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What if you had another easy way to listen in on the performance of your charity, understand key stakeholders, raise awareness and manage reputation? Well, the tools are literally at your fingertips through social media.
Why should I do this?
76% of all internet users are using some form of social media.
Communication - whether awareness raising, transparency or reputation management - is important for good governance. As trustee, you are part of your charity’s connection to the outside world. The Charity Commission’s expectations include: “Ensure your charity is carrying out its purposes for the public benefit” and “Act in your charity’s best interests”.
If you want to learn what’s going on and understand what people think from a different perspective, grow relationships, bring different networks together, share your experience and expertise, then social media offers an easy win.
What's my role?
Be interested and be interesting.
You have your own personality and should express this online whilst remembering your charity’s reputation and your responsibility to look after it. Social media works best when it follows a clear policy and guidelines. If there isn’t a policy then get involved in putting one together.
You’re unique to your charity. No one else has your exact networks, personality or way of putting things. In the same way you might work a room, charm a funder, listen attentively to the needs of a group of stakeholders, you can "work" the online space from the comfort of your computer or smartphone, without any of the travel implications.
What's my plan?
Learn, practice and reach for support when needed. Most things seem overwhelming at first and social media is no different. Experience and "training" are key to overcoming your fears - go to your trusted sources, read/watch the brief guides and practice.
Define your purpose for getting involved and be clear what you offer. Exposure to different networks and connections (the influence you have on the people you know)? Awareness within different communities (listening in and helping reinforce messages)? Showing a different perspective?
Understand your charity’s key messages, what’s being said, why and how you can help. Building that relationship internally will also help increase the level of honesty and trust. Part of your offer is the ability to share information to different audiences in different ways. Stay briefed (and know when to stay quiet).
Just as a blank piece of paper (or screen) can be daunting, so can the need to ‘post’ when you have nothing to say. Carving yourself a niche on a particular topic (curating and sharing resources), commenting on specific subjects (in line with key messages) and sharing about yourself (meaningful hobbies or a health issue) will focus you. Remember the 4Cs of content – create, curate, combine and comment - and aim for a mix. Not every post needs to be original.
Decide your tone of voice – how you will express yourself. It matters how you say it.
Making it happen
So you have a plan, some ideas for content, a "tone of voice", a reason for doing it and you’re briefed on key messages. It’s time to choose a tool.
Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and YouTube should be the focus of your attention initially.
- Twitter is ideal for spreading ideas quickly across diverse networks and reaching out to people you don’t know. Hashtags, @mentions and curated lists help organise the volume. Be concise, be human, be topical, converse.
- LinkedIn provides credible connections and content. Build/search profiles, pages and groups, share across professional networks and recommend people and resources within a community.
- Facebook is more informal and visual and offers more personal interactions through pages and "personal professional" accounts.
- YouTube helps express and share via video through high quality resources or something shot on a smartphone in the moment. Keep it short, interesting and share it – don’t underestimate a talking head with something worth saying.
You can plan/schedule key content once a week and check into your social media accounts for a few minutes twice a day (using a smartphone) to respond to comments or highlight (retweet/share) something interesting.
Profiles are important. They may be one of the first things others look at. Craft your profile before you start using a tool in earnest (the best way to learn is to look for others who do it well and copy their ideas). LinkedIn profiles offer particular credibility but in the end it’s the content and expression people will judge you on.
Sorry, are you ignoring me? One of the biggest mistakes is to overshare and not pay any attention to what is coming back. If people are commenting, contradicting or replying, it’s both polite and sensible to respond. It’s the online equivalent of having two ears and one mouth for a reason.
Deeper connections come in time. Start with a single post/tweet or simple LinkedIn profile. Listen, comment, and share. Be proactive, follow but also engage – connect and get to know stakeholders by engaging them in conversation. Use the keyword search function of your chosen tool to find relevant content and connections - searching for keywords, individual names and organisations will cut through volume and make and enhance the right connections faster.
Am I making a difference?
Your time is valuable so use it wisely but it will take time to build a following and develop engagement so don’t judge yourself too harshly. Key metrics to look out for include (i) number of followers/connections, (ii) number of retweets/replies/comments/shares and (iii) whether it makes any difference in the face to face world, e.g. increased awareness and takeup of services.
Beware the unintentional serious damage of one ill-timed or ill-judged comment: (i) never post/tweet anything you wouldn’t want to see on the front page, (ii) think how you might be interpreted, (iii) publish and be damned. You’re judged on everything you say anyway – the internet is no different.
Identify key players and engage them in conversation. Share and support and cheer others on – create meaningful interactions, much as you would face to face. Listen and be proactive in your responses.
Social media is a key engagement platform for your charity. Offering your individual trustee perspective provides another angle. It complements existing communications and relationship building and gives you a chance to tell (and hear) more of the story more of the time.
In the past five years brands have become increasing savvy about what they want from a partnership with a charity. While there is no doubt that the right partnership is mutually beneficial, brands are driving a much harder bargain, and in some cases are considering the creation of social change campaigns without the inclusion of a charity partner. So it's really important that charities are aware of this.
At the same time charities need to be certain of their own priorities in such a relationship and therefore should carefully choose their partner accordingly. Also, charities should be sufficiently focused on the partnership once it has begun so that they are able to manage the situation when there are challenges to the arrangement. Anyway, to get the relationship going on the right track in the first place charities should be factoring the following aspects into their approach when considering a relationship with a brand.
Offer genuine value
Businesses are increasingly realising the benefits of being more socially responsible; and can benefit hugely from the social change expertise that charities bring to the table.
Charities also have the innate understanding of how to generate meaning within communities of interest, as well as experience in communicating authentically around sensitive issues. These skills and the breadth of experience charities can bring to brands are valuable and highly applicable and should be marketed with conviction.
Real life stories
Audiences can’t relate to inauthentic stories. Stronger, real life narratives from real people drive audience engagement because people can simply relate.
Danielle Wootton, head of marketing at Scope, points to how Scope created a distinctly relatable campaign about disability with its End The Awkward campaign, by emulating the real stories it had collected from disabled people and portraying them in a provocative, tongue-in-cheek way through its Channel 4 partnership.
Tap into real life
By becoming involved in situations which are widely discussed in the media and beyond, charities can attract new audiences, which in turn, can attract brands to partner with.
Claire Rowney, director of innovation, campaigns and events at Cancer Research UK, points to how the charity tapped into the “No make-up selfie” viral, which originally began with just one woman and spread throughout society rapidly. By seizing this opportunity, Cancer Research UK was able to transform people’s passion for the cause into a much bigger cultural moment, as well as converting this interest into additional donations, which furthered its work.
Avoid a corporate tone
Don’t use your usual corporate tone of voice if it won’t work for the audience you’re targeting. When collaborating with a brand, relevance in terms of tone is necessary to drive impact.
Charities may need to be willing to alter their tone of voice in order to access new audiences. For example, Scope adopted a more humorous and provocative tone in its End the Awkward campaign than its usual tone of voice. This allowed the charity to partner with Channel 4 which has a history of running brave and bold campaigns.
Media agencies and businesses use enhanced audience segmentation and analytics to identify audiences, plus they create content for these audience each and every day.
Although charities have their own knowledge of who they are targeting and who engages with their content, media companies can provide key insight into new audiences. When Cancer Research UK worked with Channel 4 for Stand Up To Cancer, the charity relinquished its editorial control to the broadcaster, and the charity learnt how to make itself comfortable with no editorial responsibility.
A good fit
Don’t partner with or cast just anyone; make sure there is a good fit. When choosing a brand to partner with, it is vital to be selective. A well thought out partnership will consist of two parties which share aligned interests. For example, Scope and Channel 4 collaborated as two organisations concerned about attitudes towards disabled people and the representation of disability in the media. Thanks to their access to audiences as well as talent, media and broadcast based brands can provide relevant ambassadors tailored to a specific charity initiative.
Take risks to get ahead
Challenges or problems can encourage creativity in the charity sector, and can bring about opportunity. In the second year of Cancer Research UK's Stand Up To Cancer activity, Channel 4 could not schedule the charity telemarathon on air. Rather than lose a year of its campaign, Cancer Research UK partnered instead with YouTube and Google, bringing the Stand Up To Cancer YouTube Party to life with well known vloggers (bloggers using video) taking editorial control over the content.
With no previous experience with vloggers performing in real time in a twelve hour long live stream, this was an uncertain area for the charity to venture into. But Cancer Research UK’s YouTube party resulted in huge online reach and raised awareness, and Cancer Research UK tapped into a new, younger audience in the process.
Remember the big picture
Developing a brand partnership across a campaign gives people time to engage with the work, which cements the audience’s commitment to the cause in the process.
Cancer Research UK’s Stand Up to Cancer partnership with Channel 4 has undoubtedly, since its inception, also been brought to life on YouTube with the Stand Up to Cancer YouTube Party, as well as a partnership with Bauer being established during the campaign.
Sticking to brand attribution
It is important to keep your initiative’s goals in sight as well as to maintain your branding and charity's identity. Is your aim to drive behavioural change or raise awareness of your specific cause? Remember why you are partaking in a specific partnership, and keep this goal front of mind.
What comes next
Think about the next steps, how will you continue your work after any campaign period?
Scope realised after running one year of its campaign activity that it wanted to drive further engagement with the charity from its communications activity, so online user journey and engagement is now a key performance indicator for the charity. Monitoring performance during and after the launch will provide you with key insights that can inform the next steps of the partnership.
This links back to the concept of call connected planning, where one avoids viewing campaigns in isolation, but instead view them as a component of a broader communications ecosystem, with various elements fuelling others.
Data analytics is of increasing importance for the charity sector and so it follows that charities should be looking looking to use data more effectively. They should be appreciating that data analytics has transformed the workings of the private sector. Consultancies are fighting over the best data scientists; ad men have become maths men; brands are piecing together an ever-more comprehensive profile of their audience to target and retain customers.
Today, our interactions with the commercial world are shaped enormously by data analytics. Companies are able to analyse large pools of data to identify patterns and make better decisions. Those money-off vouchers you received last week for your favourite ice cream brand were generated using insight on your past purchases. The notification that a new gym class has started which could help you achieve your fitness goals? A tip-off informed by your workout habits. Curated news stories on your social media feed? You guessed it.
Data has evidently become an integral part of brands’ success. Thus far, however, charities’ use of data analytics has been somewhat limited. While the use of data is becoming more crucial, giving companies competitive advantages, the smaller budgets and fewer resources enjoyed by many charities in comparison with their profit-making peers has prevented extensive venture into the field.
Yet for charities to maximise the efficiency and impact of their work, it is crucial to get to grips with data. This means not just collecting and storing it, but analysing it to create useable insight and presenting it to add value to stakeholder communications. Charities can use data to assess which marketing messages work, to understand more fully the needs of those they help, to provide hard evidence of their impact to donors.
This doesn’t have to cost the earth, nor does it have to subsume hours of precious time. Approached smartly, data analytics can take a natural place in charities’ operations, in the long run saving both money and time.
Capture the relevant data
An obvious-sounding point – but it is easier than you might think to fall at the first hurdle!
The basic rule of thumb to remember is that if you put good stuff in, you’re likely to get good stuff out. It’s a bit like preparing a meal – a dish with top quality ingredients is always going to win on taste.
Planning ahead is key. When collecting data, you need to bear in mind how it will be used and measured. Only asking open-ended questions, for example, leads to a collection of responses which are difficult to record and analyse. So instead of text fields, why not get participants to rate their views on a numerical scale, which can be easily compared, reported and tracked over time?
The little things count, but can often be easily overlooked. For instance, when you are taking a sample of data, don’t forget to record the date and make sure units of measurement are always provided. There is nothing more frustrating than interesting data which cannot be used because of a lack of context or administrative flaws.
In today’s world, there is no need to waste time on cumbersome paper based collection methods. Automating the process not only saves hours of time. It also ensures data can be stored centrally, automatically verified and complicated analysis methods can be applied.
Look outside for data
It’s not just your charities’ own data which can provide useful information. Open data opportunities are constantly being discovered, and can enrich in-house analysis. These are particularly useful in placing your charity's work in to a wider context. Data.gov.uk, for example, makes available data on everything from failed breathalyser tests to social housing.
There is a huge range of data which can be freely accessed online. Though this can be of great use, it’s in numerous forms and of various quality, and so staff need to be trained to navigate this and assess the usefulness of the data in each case. You shouldn’t stop at what can be directly found online either. Don’t be afraid of contacting companies, and indeed other charities, to find out if they have data you can access.
Store the data properly
Once the data has been collected, it should be “cleaned”. Cleaning data means that it is formatted consistently, and therefore can be analysed more easily and quickly.
The data – whether it be about volunteers, donors, beneficiaries, activities – needs to be kept up to date. It’s a good idea to make someone responsible for continually updating the database and its content.
Saying this, it is also important that everyone involved in using the database is well trained in entering and extracting data, to preserve the database’s integrity. The more people who can access and use the data in a smart way, the better.
Maintaining a central dashboard is a good way to do this. A centralised and standardised database enables the data to be divided in multiple ways, for instance cutting donors by age, region or amount of funds raised. Different people on the team can each pull out data according to their own needs, whether they want to explore funding applications or analyse donor communications.
Measuring your results
Data analytics not only helps you get to know your audiences better, but it is also crucial in assessing the effectiveness of your charity's activities, from marketing efficiency to the allocation of resources.
If possible, it is useful to track against a ‘control’ group. So to measure the impact the charity is having on those it works with, you could follow the trajectory of a group which is receiving support over time against an identical group of people yet to receive support. By comparing the two sets of results it will be made clear that any positive effects seen in the first group, which is receiving support, are the product of your assistance rather than incidental.
Otherwise, tracking across time is another helpful way to measure progress. Formatting questions to ask for inputs on a numerical scale means that changes over time can easily be tracked and presented as graphs, whether you are looking at participants’ performance in academic tasks, the area covered by grassland or attitudes towards homelessness. Just remember to keep the scale/units constant.
Communication is key
Data, though powerful, can be intimidating in its raw form. It is often helpful to transform your data into visuals. Infographics can clearly illustrate audience segmentation; you can visualise correlations between different behaviour types; users can be mapped geographically.
It is important to avoid overwhelming people with stats. Keep things as simple as possible, and where relevant, show how the data fits into the wider picture. If a certain proportion of your beneficiaries are living in poverty, how does this compare to the general population? How has this changed since you began your work with them?
Like any presentation, always bear your audience in mind. One often sees end of year reports containing table upon table of data. Stakeholders rarely have the motivation to go through the data with a fine tooth comb. Make it easy for them by picking out the key messages from the data.
Draw out actionable understanding
Data analytics is useful precisely because it turns numbers into actionable insights. Finding out what works and what doesn’t is relatively easy. Yet the real value of data comes from determining what needs to be done, whether that is achieving strategic goals or streamlining processes.
A real world example might be analysis of the charity’s website usage. By discovering online journeys – where people drop off, the amount of time spent by each user on a page and so on – you can develop remedies to increase interest and engagement.
Data is also priceless when it comes to applying for grants, by providing evidence to illustrate the great work you’ve done and showing where the challenges ahead lie.
Careful thought first
If I was giving one piece of guidance to charities looking to up their game when it comes to data analytics, what would it be? Think before you act. Your approach should be directed by what you want to get out of the data, and then you need to ensure data integrity remains high every step of the way, from collection, cleaning and storage through to analysis, presentation and action. Data analysis isn’t expensive, difficult or hugely time consuming – it just takes a bit of thought.
" ...for charities to maximise the efficiency and impact of their work, it is crucial to get to grips with data. "
" When collecting data, you need to bear in mind how it will be used and
" Cleaning data means that it is formatted consistently, and therefore can be analysed more easily and quickly. "
Think of a charity rebrand – what comes to mind? Probably one of the better known examples of a large charity changing its corporate identity. Sometimes this is a name change - Scope, perhaps, or the more recent and successful example of Breast Cancer Now – and sometimes it is a refresh of the disparate elements that make up a charity’s "look and feel", such as the logo. Yet rebrands are not just for large charities and nor, even in these straitened times, should they be regarded as some sort of frivolous vanity exercise.
There are many good reasons to change the name of a charity. Perhaps the name no longer reflects what you do, perhaps a new identity is needed to support the diversification of your income streams, or it may just be that your name sounds old-fashioned and something new is needed before you can engage with a younger audience.
However long established a name and however well established its pedigree, senior management and trustees could well find that the day is not far off when these "sacred cows" come up for discussion and debate. In short, no charity (save the recently rebranded!) should think that a rebrand might not be for them in the future.
It hardly needs to be said that a rebrand is a major undertaking that demands the commitment of considerable time, energy, patience, diplomacy and, yes, money. It is not a matter of slapping a new name on a charity and hoping that it sticks.
Everything, from the nebulous – the language a charity uses, the voice with which it communicates with supporters – to the tangible (letterheads, compliment slips and PowerPoint presentations), is rebuilt from the ground up. Then there is the difficult business of winning the hearts and minds (and continued support) of donors, beneficiaries, staff and the wider public from which you will draw your support, now and in the future.
Phew. With so many balls to juggle, something has to give and it is often PR – taken in this context to refer to the methods and messages which are used to communicate a rebrand to an external audience – that is brought in at the last minute. Too often it is a "nice to have" extra rather than one of the factors that shape the overall rebrand strategy at the planning stage.
It really shouldn’t be this way. As in all areas of a charity’s life, PR experts (in-house or otherwise) can add the greatest value when they are involved from an early stage. They are an important, though not sole, interface between the internal, occasionally inward looking, charity and the complicated and sometimes hostile world beyond.
They therefore bring an important perspective, carefully considering different options (before, please, rather than after they are ruled out!), advising on perceptions, implications and likely reactions during what can be one of the most significant chapters in a charity’s story.
Consider PR, then, and consider it early before agreeing a plan of action. The latter must be more than a disparate flurry of tactics – a press release here, an interview there. Instead, it should be guided by clear insights, data, goals, objectives. What should these be? The answer, as ever, is "it depends".
No two rebranding processes are alike. As alluded to above, they are embarked upon for many reasons and face different impediments and expedients along the way. These come in many forms. Perhaps you have a group of supporters, or high value donors, who need particularly careful handling. Perhaps there are questions around cost that are likely to flare up. Perhaps you are one of the lucky ones who have favours that they can call in, or the support of a high profile or influential person to make use of.
Despite these variables, it is possible to identify some "back to basics" commonalities. Broadly speaking, the approach to the PR strategy should consist of the following:
- Define your audiences: who are you talking to? What makes them tick? How will this shape the messages and channels you are using to communicate? Don’t forget to include internal audiences, who, kept informed and made to feel part of the rebrand, can be some of your most effective brand ambassadors.
- Develop your messages: a core "script" about the rebrand that stands up to robust interrogation and scrutiny. Why are you rebranding? What difference will it make? Coherent and purposeful answers to the "who, what, when, where, why" of the rebrand are a must.
- Channel planning: what channels will reach your audiences?
- Scenario planning: anticipating the possibility of negative comment and preparing your responses.
It probably goes without saying that, as with any communications project on this scale, it won’t be smooth flying and you should expect to hit a few bumps along the way. For some people, it really is "all in the name" and there will be resistance to change, disappointment and even vocal criticism. Although good planning and timely engagement can minimise this, it is difficult to avoid altogether. Expect to be asked searching questions about the need for a name change and the cost. Only clear, consistent and honest answers will do.
The devil is in the detail and nowhere is this more apparent than when discussing timing. Who you need to tell is the (relatively) easy bit; deciding when to tell them is a good deal more challenging. Get it wrong and the consequences can be serious. Who do you tell first? In what order? How can you guard against the risk of word slipping out and catching you on the backfoot? Loose lips might not sink ships but they can wreak havoc on an otherwise well considered comms strategy!
A painstakingly crafted and coordinated rollout of information, in which all your audiences have been mapped and communications challenges identified is the answer. Grid, critical path, countdown or whatever – the key thing is to have a coordinated communications plan that addresses all your internal and external audiences in tandem.
And what of the media? Let’s be clear, media relations in the context of a rebrand can be as much a question of managing negative sentiment as rolling out a positive story. The simple fact is that beyond the charity and other relevant sector press, a rebrand is unlikely to be a story – unless it is for all the wrong reasons! However much you might want to lift the lid on the rebrand and ensure word travels far, you cannot rely on the media to do this for you.
This is not to say there aren’t opportunities to pursue - as long as the focus is on the issues which matter to a wider audience and why they should care about what you have done. One might, for example, cherry pick a journalist from a sector publication – or who otherwise has a real interest in your sector or area of work – who might be interested in peering beneath the bonnet and understanding more about what you have done and why it should matter to your beneficiaries and other stakeholders.
Social media and other "owned" communications channels, such as websites, have an arguably more important role to play in engaging supporters and bringing them "on board" before, during and after a rebrand. It is an opportunity to speak directly to your audiences in a creative way, unmediated and unencumbered by the potentially distorting prism of a journalist’s pen.
Videos, images, audio and other multimedia content can really bring the story and purpose of a rebrand to life in a way that letters and numbers on their own cannot.
The possibilities are endless – a whiteboard video animation can be shared on Twitter and Facebook, with a shorter version on Instagram, a blog from a chief executive can explain the rationale behind a rebrand in more detail than a snippet in a sector magazine ever can. Pictures may not quite, as the saying goes, speak a thousand words but a new image library can reflect the new values, missions and messages in a powerful and memorable way.
Don’t underestimate the communications challenges but don’t let them put you off. Plan thoroughly, bring in expert opinion at an early stage to consider the implications, make targeted, strategic use of each of the communications channels available, stick consistently to robust, consistent messaging. In doing so you will arrive safely at your destination: a name and identity that is held in high regard and that your staff, supporters and beneficiaries can be proud of.
"...as with any communications project on this scale, it won't be smooth flying and you should expect to hit a few bumps along the way."
"Videos, images, audio and other multimedia content can really bring the story and purpose of a rebrand to life in a way that letters and numbers on their own cannot."
Turmoil is something the charity sector is learning to adapt to and even adopt as many charities seek to merge, grow, and develop new projects and new fundraising tools. It does, however, raise the pithy question of how do we present our services and the things we do in a coherent and clear way. This question, if left unanswered, will mean that as portfolios grow, there is a risk they either become barren or a tangled mess.
If we were to pick one sector within the charity mix where this holds particularly true, and we are spoiled for choice, this would be the mental health sector. Without doubt this is one of the most complex to manage. Competitors abound, both at scale and with niche specialisms, creating a complex web of identities all vying for attention.
It comes as no surprise therefore that mental health support charity Richmond Fellowship was one of the first to see this was an ideal context in which to flip the model on its head and turn it into an opportunity.
The charity's aim was visionary. It opted to bring together like-minded charities in a bid to change how the UK treats mental health. It believed that by joining forces it could build a national mental health and substance abuse services group large enough to make its vision happen.
One of the biggest challenges, however, was representing the members' collective ambition. Each partner charity had its own rich history of success, as well as its own unique look and message. They needed a brand that took each partner’s distinctive skills or regional and national reputations and combined them to break new ground in "making recovery a reality". That brand now is Recovery Focus.
We need only look at the commercial sector to see how well this can work. Take Virgin which, like Recovery Focus, centres its proposition around creating a link brand with each partner which still retains its own distinctive, but clearly linked, identity.
Key to remember is there is no one size fits all formula. Those who attempt to apply a blanket style identity end up with a bland, un-engaging brand that neither appeals nor differentiates, resulting in individual services under-selling themselves.
Conversely, those charities which have separate and unlinked brands that focus on each service or product will create silos that hide the collective breadth and depth of what the charity does. In so doing they will be squandering a valuable commercial asset that could help establish the credibility of new services and encourage cross usage and sales.
Yet the solution is relatively simple. Charities need to define what they have got that really appeals, both on an emotional and a rational level, to their audiences and make up any shortfall to each and every audience. In other words they need to ask "how can we make what we do relevant and appealing to all our audiences?".
Volunteering charity CSV asked itself this question when it felt its core brand was starving the charity of meaning and visibility. Now known as Volunteering Matters, the new focus resides in the charity's belief in the power of volunteering's ability to inspire and transform lives. The charity lives up to its brand promise of leading the UK in volunteering policy and practice. Its services are simply, and effectively, signposted and equally appealing across all platforms. The charity equivalent of Apple.
Guide Dogs too posed this question when they brought on board National Blind Children’s Society. It recognised that to flourish it needed a standalone brand, to focus on the increased portfolio of services it offered. When analysing how to increase its relevance to wider audiences, it found that National Blind Children’s Society would become perceptually obscured under the Guide Dogs brand, adding little to the brand and damaging its ability to reach out to key audiences and to fundraise.
In rebranding to Blind Children UK it appealed strongly to the target audiences, became more firmly linked as part of the Guide Dogs family, and helped expand Guide Dogs away from "dogs" into broader mobility.
HSBC and First Direct reflect a similar brand ethos in the commercial sector.
Building larger entities without losing the value of each partner in the ensuing chaos is a juggling act charities are increasing going to have to learn to manage if they are to survive and remain relevant.
Striking a balance between supporting goals both at an individual and organisation level to provide clarity and relevance to all audiences requires a clear brand hierarchy to capture the group’s key differentiator.
So what are the key branding elements charities need to look for as they expand and manage their portfolios?
- For a start the core brand and all its activities have to leverage each other. This means identifying each activity’s specific role and raison d’être.
- There need to be equal parts of give and take. The core brand must give and gain from the activities.
- Ensuring that the goals of each activity are reflected in the core brand and these are supported at both the individual level and the corporate level is key.
- The core brand must provide clarity and relevance to all audiences. It should also promote logic and synergy as well as a sense of order, purpose and direction to the charity.
The charity sector is certainly undergoing challenges, yet there are enormous opportunities too to rethink the purpose of charities and reshape their original offering.
Taking the time to carve out a balanced and powerful identity will have a transformational effect on the way new style charities are perceived both internally and externally. Key is to ensure their portfolio of brands does not exceed the sum of its parts, something that requires coherence to rule over chaos.
How could the charity sector as a whole benefit from rebranding as well as individual charities? It’s worth defining what we mean by “brand”. Branding, although it derives from the Swedish word meaning to mark cattle, is about much more than just logos and brand identities (vital signifiers though these might be).
“True branding” is about an organisation’s commercial and societal purpose; its unique history and provenance; its measurable impact; its daily products, services and behaviours and its measurable impact.
Good or great brands grow outwards from tightly defined and inspiring purposes and have vibrant, oral cultures that are far more specific and interesting than the bland platitudes of the “values and mission statements” so often paraded in their reception areas. Good brands also have sharp edges: they define what they don’t do, as well as what they do.
Branding is just a cosmetic paint job unless it’s directly linked to business strategy, which, in the case of charities, will usually be focused on the fundraising/income strategy.
Meaningful rebranding required
The charity sector as a whole is currently beleaguered and in need of meaningful rebranding. According to the NCVO, funding for the voluntary sector will be £1.7bn lower by 2017/18 than it was in 2010/11. According to The Guardian, charities have lost more than £3.8bn in government grants in the last decade.
According to Compact Voice, 50% of local authorities disproportionately cut voluntary sector funding in 2010/11. Charitable giving by the public dropped by 10% during the recession and has yet to recover.
On top of cuts, there is the assault on reputation created by the severe lack of governance at Kids Company; regular donors being overly pressurised by charities, in one case leading to the suicide of Olive Cooke, aged 92; and inappropriate relationships between corporates and charities such as between Age UK and energy supplier E.ON.
Whilst the public sense that these are the sensationalist and unrepresentative tips of a benign and virtuous iceberg of charitable activity, they have weighed heavy on the sector.
Charities are grossly under-recognised and wrongly stereotyped, especially by government and business. They are still seen in a rather lame and Victorian way, as “amateur do-gooders”, nurses who patch up the bodies wounded by raw capitalism. Perhaps this is why they have been pejoratively labelled “the third sector” as if it were a ranking beneath the public and private sectors. Nothing could be further from the truth and the voluntary sector needs to re-present (rebrand) itself.
Strong intellectual capital
Charities and social enterprises develop new and unique problem solving ideas often on modest resources. They are developers and owners of strong intellectual capital with a tangible value.
Andy Haldane, chief economist of the Bank of England, has commented on this in his Pro Bono Economics lecture in 2014. He estimates that all UK volunteering might total 4.4 billion hours per year, with a value of £50bn or 3.5% of GDP. Of course, that is just the value of the volunteering time, without considering the value of the problem-solving services delivered by not-for-profits in saving government and society money.
Charities both need, and would benefit from, this more progressive reputation as “economically important problem solvers”. This is partly because of the rise of both social enterprises and social businesses, which are both rivals and potential partners. According to the State of Social Enterprise UK’s Survey in 2015, more than half of social enterprises have increased their turnover in the last year; 59% have developed new products and services, and 83% have attracted new customers or clients.
Social investment funds and social businesses are also thriving. B Corps, for example, is a movement of over 1500 companies worldwide. A B Corp will be a for-profit business which has social and/or environmental outcomes,as certified by the not-for-profit B Lab. B Corps launched in the UK last year with 62 founding member companies.
One such B Corps member is Unforgettable, a one-stop, online portal for easy-to-navigate products, advice and communities to help people, and their carers, cope better with dementia. It donates some of its profits to its own Unforgettable Foundation and has a strong partnership with the Alzheimer’s Society. This kind of inter-relationship between social businesses and charities could be a key aspect of the sector’s progressive future.
If those are some of the sector issues and opportunities for rebranding, when should individual charities rebrand, how and to what purpose?
Whilst true branding is about far more than name and logo, one fundamental reason to rebrand is to make your purpose clearer through your name. In 2010 research showed St Dunstan’s that few people under the age of 75 were aware of the charity or what it did. St Dunstan’s rebranded as Blind Veterans UK with a more striking logo. The rebranding cost £90,000 but was central to raising an extra £7m over five years.
Singularity and distinctiveness
This case demonstrates another important principle: that rebranding a charity should be about singularity and distinctiveness, not about awareness for its own sake. Both Third Sector’s Charity Brand Index and You Gov’s Charity Index show that awareness of charities is dominated by big causes with big budgets and moves slowly.
Better to have a carefully targeted and distinctive awareness than try to paint on too broad a canvas. The RNLI focuses only on awareness amongst local communities; and the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals concentrates on those donors who earn less than £25,000 a year most likely to empathise with the charity’s beneficiaries. Know thyself and know thy audience. Be brave enough to be singular.
You should rename and rebrand for succinctness and memorability. I am a trustee of a charity which used to be called “We Are What We Do”. We have recently shortened the name to “Shift” to embody its behaviour change purpose and to stop the business cards being the length of a baguette!
You should also rename to better represent your beneficiaries. Decades ago, the first charity rebranding I worked on was to change the “London Association for the Blind” to “Action for Blind People”, after visually impaired people pointed out that “the blind is something you pull up and down at the window, not a human being.”
Better expressing your purpose
Most rebranding should be about better expressing your purpose rather than simply refining your colour palette, typography or photographic style (although sometimes refreshed identities are needed in order to better use digital media).
Unicef, for example, when it rebranded in 2014, put the mission “For every child in danger” as a “lock-up’” with the logo and at the epicentre of all its communications, having discovered that many people did not understand its purpose.
When the branding for the British Heart Foundation was refreshed, a bold call to action was created: “Fight for Every Heartbeat.” The charity's lifesaving courses, events and campaigns were also relaunched. The results were a 7% increase in both retail income and fundraising plus a 30% increase in online donations.
If you want a rebrand to work, you need to activate it imaginatively and creatively, especially if you have limited funds. The Stroke Association with no budget for its brand relaunch, gave the staff 5 months to act as Brand Ambassadors, resulting in a tenfold increase in the supporters’ network.
Two final points about making your charity more impactful: think about the right kinds of partnerships with corporates and about creating your own branded social movements.
My suggested guidelines for working well with commercial businesses are as follows:
- Businesses are best at "doing good" when they leverage what they do well commercially. Persil’s "Dirt is Good" campaign would be brilliant at promoting outdoor play with the right charity partners thus enhancing the wellbeing of children but also promoting its dirt-cleaning credentials.
- Partnerships work best when both sides are equally committed, motivated and passionate about the cause. The partnership between Domestos and UNICEF on better sanitation is a good example.
- Be clear, creative and, above all, highly specific about your social goals. Toms' "One for One" scheme uses the profits from the pair of shoes you buy from it, to provide shoes to someone poor who would otherwise go barefoot.
- Actions must precede words. Too many companies do an ad campaign on a social purpose before acting tangibly on that purpose. Look for a corporate partner which does rather than just says.
Branding social movements
As someone who has co-founded The Big Lunch, Change the World for a Fiver and TimeBank, my guidelines for a successful, branded social movement are as follows:
- Make it fun and rewarding; simple and inclusive.
- Give it light and shade, shock and optimism.
- Make it simultaneously bottom-up and top-down.
- Allow for lobbying/ campaigning, fund-raising and volunteering as responses.
- Develop distinctive iconography and a unique and regular place in the calendar.
“Movember” is a perfect embodiment of all the above principles, raising awareness, funds and action for testicular and prostate cancer like nothing before.
Rebranding the charity sector and individual charities, in the true sense of the term, is not an expensive “paint job” but essential if the voluntary sector is to thrive in ever more difficult times.
The world of direct marketing is changing at a rapid pace. Ask people what they mean by direct marketing, and many people will answer: “It’s about driving a response.” But everything does that nowadays, right? At least everything in the digital space.
Fundamentally, direct marketing for charities is about making a valuable connection – with supporters and would be supporters. It’s about creating a valuable connection for the charity: starting and nurturing a relationship with a supporter who can help not only with shorter term donations, but with advocacy, legacies and other valuable support longer term.
But it should also be about supporters making a valuable connection for them, with a charity which is true to their own personal values, and which treats them with the value and respect that they deserve.
So, how do you go about creating valuable connections?
Be doormat delightful
Charity direct mail has had its reputation knocked somewhat recently. However, its role remains as relevant as ever. Not just for reaching older traditional supporters, but as a means to engage other supporters for whom receiving a letter is a welcome surprise that deserves attention. People who are used to email as the standard relish a well crafted piece of direct mail landing on their doormat.
Valuable long term relationships usually flourish the more you get to know someone. If you were meeting someone in a professional context, you’d usually check them out on LinkedIn and create an initial connection in that first conversation about the person you both used to work/drink/skydive with. It should be the same in direct marketing.
With cold acquisition communications, the more personal you can be upfront – proving that you have a common personal connection – the better.
Whether it’s recognising that they are mums, cat lovers, or that they live a geographical area connected to your cause, the more data you can use to create a deeper personal connection in your creative the more likely you are to elicit a response.
For example, a recent direct mail campaign for Women For Women International targeted successful professional women. Research showed that they like to nurture younger women to "give something back". So the creative spoke to them in a business context and they were sent a business card.
The front of the card bore the name ESTHER MUKUNDE and her "title": WIDOW, GENOCIDE SURVIVOR, ILLITERATE. And on turning the card around, recipients saw Esther’s "title" change to: BUSINESS OWNER, EMPLOYER, INSPIRATION. This highly targeted approach, using a genuine insight about the audience, created a personal connection.
Don’t just think: "When is the best time for us to run a campaign?" Instead think: "When is the best time for my (would be) supporter?"
Maybe it’s something that has happened in their lives that makes them ripe for a particular message – for example, they’ve moved house, and might be more willing to think about homelessness, in the context of how lucky they are. Or they’ve recently come back from a Mediterranean holiday…a good time to talk to them about the refugee crisis.
Buying external data from lists, or using socially derived data, is more expensive than relying on your own, but might give you a bigger return on investment.
Be culturally relevant
Another way of being timely, is to be in the moment, culturally.
For instance, commercial companies see real impact when they use weather triggered email campaigns. For example, when the sun comes out in summer (retail direct mailers benefit) and when weather does its worst in winter (insurance direct mailers benefit).
The trick is to create your own bank of triggered communications (you can be fairly sure it will be rainy at some point!) so you’re ready to hit the button on your "imagine being homeless in this weather" messaging.
Not everything has to be triggered. Simply thinking about a cultural context calendar can help create more connections. Think about what is happening in the wider world that can help you leverage your message. It’s school holiday time: "not every child wants to be at home during the holidays". It’s the weekend the clocks change: "another hour in bed isn’t a treat when you’re sleeping in a cardboard box".
This is where direct mail can play more of a role, as you’re able to plan further ahead and land impactful messaging just at the right time.
As well as planning to be culturally spontaneous, anything charities can do to be as nimble as possible in reacting to what’s in the news, the better. This isn’t just about aid charities reacting quickly to crisis (something they thrive on); it’s about being able to ride the news wave.
For example, a news item breaks about (please not yet another) a local council where child exploitation has been rife. What better time to contact supporters in that geographical area for help?
In today’s environment, where the charity industry is very much under scrutiny, it really is vital that we give supporters the respect they’re due. Gentle reminders are one thing, but can all too easily tip into regular bullying if appropriate limits aren’t set on the frequency of comms.
Using "air traffic control" to ensure that would-be donors aren’t over-emailed, creating prioritisation rules around who gets what, and when are good aims for individual charities. Wouldn’t it be something if charities could get together to air traffic control their collective communications?
Be mindful of your medium
Use your channels to their best effect. SMS can be precision timed. Email can be the first stepping stone on an immersive journey. Direct mail can be tactile, interactive, and dramatic. Thinking about how the individual channel works best, not simply replicating messaging and approach across a range of channels, will create more impactful communications and more response.
Direct mail can be used to deliver branded reminders to respond. Instead of the usual hackneyed pens, how about delivering useful items that help deliver the core message?
Delivering useful items
Refuge created a campaign called "Slap" where they sent cover-up make up to women, to dramatise the fact that 1 in 4 women will be subject to domestic violence in their lives, and that the recipient would probably know someone who may be covering it up, who would be living in fear of domestic violence right at that moment.
Another great example is National Trust which created a mailing designed to get kids away from the TV set (or tablet) and go out and do something less boring instead. They were encouraged to take a night-time safari, taking a walk into the countryside.
Parents were sent a magic poster for their kids’ walls that comes alive when it gets dark, just as nature does. Using phosphorescent ink (the very ink the Highways Agency uses to get things noticed) the daytime scene transforms, as the night falls and the moon appears.
Beyond signing up to donate
Direct mail can also play a role in encouraging a response beyond signing up to donate. A blank piece of paper can be a place for the recipient to send a personal message, to write down exactly why they want to make a legacy, or to draw how they would feel if they were in the victim’s situation.
World Vision, with their Grow Hope campaign, used direct mail to allow regular sponsors to write a letter of encouragement to their individual sponsored child, to encourage children that vegetables aren’t "poor man’s food".
Charity direct marketing can be mind-numbingly formulaic. Of course there are tried and trusted techniques, audience groups who always perform better, channels and channel mixes that have designed roles. But, as with all direct marketing, if you don’t try something new, you’ll never move forward. Yes, your money is precious, but you will never unlock growth if you don’t test new things.
Whether it’s creating a bit of doormat drama, or trying a dramatically more personal approach, you should always be thinking about your bank of best hypotheses that you want to test.
Be results focused
Last and not least, brimming with ideas about new things to try, make sure you know the effect of your forays into the new. Test and learn. Try and understand. Measure and identify. Track the ROI and understand attitudinal impact. Make sure you know exactly how your new activities are (and equally important, are not) working. Because that’s the only way you’re going to get even better.
Making valuable connections requires a spirit that embraces change. By investing in more engaging and personal direct marketing techniques, charities can get closer to their supporters and create more reciprocal relationships. This is ultimately a smarter and more valuable way to fundraise.
In 2014 when Macmillan redefined what it was in the world to do, it triggered a shift away from being an organisation which cares for people affected by cancer to a powerful movement which released control of its brand and allowed everyone involved to become, not only a brand ambassador, but a co-producer.
Key to Macmillan’s success was multiplying its limited budget by a highly engaged and motivated "fan base", a strategy that was deemed both bold and dangerous yet resulted in Macmillan becoming one of the UK's most recognised, trusted and respected brands, trumping many bigger spenders in the process.
Without doubt this took courage. Building a platform from which everyone can participate and then stepping back to allow them to do so meant relinquishing control over the brand. And let’s face it, brands are carefully crafted, well guarded portrayals of what an organisation is about. If we take a brand as being the very perception someone holds in their mind of a product, service or cause, then surely it needs protecting, particularly in a highly competitive and fickle market such as the third sector.
This type of co-creation, as shown in the case of Macmillan, taps into the most powerful form of drive, one that builds brands by aligning with a transformative idea.
Identifying the brand message
To make this happen requires sourcing and then magnifying the very essence of what the brand is about. The key is identifying this brand message which is achieved by understanding and accessing what the target audience truly believes.
The focus here is on sharing rather than selling, joining the conversation rather than taking over the microphone. It is no longer about the individual, it is about the group as a whole and it is as far away from good old fashioned persuasion as a brand manager can get. Which is why marketers need to distance themselves from the end result, in effect becoming the enabling tool to help people express and achieve their goals.
This shift to brands generously handing over the reins and allowing their target audiences - their beneficiaries, supporters, donors - to co-produce focuses on brands using digital to converse rather than broadcast. Co-creating therefore is about tapping into people’s core drivers and emotions, and getting to the very essence of what the brand means to them. This is really important in relation to charities' interface with their audiences.
Some brands are more tentative about it than others. If we think of brand building as the deliberate and skillful application of effort to create a desired perception in someone else’s mind (the beneficiary, supporter, donor), then it makes sense that the next step is to empower and encourage said consumer to roll up their sleeves and become a co-creator. What better way to ensure emotional engagement?
Those brands that seize the opportunity to redefine their roles and reshape their visions using their audiences as their co-creators are reaping the rewards. A good example of this occurred when the NUS asked its target audience, in this case students, what they wanted and centred its entire marketing proposition around their responses. In so doing they got to the hearts of the 7 million students it represents and showcased the realities of students’ lives and their belief in the power of students to drive change.
The resulting rebrand took the students’ voices and crafted a brand that aims to shape the future of education. Like Macmillan, NUS handed over its digital platforms for people to set up their own interest and sub groups, further strengthening the bond with the brand.
Genuine emotional stories
The charity sector, more than any other sector, has genuine emotional stories to tell. Whether charities are supporting those affected by cancer, working with homeless people or saving endangered species, theirs are true life stories that shape peoples lives, dreams and hopes. The very fact that they champion a cause could result in human co-creation turning into a powerful revolution However, it does require a shift in mindset if charities are to make the most of it.
The flip side of charities closely touching people’s lives is that, at times, these same participants can be critical, their experiences will not always be heart-warming and positive. That is part of the textured third sector landscape; it is not always filled with happy endings
A charity brand may find it is co-producing with less than happy beneficiaries, supporters, donors, but that is precisely what will make for a unique brand which is authentic, which genuinely mirrors what is needed, because it comes straight from the target audience’s heart. It will not always be glossy or rosy but it will be powerful and that in itself will make the brand messaging transformative.
By shifting the mindset away from "target" audience, which implies a more predatory attitude, to "participants", we break down the walls between the organisation and the people, turning the focus towards "us" rather than "them". The result will be transformational as those charities which base their marketing on the aggregation of all the conversations between themselves and their audiences will, in effect, be creating a bottom-up community which will gain in momentum as it develops.
Currently charities are losing support as well as vital donor engagement. The more they try to shore up and resist the negative messaging, the worse it becomes. The more they try to put a veneer over their brand, the wider the cracks become. As it turns out, the reason for this could become the solution to their woes. Throwing open the gates to their digital platforms, encouraging people to become active participants, giving them a voice and handing over the microphone as it were, will lay the foundations towards a fresh new perception of what charities are about.
Demand for authentication
This is all the more timely as the millennial generation gains traction. With their highly altruistic values, this generation above any other demands authenticity, something that charities should be poised to tap into. Key is for charities to establish from the outset what they stand for, and ensure their values are clearly showcased.
Building a solid platform with an overarching principle behind it rather than a jumble of content enables a charity to craft its own unique vision and footprint. The next step is to turn to its audiences and ask them to build on this vision, to create a brand that resonates with them and has true meaning for all those people it touches.
Otherwise, if digital is merely used as another means of broadcast then many charities risk slipping into oblivion.