When I was a fundraiser at the YMCA, we had a very specific problem to deal with – our brand was bigger than the organisation.

Virtually everyone had heard of the YMCA (we had something like about 98% awareness), but few people really understood what we did.

The Village People had taken the brand over and given it a whole new meaning.

I remember one comment from a piece of research we undertook soon after I started working there back in 1990.

"We always have a little giggle when we pass the YMCA, wondering what's going on in the changing rooms."

But the song had not reduced the affection people had for the organisation. If anything, it had worked in our favour.

Ok, the lyrics were packed with double entendres, but each time it was played on the radio, TV or even at a wedding disco, a single line had been doing it's magic…

"It's fun to stay at the YMCA"

And people took from that the simple message that the YMCA offered accommodation to young people in trouble. They understood the joke, enjoyed it and then dismissed it when it came to the YMCA as an organisation.

It wasn't a key reason as to why we decided to focus on the YMCA's housing provision in our recruitment materials. But it certainly didn't hurt us. By starting from where the potential donor was in their understanding of the organisation, we spent less time explaining and more time asking – something that the YMCA has been doing for generations. Once donors were on board, we could then talk about our work in the provision of counseling, training and the other services that make the YMCA movement so unique.

And I'm glad we did, because it worked fantastically. And by keeping our focus on what people wanted to give to we repeatedly managed to get our message across in a number of exciting ways.

I was reminded of just one of them today when a young woman wearing a gold bikini caught my attention.

She was waving at me from a poster site in Shoreditch, London. It was a promotional stunt for Lynx's, new pocket sized after-shave spray.

Whilst at the YMCA, we had used a similar idea. Rather than feature a photograph, we gave YMCA residents a chance to appear on a living poster in Waterloo Bridge Road. A huge group of them took the opportunity and appeared on radio, TV and in the press as a result. They were able to talk about homelessness from a much better perspective than any charity spokesperson.

The poster site was donated free of charge and luckily I still have a cutting from The Times to remind me of just one of the things we managed to achieve with a tiny budget.

YMCA cutting

Note: you can find more about the YMCA on their new blog