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It's not a big day today, but it's been a big couple of years

31st Mar 2020 - Gemma Peters

Today the organisation I lead and love is changing its name. When I joined I said we never would, here's what I got wrong.

Gemma Peters

I spent my first few months as chief executive of Bloodwise telling people that we weren’t going to change our name.

So why, two-and-a-half years later, am I writing a blog about why we’ve done exactly that?

There are two reasons – one is something I got right, and the other something I got wrong.

Let’s start with the thing I got right.

When I joined in 2017, our charity had some brilliant things going for it: we had funded £500 million of research that had helped transform survival rates for blood cancer and we had a community of some of the most dedicated, inspiring people I’ve ever met.

Yet despite this, our income was declining at a time when other charities’ income was going up. This meant we couldn’t fund as much research as we needed to.

In my first few weeks, lots of people, both in our community and members of staff, gave me the same message: we need to change the name. The name Bloodwise was the reason our income was going down, they said, and the only way to make it start going up was to change the name.

I resisted that argument. It’s not that I had affinity to the name Bloodwise, but I thought the name was getting all the blame for the decline in our income and supporter numbers when there were also lots of other areas where we needed to improve. We didn’t have the right processes, our fundraising programmes were underdeveloped, our IT was holding us back, and critically our culture wasn’t empowering people to step up and take ownership of their work.

I worried that starting another debate about what our name is would create the impression that a name change could be a magic bullet that would mean we didn’t have to focus on the other things. And I thought that, actually, a name isn’t that important. You can make any name work if you do good work and communicate it well.

Look at Macmillan, which is one of the strongest brands in our sector – there’s nothing about “Macmillan” that relates to cancer, but when you hear the word you immediately associate it with caring cancer support. That’s the result of them doing fantastic work over many decades.

So instead of thinking about the name, we started working on the other things. It’s not been easy; there have been missteps along the way and we’ve still not got everything right. But we’ve achieved an amazing amount over the last couple of years. We’ve strengthened and diversified our fundraising programmes, our IT is light years ahead of where it was, and we have improved our governance. All of this fades away though in comparison to the work we’ve done on culture. We work on it every day, and we now have a culture where our people step up, and sometimes across, to take responsibility for delivering the very best work. We challenge each other with all the insight that comes from having taken the time to stand in each other’s shoes. and we crack on and do what’s needed rather than always feeling the need to get approval for it.

For some time now, I’ve been proud of how these changes have meant we’re delivering much more for people affected by blood cancer. We’ve made huge strides in increasing the reach of our information and support services and making us an influential voice in policy circles. We’ve also got to the point where our fundraising income has grown last year for the first time in a long time.

But funnily enough this wretched COVID-19 virus has been the real proof of how far we’ve come. People with blood cancer are at a much higher risk of becoming seriously ill if they get the coronavirus, and so we’ve seen demand for our services dramatically increase as the same time as we’ve had to shut our office and manage the widespread cancellation of our events.

This has tested us as a charity like we’ve never been tested before. I can’t tell you how proud I am of the way the team here has responded.

Even when we suddenly closed the office, we didn’t miss a beat as we continued to deliver great information and support services, communicate the latest information to people affected by blood cancer, and to work with the NHS.

I have been in awe of my team’s dedication, creativity, and ability to work together. I feel very, very lucky to be working alongside them, and the way we’ve responded ranks as one of the proudest moments of my career.

There’s nothing complicated about how we’ve done this. It’s been achieved through hard work of putting in place the culture, systems and governance that unleash people’s potential rather than hold them back. It’s also shown me – more vividly than I’ve ever seen before – that it’s when an organisation’s back is against the wall that you see the maximum benefit of having invested in these things.

The last couple of years have convinced me more than ever that our name wasn’t our most important problem and that we’d be able to do great work whatever we’re called.

And yet we’re changing it anyway. Which brings me to what I got wrong.

Firstly, the brands with abstract names that I thought were evidence that any name can be a great brand – Macmillan, Apple, Birdseye – have all had much bigger brand budgets than we’ve ever likely to have.

We came to realise that when you’re not a brand that people are always seeing on TV adverts or on supermarket shelves, it’s tough to build understanding of what you do. This means it helps massively to have a does-what-it-says-on-the-tin name.

Secondly, it became increasingly clear that the name Bloodwise wasn’t just failing to communicate what we did. It was giving people the impression we did something else. It was sobering to hear from people with blood cancer who hadn’t realised we were there for them because they’d assumed we were something to do with blood donations.

Thirdly, we listened to our community. In workshops across the county and in online sessions for those who couldn’t be there in person, they told us again and again that the name wasn’t working and we needed to change.

Of course, changing a name for the second time in five years is not something you do lightly. I expect we’ll get a some stick for doing it, and I still think we could have made the name Bloodwise associated in the public’s mind with blood cancer eventually and raised the money to play our part in beating blood cancer in the next 30 years.

But I realised that it would have been like driving with the handbrake on. We might have got there, but we wouldn’t have got there as quickly.

That meant that keeping the name Bloodwise wouldn’t be doing the right thing for people affected by blood cancer and, once that became clear, the decision was easy.

So quietly today we went ahead and changed to a name that more accurately describes who we are and what we do. You won’t see a big fancy launch campaign. Just us. Doing the same incredible things we were doing yesterday. We just think that when more people know about the work we do they’ll want to get involved. Simple (Like the new name).