for additional ways to design for good? This list of organizations and programs is a great place to start. There are many more opportunities out there—so if you know of a resource we should add here let us know!
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