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Telling your story helps create your brand
A brand is arguably an organisation’s most vital asset. It’s a customers’ first touch point with the organisation, and first impressions matter. Its job is to represent the values, ethics, and ultimately, what the company or product stands for. It’s no wonder then that some of the most successful organisations have invested substantial resources into developing a strong brand.
Having a powerful brand is important in any sector but never more so than for charities, as they arguably have to work that much harder to grab people’s attention and more importantly, evoke change.
While FMCG or fashion brands also have to battle it out for consumer attention, in the end they have something to offer - a product or a service. Ultimately, if a consumer is thirsty, they will buy a drink. The challenge for drinks brands for example, is to simply sway the choice between one drink to another. For charities however, the challenge to sway the decision between one to the other is merely the tip of the iceberg.
What charities are ultimately asking people to do, is something they don’t "need" to do, at a cost to them – whether it be donating items, time or money. Simply put, charities are less experiential as the benefit experienced by the donor by giving their money or time remains intangible. This is where a strong brand starts to play a key part in a charity’s success, by offering a visual touch point which can instantly do that all important thing. Tell a story.
The ultimate goal for a charity is to get people to stop and think, and to stir their emotions enough to win their support, subsequently leading them to action. Therefore the importance of having a strong brand is becoming increasingly recognised by many charities, but it’s not an easy task to undertake.
Ultimately, the rules for branding a charity are the same as in any other sector. Furthermore, like a number of industries, the third sector is also incredibly noisy. There are so many charities supporting so many different causes both locally and globally, all fighting for the public’s attention. It simply becomes impossible for people to make a quiet choice, so more often than not, they go for the one they have heard of rather than one that they would otherwise choose.
Herein lies the challenge for charities - the brand they create needs to not only be strong enough to catch people’s attention but also garner a deeper relationship. They are effectively asking for greater commitment and unlike consumer brands, charities rarely have the opportunity or the resources to offer supporters an experiential element. So what do charities need to keep in mind?
A story is only as good as the storyteller. Before you can develop a brand, you have to be clear about what you want to say. Charities need to make sure they develop a defined purpose, with a clear mission and a strong set of values, which will help people instantly understand what the charity is trying to do and why it is trying to do it. Alongside this comes the need for a clear personality and tone of voice, which will help the public understand why they should get involved.
Once a charity has a clear purpose, it then becomes about building a narrative which people can easily comprehend and trust. Clarity and consistency help to establish and maintain a sense of trust which is crucial for any charity and a key factor in creating the emotional pull, as it helps drive people to donate their time and money to a cause. But, as with all good stories there is a subtle balance between emotion and logic which must be maintained. Too logical and people won’t care. Too emotional and they’ll feel pressured.
While an emotive tone of voice is crucial, there is still a need for charities to maintain the logical stance of cause-problem-solution, helping drive supporters to action and offering a brand experience that makes them feel like they’re part of something bigger.
There are some charities which are brilliant at offering that wider experience to the public. Think about those which have developed events, dedicated days, runs, dress codes. All of which have grown to become part of something people can really engage with and are proud to show their support for. A group of friends wear onesies to work to raise money. A family runs 15k in memory of their dad. A superstar takes a selfie soaking wet, after throwing a bucket of ice-water over themselves.
All of these become touch points with an organisation – reasons to engage, trust and then action because you support the cause, and not just because you’ve heard of the charity.
Once you have clarified the purpose and audience, and established what the charity stands for, you can develop a tone of voice and messaging that communicate the brand. What a charity represents will form a key part of this messaging and way of communicating with the public. Those representing vulnerable groups such as children, elderly people and animals are most likely to go down the emotive route. It plays on the natural human instinct to want to protect such groups. It fits.
A charity representing a disease may take a totally different approach as its purpose and the thing it is representing is very different. Cultivating a "we can beat this together" attitude amongst viewers is a trend one is noticing a number of charities within this sector adopting. It really seeks to get people behind a cause as a united group to bring an end to a disease or condition, which arguably is not self inflicted or inflicted by other people, but rather something that we can’t necessarily control. It makes people want to be part of something bigger. Again, it fits.
However, developing a brand is not always that simple for many charities. They have to have the resource needed to not only craft a strong brand but also stick to it. Furthermore, measuring brand success for a charity is not as clear as in the private sector. A drinks company relaunches its brand - sales rise; social engagement climbs; and the share price rises. A success by anyone’s standards. But for a charity, measuring the success of a brand is as much about positive advocacy and consumer participation as it is about financial donations.
Overall, what charities have to keep in mind when looking to create a brand, or indeed rebrand, is that success will be equally about boosting brand awareness and presence within the marketplace, as it will be about increasing donations. And while it may be harder to measure the overall success, it by no means makes it ignorable. A brand will act as a window into the charity. It tells its story to the world. And whoever said “never judge a book by its cover”, clearly never put much faith in their story.
Prioritising user experience to achieve mobile success
A recent survey by Eduserv revealed that for many charities a huge proportion of donations come via mobile. For renowned animal charity Dogs Trust, for example, 65% of traffic now arrives at their site via a mobile device. But many charities don’t seem to be investing their time into their mobile sites in quite the same way, and therefore could be missing out on crucial donations.
This aversion to change appears to stem from a concern about whether it is worth investing time and budget focusing on mobile. However, according to Econsultancy, smartphone usage has risen from 39% in 2011 to 51% in 2012, and 61% in 2013, which means the pressure is mounting for charities to consider optimising their websites for mobile.
User experience as a driver
Charities should, first and foremost, think about how to design their mobile site so that the user journey is as easy and pain-free as possible. This is where the concept of user experience, or UX, comes in. UX as a driving principle aims to reflect the needs, preferences, and behaviours of the users to deliver the most compelling and engaging experience possible.
From simply changing the colour of a button, to amending the layout design from adaptive to responsive, there are lots of things charities can do to their mobile website’s UX
Research has proven that UX can have a significant effect on charity websites and the number of donations they receive. A study from the Norwegian Cancer Society found that when the charity redesigned its site to take UX into account, it reported a 50% increase in regular one-off donations online. And while UX isn’t a magic formula, the results show that adopting a user-centric approach helps to drive results dramatically.
Why the need for UX?
There are now multiple ways that people can access a website; be it via mobile devices such as tablets or Smartphones, to desktop PCs or different browsers. And because of the multiplicity of devices, designers have recognised the need for some consistency in experience across all platforms.
Before UX was adopted widely, the design of a website was based purely on aesthetics and what the budget holder wanted. no particular thought was given to how the user would navigate or interact with the site. But over time designers noticed that the sites which stood out and gained the most traction were the ones that were straightforward to use.
Nowadays, the work of a UX designer focuses on attempting to get inside the head of users to try to observe and analyse how the site or app is being used. By looking at the site from the perspective of the user, it is possible to carefully examine elements such as the personalised delivery of information, the user journey, and whether there are any obstacles that might affect the overall experience.
For charities with suitable budget, hiring the expertise of a specialist UX designer would be a worthwhile investment. But for those which don’t have the money, there are a number of straightforward changes that can be made to mobile sites to help streamline the whole user experience
Understand your audience
Before making changes to a website, it is important to consider your audience. There is no point designing a state of the art website only to realise that users cannot engage with it properly. Often charity websites have a complex market segmentation. This is different to an e-tailer that sells men’s clothing for the 20-35 ages, for example, where colours and layouts play a big part in brand image. For a charity site, the focus really needs to be on simplicity, to make the donation process as easy as possible.
Avoiding new and unhelpful trends when it comes to website design might be difficult, but some definitely won’t be suitable for a charity website. Take the burger icon – the three dashes at the corner of many mobile sites that provide a drop down menu – those people who aren’t particularly web-savvy won’t necessarily know what this is and could spend a lot of time searching for a menu before becoming frustrated and abandoning the website altogether.
Carefully considering new trends and how an audience will react to them is crucial. As a general rule, for charities it might be best to avoid them due to the broad nature of target audiences.
Improving the donation process
UX designers also consider the sub-systems within a site. For example, they might examine the donation process to decipher how engaging and straightforward it is to use.
For charities, delving deeper into the effectiveness of the donation process could be instrumental in bringing in more revenue. Unfortunately, many charities unwittingly scare away customers because of an overcomplicated donation process. With complex sites, often donors will find their way on to the homepage with a genuine willingness to donate, but then the process which awaits them is so confusing that they give up half way through.
This is precisely why UX is so integral for charities, because one of the most important aims of a charity mobile site is to get donors through the donation journey as seamlessly as possible.
The average online donation to charities has risen considerably over recent years – a trend which has been attributed largely to the already mentioned rising trend in online giving. Consequently, it makes perfect sense for charities to invest in UX to ensure that increasingly valuable online donations are secured by the donation process being as user friendly as possible.
Prioritise pages for users
When it comes to mobile, efficiency is key. With this in mind, it would be wise to identify what the core pages are and put several fundraising "calls to action" on them, rather than just having one dedicated donation page. This means that users do not have to search through various pages and bodies of text to find what they are looking for, and can be taken straight to the donation form as swiftly as possible.
No unnecessary tasks
It is a good idea to get rid of any optional fields that could cause unnecessary deliberation – unless compulsory, it is unlikely anyone is going to fill them in anyway. Decluttering a site and making the navigation easier to use will also enhance the UX. As well as this, it’s important to ensure all text is readable and the language used is easy to understand.
To minimise any distractions, ensure the design of the site helps to direct the user's attention towards the donation itself. A design where the focus is on simplicity helps to communicate the overall message.
The structure and content of donation forms should be varied, and a number of editions tested to see what works best. Clearly labelling buttons to state what they actually do rather than using a buzz word can make the process a lot cleaner.
For example, instead of having a "submit" button, changing it to something like "become a member" can help users understand what is being asked of them. It is also important to make clear which forms are compulsory, as this can reduce the time it takes to complete the form and help to reduce errors.
Don’t assume other devices
It is important to remember that not everyone has access to a desktop computer or laptop as well as a mobile - some users will only be able to access the site via their mobile device. With this in mind, the content of the websites should be consistent throughout, regardless of the device being used.
Often mobile sites contain less information than the main site and this can sometimes lead to frustration and overall poor UX. Rather than reducing the amount of content on the mobile device, a better solution is to prioritise content. Mobile users tend to interact with a site differently and will look for specific information rather than browse pages. For this reason it is important that the priority be given to the key features and content so that users are able to find what they're looking for easily and take action accordingly.
Always test first
It is worth again noting that UX is by no means a precise science, so before launching or relaunching your site it is crucial to test the site with real users to get feedback on its design, structure, and ease of use. What works for one charity will not necessarily work with another, reinforcing the need to fully understand the audience before considering making any final adjustments.
There are lots of charities out there that could benefit from giving their desktop or mobile site a UX makeover. Getting inside the head of the user and understanding how they feel about the website can help to improve overall UX and ultimately increase the number of donations and the success of a mobile site.
Charity branding for the charities really needing it
It is a well known fact that the charity sector has close to 164,000 charities all competing for the same pool of donations, contracts, influence, volunteers and supporters. Yet the actual number of charities dropped in the years 2003-2013, and as the pool of charities shrunk, the number of big charities rose sharply – from 460 in 2003 to some 958 in 2013.
As a consequence, of the 164,000 charities, those with less than £500,000 annual income make up 88% of the entire sector, taking only 10% of the total charities income.
This market imbalance has been further compounded by the knock on effect of the financial crash. The age of austerity can no longer be termed a "blip". it is a new landscape that charities have to become accustomed to if they are to survive. And, with the number of charities remaining large, and the available funds static, competition for those funds is becoming more and more intense.
The charity sector is not unique in suffering the effects of polarisation. This is a characteristic of many markets from technology through to finance. When the middle sized players lack either scale or specialism they are in a dangerous place.
Domination by the big players
Also, of course, the charity sector is dominated by the big players – the MacMillans and the RSPCAs of this world. They are the ones with the focus and messages that are immediately understood by their target audiences. As they’ve grown, they have been getting more of the share of income, influence and contacts. They have the size and the consistency that enables them to invest in their marketing effort, in innovation, in developing new services for their clients – and in their brand.
At the other end of the scale, there is the multitude of small, specialist charities which also focus on a narrow range of issues. While small, they often operate on a local level, and speak directly to their constituency because of their "closeness to the ground" and to their stakeholders.
Then there are the ones in between – the "squeezed middle" which have neither the scale nor the specialism to help them compete..
Positioned between the large, uber brands and the small, specialised charities, this "bulge" of small to medium operations have neither the nationwide "footprint" of awareness and commitment enjoyed by the big charities, nor the strong local ties and loyal constituency of the micro-charities.
For many of them, there are a set of problems: lack of differentiation, lack of focus and lack of voice. Some claim that the effort of fundraising and awareness raising would be better directed away from this undifferentiated sector, and towards the larger charities. The Charities Commission itself has commented on the duplication that exists between many of these.
Clearly, these charities are struggling to compete with each other to carve out their territory and develop sustainable income and future growth.
Drifting from the original mandate
Over time some charities, like any other organisation, tend to lose touch with their original mandate – very often a specific one – and allow their message and their activities to become ill-defined, generalised and blurred. Like any brand in need of revitalisation, a solution is to look back in time and find the "core truth" that lies behind its original foundation.
Lack of voice does not mean staying silent. On the contrary, you can shout as loud as, or louder than, anyone else, but if your words aren’t relevant and don’t stand out, no one will hear what you say. There was, a few years ago, an ad campaign for an Irish beer, with the strapline: "Strong Words, Softly Spoken". If the words are right, it may not be necessary to use a megaphone to get your message across.
It might be worth, when considering your message, to ask yourself the following four questions: Is my message distinct? Is it relevant? Is it unique in the sector? And is it motivating to my target audience? Distinct, relevant, unique and motivating!
While most people are aware of the need for branding, there is still some confusion about what a brand is or does. Branding isn’t necessarily big spends on TV, large marketing departments or complex ways of communicating to an audience. The purpose of branding is to build and exploit an identity and reputation in order to reach out to and inspire all stakeholders. Branding isn’t "puffery"; it’s a practical business tool.
It follows that to invest in branding is to invest in the future of a given charity, and to invest in what it exists to do – to serve the particular cause it has been set up to do.
The big charities know this and have invested in their brands over many years, enabling them to keep pace with the changing world we live in. The micro-charities, being close to the ground and their target audience, position themselves through the direct experiences they bring to their clients and volunteers. It is the charities in the "squeezed middle" that need to build and exploit their brands in order to build long term, income generating, sustainable and thriving organisations.
Defining what makes unique
To do this, they must first define what it is that makes them unique. This process of defining can take different forms. For instance, in the case of volunteering charity CSV, it embraced and "owned" the transformational value of social volunteering – both for its clients and the volunteers themselves. This defined the charity's driving brand principle – "Volunteering Matters"- which defined its unique territory and enabled it to reach out to and inspire all stakeholders, from staff and volunteers to the general public
By contrast, mental health support charity Richmond Fellowship defined itself by creating partnerships with other organisations which shared the same set of powerful beliefs. In doing so it created a new offering that advanced its operation, shared skills and resources, and drove forward its cause together with partners such as Aquarius, My Time, Croftlands and Can. This "collective" approach set it apart in the sector and gave the charity the differentiation and standout that it needed
So what is a brand positioning for? It performs a number of functions. Brand positioning enables the charity brand to claim, and own a particular territory for itself. It defines the core philosophy and message for external and internal stakeholders. It will also help define which media are most appropriate as a vehicle for getting that message most directly to a target audience. And most important, it will signal the continued ‘right to exist’ – the unique space a charity occupies in the sector.
Not an easy task
It’s not easy to find a brand positioning – often, those within a charity are too close to it to be able to stand back and use the tools and techniques required to identify and distill it. Furthermore, a brand positioning is not the same as a line of copy – however arresting or relevant that copy may be.
A brand positioning should define not just what a charity says about itself, but what the brand actually means. It should define how an audience perceives the charity and what associations they should make with it. It should also define what those audiences are saying about the charity to others.
By defining a brand positioning, a charity will create the crucial difference between itself and others that will give it a unique voice which "cuts through" to its audience. It will benefit not only itself and further its ambitions, not only the sector as a whole – but, most important of all, its own beneficiaries.
It may even help it to survive.
Boosting online traffic with free assistance
The number of charities with their own websites has increased rapidly over the past few years, as they realise the impact of online donations and having a presence on the web. But as charities, investing budget on a shiny new website and digital marketing strategy simply isn’t at the top of the priorities list.
Unfortunately, though, not driving the right traffic to a well-optimised site could mean some charities are missing out on all important donations. There are a whole host of aids that charities can get cost-free, or discounted, that they might not be aware of when it comes to their website, including offerings from Google and services like free hosting.
Why a presence online
In this day and age, when consumers are spending more and more time online, it makes sense for all organisations to have a presence in the digital world. It’s therefore important that charities understand why investing time into the website and driving the right traffic to it is crucial. A website is not only a brilliant way to raise the profile of a charity, its cause, and the impact it has – it’s also an effective way to gather donations.
However, there are a number of charities which aren’t quite getting it right when it comes to their website. According to Eduserv, the not for profit IT provider, nearly a third of charities (32%) require donors to complete over 20 fields and clicks on their website before they can actually donate. This is far too many, and increases the chances of users moving away from the page before they have completed the transaction, which is likely to have a serious impact on charity donations.
By having a website that is not user friendly, charities could be missing out if visitors don’t convert into donors. Luckily, there are a number of e-commerce and web agencies which actually offer charities help with their website free of charge, something that is well worth looking into.
Once a website is optimised, charities need to launch an effective digital marketing strategy to drive traffic to it and boost donations. Fortunately, Google offers a number of tools that help charities push traffic to their websites, such as grants for adverts and extra perks that make the most of YouTube.
What is a Google Grant?
Google offers brilliant packages for charities ("non-profits") that should be taken advantage of. Many businesses spend vast amounts of money on these tools that charities can get for free, or discounted.
Google Grants offers charities up to £6,000 per month to spend on Google AdWords - the advertising service by Google which allows businesses to display ads on Google and its advertising network. Available to all registered charities, ads delivered through Google AdWords will appear on Google's search pages for chosen keywords, like "charity donations".
When users search for keywords they will see the ads, boosting the chance of them visiting the website, which can result in increased web traffic, leading to donations. This kind of advertising will not only boost traffic to a charity's website, but it will ensure that the right people are directed, increasing the chance of them converting into donors.
It’s not just AdWords that Google offers free of charge, though. There are a number of other beneficial tools available to charities.
YouTube for charities
Video is set to be the biggest influencer in marketing in coming years, with networking software company Cisco predicting video will account for 69% of all consumer internet traffic by 2019. For charities, video marketing campaigns generated 670m views in 2014 alone, according to the online marketing guide reelseo.com.
As well as the benefits that come with the standard YouTube package, Google’s YouTube for Non-profits package includes a "donate now" button next to videos posted to the channel. Videos promoting your charity and the work that you do are a great way to show those who donate how beneficial their help is to your cause. And YouTube is the world’s largest online video community, giving you the opportunity to reach a mass audience at your fingertips.
Google Analytics can give valuable insights into a website's activity, and enables users to understand how people use it, such as where they spend most on their time on site. This is really useful for charities as it allows them to find out where donations are coming from, and where these might potentially need targeting more effectively. Google Analytics allows users to drill down to demographics and locations of the people using a particular website, which is especially useful for charities when developing and shaping campaigns.
Although not specific to optimising websites, Google Apps offers charities cloud computing services that reduce IT costs and help staff and volunteers work together in real time. Tools included in the package are Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Drive. Some charities might be using these already, but for those which aren’t, they’re free tools and a brilliant way to keep everyone connected.
The above tools are all useful for creating a strong digital marketing strategy which helps to drive traffic to a website that can turn into donations. There are, however, other platforms that charities can use to gain visitors, some of which they are already benefiting from.
Social media platforms
Social media is one of the platforms that is already being successfully optimised by charities - take Cancer Research’s’ no make-up selfie and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Association’s ice bucket challenge, for example. But social media platforms can also be used as a channel to attract potential donators to the website, where the charity’s work can be profiled in more detail. However, although building social media followers is all well and good, it’s crucial to be speaking to the right people too.
If, for example, a charity writes a blog post demonstrating some of the work it has done over the past few months, pushing this over social media platforms is a brilliant way to drive traffic to the website. However, making sure followers are built up organically is important here.
It’s not always about the numbers; it’s about quality, and whether the people following are really engaging. If they aren’t, it can be a waste of time. Speaking with followers regularly across social platforms and making attempts to track what types of posts grab their attention the most, is a good way to figure out what type of content they’re engaging with.
Although creating exciting content on any website is brilliant for bringing people from other places to somewhere they can donate, if it’s being hosted on a site that’s not easy to use, visitors are likely to switch off before they read anything – never mind donate money or purchase goods.
Cost effective hosting
Aside from offerings from Google for charities, there are a lot of other businesses which will give away services or products for free. Whether this is an e-commerce agency offering to build you a new website free of charge as we mentioned earlier, or a PR firm helping you gain coverage in the media for free, there’s a lot charities can benefit from if they do their research.
When it comes to a website specifically, hosting is crucial to keep it running smoothly. If for whatever reason it goes down, gets hacked, or someone visiting hits a 404 page, an expert needs to be on hand to fix any issues as soon as possible. Hosting can be expensive but there are a lot of companies which are happy to look after your site at no, or little cost.
The web is also ever-changing, so being in touch with professionals working in the digital sector means there will be advice on hand. Google, for example, constantly changes how it decides its SERPS (search engine results pages) – so it’s useful for charities that don’t have expertise in this area to have someone they can pick up the phone to if they’re ever unsure.
Website on mobile
The latest update from Google means that websites will now be penalised if they’re not mobile friendly – something that charities really need to be aware of. According to the Office for National Statistics, access to the internet using a mobile phone more than doubled between 2010 and 2014, from 24% to 58%. So it’s becoming increasingly clear that mobile is where digital is heading.
It’s therefore more important than ever for charities to optimise this tool, not only to maintain their place in Google’s SERPs, but to make sure they’re accommodating consumer habits to maintain a flow of donations. However, some charities don’t seem to be taking this on board so far. Research by Eduserv found that only 62% of charities have sites that are optimised for mobile.
If charities take note and make the most of at least some of these tools and services, it is likely their donations will increase due to a boost in traffic to the website and the ease of making a donation online. As the digital landscape changes and evolves, charities need to make attempts to keep up. It’s not easy when working at a charity, but the results should make putting in some time and effort worth it.
Common failings of charity website strategies
Charities are potentially missing out on millions of pounds in online donations by not putting digital at the heart of their fundraising strategies. Storytelling, explaining your work and creating often hard-hitting campaigns are crucial to successful fundraising and earning long term support from donors.
While many charities spend significant sums increasing awareness and getting people to engage with their work, many other charities are missing out on potential support by not taking advantage of the change in donor attitudes towards engaging and supporting causes through online channels.
The British public increasingly depends on online resources and has high digital expectations of every organisation. In addition, viral campaigns such as last year’s #ALSicebucketchallenge can drive massive engagement and spikes in donations. However, some charities have been slow to capitalise on their supporters’ shift to online engagement and donation methods leading to a potential shortfall of millions of pounds worth of donations per year. Over 20% of all UK charity donations in the last 12 months were executed online.
In many instances, when people reach charity websites for more information or to make a donation, they are let down. Many sites are difficult to navigate or don’t work hard enough to convert interest into support. In our research we found there are four common website failings that charities need to correct in order to begin to gain their fair share of the potential support and donations online. These relate to home page optimisation, website page loading, donation buttons, and mobile buttons.
Home page optimisation
The page title is the most important "on page" search engine optimisation (SEO) signal. Yet 42% of charities fail to optimise their home page titles and risk a poor performance in search engines, as well as missed donations. If your site doesn’t appear in search engine results pages (SERPs) when people search for you (with possibly a slightly incorrect name or spelling), how can they find you?
An optimised page title and correct mark up for the homepage will help you in a variety of ways. It is essential in helping a site rank higher in the SERPs for a wide range of relevant search terms, and for creating intelligible search snippets in the search results. It also influences the way the page is shown in tab titles of internet browsers and when shared via social media.
Non-optimised page titles often reference just the charity name or include the keyword "home". So unless your charity name equals the search term, people will have trouble finding your website. On the other hand, a bespoke homepage title will encourage conversion and clicks to your site. There are a few things that you can do to make this work for you.
Firstly, while search engines will truncate titles in the search results if they exceed a certain length, many SEO experts believe that the keywords used in the page title will be used for ranking purposes. So don’t feel restricted by a particular specification or word limit.
Secondly, use your important keywords upfront. This can be your brand name if your charity is well known or keyword descriptors of the work you do. By getting to the point quickly and using the front of the title tag to explain what your site is about you can positively impact click through rates (CTR) from the listing in the search results.
Finally, create an emotional connection with a potential supporter by conveying the most positive message possible about the work your charity does and reassure them that you are dedicated to your chosen cause. You can do this in the meta description that accompanies the page title and appears below the search snippet heading.
Website page loading
Every one second delay in page load times results in a 7% loss in conversions (source: Tagman).
Let’s take the average donation size of £29 and average charity conversion rate of 3.96% (site visitor to donation). We can assume that if your charity website usually receives 100,000 visits per month but takes one more second to load, your conversion rate will drop to 3.68%, so donations could fall by up to £97,440 every year.
It’s relatively easy to determine whether a site is running slowly. Google takes page load speeds into account for search rankings by assigning each website a speed score between 0-100 points. A score higher than 85 indicates a site is performing well. Anything below that would require improvements.
We found that only 10% of charities achieved a score of 80 or higher. 32 charities had a speed score of less than 60, which denotes poor page load speeds. With another 35% having scores in the 60s, there are a significant number of charities which could do more to improve site speed to increase visitor engagement and donor conversion.
In order to compare the performance of key landing pages in your site and also review suggestions for improvements to individual pages, consult the site speed data in Google Analytics on your website. Improving page speeds can be a highly technical task, but there are a number of actions that every webmaster should be able to take such as avoiding landing page redirects, enabling compression, optimise images and prioritising visible content to name a few.
Donation buttons need to be visible to work. Yet 26 websites (20%) included in our research did not mention the word "donate" on their home page at all. Of those that do facilitate giving, the donation buttons are often not prominent enough to attract particular attention.
It is important to recognise that the primary reason for a visit to your website may not be to donate. Many users’ first visit to your site may be an information search, often prompted by a personal experience. The role of the site is always to answer questions about what the charity does, why it is needed and by whom. Answering visitors’ questions plays an important part in nurturing their support and so prompting them to help you financially or in other practical ways should always be included as you tell your story.
Every charity should make it simple for visitors to access the information they need and to donate, if they decide to do so. Yet too often, this dual requirement is not adequately reflected in home page design. Site visitors need to be guided through your site and you must tell them what they should do, in an obvious but not intrusive way.
Frequent and obvious suggestions to "find out more" and to "support our work" instruct the user how to get more involved with the site and the information it holds, as well as how to show support for the cause. Having multiple calls to action that encourage visitors to donate must therefore be a key consideration for every charity.
According to Google, 36% of all searches in the "Donations and Charitable Giving" sector are now on mobile devices and this percentage is forecast to continue to grow.
Charities need to make a step change in the way they market their brands and become more accessible for mobile device users. However, almost 70% of the charities surveyed used the same template for their mobile, desktop and tablet sites. If they continue to ignore the importance of delivering an appropriate mobile device user experience, opportunities to maximise donations or support online will be lost.
For our own charity clients, on average 21% of all website sessions are on a mobile device. If we again take the average donation size of £29, unique monthly users totalling 100,000 per month, and average mobile conversion rate of 0.2%, then on average, mobile contributes around £14,616 in donations for our fictional charity each year. Charities which cater for a mobile audience and move to a responsive design will see conversion rates increase significantly and they won’t lose out as more people choose to browse on their phones or tablets.
Over 20% of all UK charity donations in the last 12 months were executed online. While charities spend significant sums of money on awareness and engagement campaigns, many unfortunately lose sight of their website’s role in securing donations.
Addressing the barriers to success could help charities increase website donations and help future-proof their online strategies to ensure they secure additional donations as more and more people use online and mobile methods for charitable transactions.
"Many sites are difficult to navigate or don't work hard enough to convert interest into support."
"...create an emotional connection with a potential supporter by conveying the most positive message possible about the work your charity does and reassure them that you are dedicated to your chosen cause."
The print renaissance for charity marketing
Far from being pushed aside by digital communications print is undergoing something of a renaissance, serving as a key element alongside digital techniques in sophisticated multi-channel marketing campaigns. This article is about how a multi-channel approach – with print as the centrepiece - can drive donor engagement and boost response in the charity sector.
Tablets, smartphones, social media, the web – the number of ways of reaching donors and potential donors seems to grow year on year. But while charities of every size wrestle with harnessing the potential of these digital communication opportunities, one very traditional medium is undergoing a revolution that is making donors and prospects sit up and take notice.
The print and production industry has been furiously innovating, driving printed output that forms the eye-catching cornerstone of the very latest charity multi-channel campaigns. Some marketing analysts have equated the latest focus on print with that of the upsurge in sales of vinyl records – a reaction to a saturated digital market and a nostalgic nod to the past. But this is a false comparison. Far from competing against the latest digital upstarts for charity marketers’ affections and budget, print is being used in tandem with digital marketing to powerful effect.
Providing more information
In 2013 New Philanthropy Capital's Money for Good UK report revealed that the British public would give £665m more to charity each year if charities provided more information about evidence of impact and how their money is spent. In other words, communicating more effectively with stakeholders has the potential to transform the fortunes of the sector.
A recent finding from the Direct Marketing Association reveals that 74% of consumers are happy to receive direct marketing if the approach is relevant. Clearly, data plays a critical role in achieving this relevancy and leading players in the charity sector are working with specialists to achieve the desired level of data hygiene. An in-depth data analysis can cleanse, enhance and de-dupe data, enabling recipients to be categorised and targeted with messages that are directly relevant.
Once prepared, data can be put to work across any channel. Highly personalised letters, emails, direct mail communications and brochures can be used in any combination – with the personalisation factor proven to improve conversion (or engagement) rates by up to 25%. New innovations in print enable such personalisation to extend cost effectively to hard copy marketing materials.
High quality, full colour digital printing allows text and image data to be swapped out and adapted to segment the creative to an individual level, presenting the recipient with a tactile, highly personalised mailpiece.
Direct mail continues to be the nation’s favourite point of contact with charities. In fact according to research from the Institute of Fundraising, donor preference for direct marketing increased from 25% to 34% between 2010 and 2012.
Tangibility of print
The tangibility of print - having something to hold and read at leisure – is regarded by many charity sector commentators as a definite plus amidst the digital deluge. The latest print technology is able to efficiently process a huge variety of paper stocks, and the choice of paper and the chosen finish can play a huge part in brand perception and conveying brand values. This is certainly recognised in the retail sector – particularly amongst fashion brands where catalogues and "look-books" are printed on tactile papers with specialist finishes.
Whilst the charity sector is very different, many are recognising that the quality of printed output can influence factors such as how long a campaign mail-out is retained and resulting response rates.
Whatever combination of print and digital is used to convey the campaign message it is vital to capture subsequent response and to use this information to inform future campaigns. Again, charities are working with specialist document solutions providers to capture and convert campaign and fundraising interaction and feedback. Activity can be monitored and recorded, providing the charity with valuable insight into the targeted market and its preferred method of communication.
Often, the printed element of a campaign will include a call to action that drives the recipient to a website and encourages an online response. This digital interaction should be measured, and the best partners will make such tracking easy and instant allowing real time analysis of online responses via a personalised online dashboard, offering variable statistics and live reporting on a campaign’s performance.
Not inflexible and outdated
In a digital age, some charities may be under the misconception that print is an inflexible and outdated means of reaching out to stakeholders and donors. In fact, the very opposite is true. Used in conjunction with digital communications, today’s print options provide charities with a powerful means of delivering eye-catching, highly personalised campaigns which speak directly and convincingly to the audience.
The choice is not digital or mail. Rather, channels must be made to work together in a way that makes engagement compelling and interaction and response as convenient as possible. Competition for funding has never been tighter and it will be increasingly difficult to generate income without stand-out marketing. Increasingly, the charity sector is waking up to print being a key element of this multi-channel conversation.
Drawing on the commercial sector for brand managers
Capturing the hearts, minds and support of the public today is perhaps much more difficult than it has ever been. Not only is the public now acutely cost-aware, but as charity communications teams employ more sophisticated tactics, the competition for share of voice has never been higher. Bring in big brands such as Ben & Jerry’s and Innocent Drinks pushing their own joint CSR initiatives and competition is becoming increasingly intense in a very crowded marketplace.
Some of the highest profile brand-raising campaigns for charities are those which partner major private sector brands, and securing these relationships is big business for charities – again something which requires clear and powerful brand communications.
On top of this, many charities are facing growing mistrust from the public. According to research by think tank New Philanthropy Capital (NPC), one in three people have little trust in charities. What is interesting from this report is that the majority of those with low or medium levels of trust in these organisations admitted that they know very little about the sector, suggesting that existing communications activity isn’t achieving the desired effect.
Learning from commercial businesses
In amongst this crowded and uncertain marketplace, it’s clear that some charities need to up their game in communicating and strengthening their brand, and there is an argument to say that charities could learn a lot from commercial businesses. This doesn’t necessarily mean throwing all available resources at marketing campaigns, though. Instead, investing in the right talent to create a competitive brand for a charity is one of the best ways forward.
In many charities, as with the private sector, communications teams have seen big cut backs during the recession. As we are now seeing uplift in fundraising and increasing consumer spending, it could be time for many charities to adopt a new approach.
Charities rebuilding or bolstering their communications and marketing teams need to identify and attract fresh talent, and drawing these from the private sector can bring a fresh approach if balanced with experienced charity communicators in the team. They will need brand specialists equipped with an understanding of the different motivators of a large target audience and the creative approach that is required to create sufficient noise to make it take notice.
So what does a good brand specialist look like for a charity? One of the most important attributes is commercial understanding.
Given that the key objective in hiring these individuals is to create a brand which can compete for mainstream audiences, charities need to know that they are hiring someone able to cut through the noise and create an image that supports fundraising objectives. In essence, charities need a specialist able to make a real difference to the bottom line using their experience of the corporate world.
Experience of building brands
There are a number of other transferable skills to look out for in an individual. Prior experience of building brands with low awareness and of identifying and working with partnerships to increase brand profile will be key. Candidates also need to have the ability to network and influence internally, as a move to a more commercial branding strategy will always require buy in from senior management and teams across the charity. Some reluctance may be felt and it’s up to these individuals to demonstrate the value of this work in the long term.
Previous experience in reputation management is also useful. If an individual can demonstrate that they have managed to raise the profile of individuals in commercial organisations they can bring that to the charity sector. Many brands have recognisable figureheads and spokespeople but charities tend to rely on celebrities to communicate their message, which carries a considerable risk and is sometimes overly short term focused.
For a charity there will be numerous sources of funding and support – from the general public to corporates. Each of these groups will need to be engaged in a different manner, on a variety of platforms and with tailored messages. As such, a charity brand specialist needs to be able to create a strong profile which appeals to, and is tailored to, all of these audiences.
However, it’s important to remember that making the move from private to public sector can be a big jump for an individual and needs to be managed effectively by all involved. Charities could do more to attract and retain private sector candidates.
Many can be hesitant about interviewing private sector candidates believing it would be too hard for them to make the transition, but it’s also up to charities to aid this move. One of the most important factors to bear in mind is the need to accept change and give the individual room to develop.
Preparing for the new recruit
In order to support this, it’s vital that all relevant parties within the charity are 100% behind the need to make a change before a brand specialist is hired. This could include freeing up a space within the senior team for a new representative of the communications team. Not only will this ensure that no time and money is wasted during the hiring process, but it will also aid talent attraction. For a professional, knowing that they will be working for a team which trusts them fully will reinforce the perception that they will be appreciated and recognised in their role.
Charities must also assess the current situation of the brand before bringing an individual on board. For example, is there a strong reputation that has already been established, or will the professional be building this from scratch? Knowing the current situation will help to identify whether the charity needs a brand creator, developer or manager.
All this preparation ensures that the right hire is made from the off. Employing someone simply to manage an existing brand when in fact awareness of the organisation is relatively low will limit an individual’s success and potentially cause them to exit the charity early on in their development.
Charities are certainly facing numerous challenges at the moment, but it’s clear that having a well-resourced and skilled communications team is essential to gain a share of voice in such a crowded market. Essential to this is having a balance of skills and experience in the team and more movement between the charity and private sectors could be of great benefit for all.
How charities should be using local radio
You will speak to more people during a local radio interview than you will meet in the rest of your life. This is one dinner party fact worth contemplating when considering whether or not to approach your local BBC or commercial radio station to promote your charity’s work or to comment on government policy.
In fact, any interaction with the media is a great way to get a charity’s messages across to thousands of people at once.
An interview is a chance to change perceptions, raise awareness of the work you do and encourage more people to volunteer or support a particular fundraising event. The credibility a charity generates when one of its spokespeople is heard on the radio is far greater than from advertising.
A charity viewpoint
One charity undertaking a lot of radio interviews is Sue Ryder which is keen to boost its presence regionally.
PR manager Paul Martin says radio is a fantastic platform to engage with a huge number of people. “People listen to the radio on a multitude of devices these days at home, in the workplace or on the move in their car or on public transport,” he says. “Radio is an effective way to capture the attention of the public and increase awareness and understanding of who we are and what we do.”
Yet being able to give a great radio interview does not come naturally to everyone and can be quite daunting. But as the charity market becomes increasingly crowded and competitive it is crucial spokespeople can give scintillating interviews to generate free publicity in difficult times.
Martin says he would not send out members of his healthcare, fundraising and retail teams to speak on the airwaves without any media training.
"We feel that it is very important to get the training right so our media spokespeople are comfortable, confident and equipped with the right skills to deliver compelling and memorable interviews,” he says.
Being asked to do a radio interview on behalf of your charity can certainly be scary but with plenty of preparation it is a publicity opportunity you should never turn down.
The power of radio
Radio is such a personal medium and therefore perfect for telling a charity’s story through powerful real life examples. Don’t be afraid to use your own experiences as a great case study.
You want to get to that point where someone is sitting in their car in the car park at work listening to you on the radio. They know they need to go into the office but what they are hearing from you is so compelling they must hear the end of your story.
Radio allows you to create something incredibly memorable. Talk about real people you have helped so listeners can visualise the impact your charity has made. Radio allows you to paint a picture in people’s minds.
Your media and PR team will guide you as to which programmes you should be appearing on. It might be a breakfast or drivetime show to discuss a breaking story which affects your charity’s cause or it could be a softer BBC local radio afternoon phone in where you are taking calls or promoting a forthcoming event. Whatever the programme, make sure you familiarise yourself with it beforehand.
Preparation is crucial. You must be clear on a number of points:
• Why are you doing the interview and are you the right person?
• Who is your audience? Who will actually hear what you have to say?
• Be clear about your objectives from the interview? Is it to recruit more volunteers or get more donations, for instance? Tailor your answers accordingly?
As they say in the army, time spent in planning and reconnaissance is never time wasted. This is especially true when a crisis situation strikes and the media will want to ask your charity some difficult questions. Your PR team needs to know that you can deal with the heat because a bad news story has the potential to damage your charity’s brand and reputation.
How it works
Radio interviews can be live or pre-recorded and there are advantages to both.
A live news interview is usually about 90 seconds but what you say is what the audience hears. With a recorded chat the final edit might not convey the messages you wanted to, but the interview itself would be longer at about three minutes and you can re-record any answers you are not happy with.
Radio interviews can take place in a local studio - a cheaper option for the broadcaster - or on location at an event or at your premises to give more context to the story.
If you agree to take part in a telephone phone-in to discuss a particular theme or topic make sure you practice answering any difficult questions that might come up. Prepare some context-setting answers for obscure questions to help the audience understand why the charity acts in a particular way.
There will be a number of different people involved in putting together a radio programme so it is helpful to understand who does what.
It is usually the producer who decides who gets interviewed while the editor determines how much weight is given to each story. A reporter will interview you on location.
Performance is key
During the radio interview itself it is important to try and relax even if you are feeling nervous. Just take a deep breath and slow down your speech. We can all talk too fast when the nerves kick in. Trust your knowledge of your subject and your expertise.
Obviously the radio audience will only hear your voice so be enthusiastic as this brings the journalist and his audience along with you. A radio interview can also be mentally tiring so turn your energy levels and your voice tone up slightly.
• SMILE. It builds warmth with the presenter and the audience and helps you to talk in a more engaging way. We can hear a smile on the radio.
• BE AWARE OF YOUR HANDS. If you are nervous put your hands on your knees or lap. It will stop you shaking. Or one hand on your lap and the other on the desk to help you make your points. Keep your feet planted flat on the ground.
• MAKE AND MAINTAIN EYE CONTACT. If you find this difficult pick a spot just left or right of the interviewer. If you have to break eye contact always do this by looking down.
• BODY LANGUAGE IS CRUCIAL. How you sit and your posture tells the interviewer a lot about your frame of mind and indicates how they should handle the interview. Lean forward slightly to close the gap between you and the interviewer. If you lean back this indicates you are trying to distance yourself from the interviewer and his questions.
• MENTION THE CHARITY NAME. But don’t do it too often or you won’t be invited back. Use phrases such as "We at (charity name) are doing this…", "At (charity name) we are seeing this a lot…" etc.
One final tip is to think of your time on the radio not as a media interview but as a presentation. You are presenting your charity to thousands of people. You never know, you might start to enjoy it.
"During the radio interview itself it is important to try and relax even if you are feeling nervous."
Returning to marketing basics
When it comes to marketing, charities can't afford to rest on their laurels. Marketing a charity might seem straightforward. After all you're championing a cause which, fundamentally, looks to improve something. Regardless as to what your charity actually is and to what cause it supports, the sentiment behind it is invariably positive. But positivity alone won't bring success.
The charity market is extremely competitive and the amount of worthy causes out there is considerable. The Charities Commission website states that there are 180,000 registered charities in the UK. So this means that your charity is effectively competing against 179,999 rivals when trying to secure donations. And it's important to remember that this is a competition.
Whilst charities often do complement each other's work and in no way try to diminish or belittle the work of others, the fact is that in your eyes, your charity is the most worthy, which is why it's so close to your heart and why you're willing to invest so much time and effort in the cause. If you want your charity to succeed, you need to stand out from your charity rivals.
What is it that makes your charity so important? The key to successful charity marketing is in channelling the passion that you have to tap into the resources of the public. You need to convey the value of your chosen charity in order to persuade people to donate or to contribute.
There are so many worthy causes out there that it's impossible to donate to them all, which means charities must encourage potential donors by showcasing the good work that they do and emphasising the strength of their cause. This is where effective marketing comes to the fore.
There are several key factors to take into consideration when improving your overall marketing strategy.
The first thing to contemplate is the right tone of voice to use for your marketing. This is an important choice to make, as it needs to set the tone for all of your marketing materials. Once you settle on the style you wish to convey, then it needs to be consistent across all of your marketing channels so that you keep on brand and are clear in the message that you wish to get across. If you hit the wrong note, you risk undermining the work that you do as it will fail to appeal to your target market.
What I would say at this stage is personality. Give your brand a personality and you're well on the way to engaging with people. If you create a persona for your marketing that people like and buy in to then it makes it a lot easier and a lot more likely that they'll get on board with your message and contribute. So the first thing you should think about when marketing your charity is the personality that you want to express. It really is essential.
In the course of deciding on the appropriate tone and personality, and as part of the process, you'll need to have established your target demographic. Just who are you aiming to appeal to and how are you going to go about reaching them?
Direct marketing will play a huge part in this. Contrary to what many people seem to believe, direct marketing is far from "dead" and is, in some respects, more important than ever. With the advent of the digital age, many charities have turned away from the more traditional methods. But this change in trend provides an opportunity.
When it comes to direct marketing, digital isn't always better. Email marketing (a form of direct, digital marketing) is low cost, but its effectiveness is declining as more and more people opt to delete emails upon receipt without looking at the content as they receive more and more in their inbox.
Paper-based marketing in general has never gone away, but its use isn't as widespread as email due to the comparative investment. It might cost more, but research has shown that it's the more effective method.
Not everyone is a fan of the digital age. Many donors dislike having to trawl through webpage after webpage to look up information in order to understand a charity and much prefer the convenience and accessibility of a leaflet, letter or flier that's directly to hand and therefore straightforward to read.
Printed marketing material has a physical presence and can communicate by the way it feels, smells and unfolds in your hands, something that an online equivalent simply doesn't provide. It also has "pass through" potential and is often read by several people, with a similar demographic.
Of course, online marketing is still hugely important. The use of direct marketing helps to extend the reach of your website and to introduce you to people who have never heard of you and won't necessarily go looking for you. Integration of all marketing channels is vitally important, and a crucial aspect is that the website sits at the heart of your activity.
Today though, simply having an attractive website isn't enough. It needs to be optimised, so search engines can pick it up when a relevant search is instigated. Search engine optimisation (SEO) means your site gets noticed before others and appears higher up the results listing. Typically, the search engine is likely to be Google, so your site has to be "Google friendly" and be built to exploit its search criteria.
Various marketing strategies, such as pay-per-click advertising, can lead potential donors to your website. But SEO helps to develop organic traffic, which is basically where people are drawn to your site following the input of specific search terms.
For example, you might run a charity that looks to raise funds to improve welfare for the homeless. If I, as a potential donor, were to enter "charity for the homeless" into Google, then you, as the charity, would want your website to appear as the number one search result. Appearing top of the search rankings would mean that lots more visitors are likely to land on your page, increasing the chance of donations.
The complexities of SEO are myriad and considerable effort has to be put into maximising website effectiveness. It is a very complex subject and the main search engine, Google, constantly changes its criteria for searches. This means you have to keep your site bang up to date and keep abreast of search engine revisions. But one increasingly important, but relatively low cost, activity that can help with your SEO, is creating a regular blog.
Search engines constantly look for new activity and if your site is active, with lots of regular new and unique content, the search engines will rank it higher. Blogging is a great way to do this and it helps to build up an authoritative voice and improves engagement in a wider online community.
By passing comment on ongoing drives and projects and the latest developments you keep your target market informed, whilst demonstrating your own involvement, interest and expertise. Many organisations have built a reputation based on the back of their blog. An interesting and engaging blog can drive traffic to your site by itself if the content is sufficiently appealing to your target market.
Don't forget social media! It's a fantastic way of creating a following, and by linking social activity to your website it really has a positive effect on your search engine rankings.
To refer back to an earlier point then, personality is key. However you choose to market your charity, either by direct marketing, SEO optimised web traffic, advertising, PR, social media or other forms, you need to establish a solid personality which reflects your brand values and the goals that you wish to achieve. To coin a clichéd phrase, people buy from people.
It is important though to remember that charities are increasingly behaving like businesses. And although they have a great emotional lever (the cause) they also have to compete for spend just like any other business. You need to make your brand as personable as possible and give positive reasons for support.
If you have a trading arm, it has to appeal and stand up against all the other offerings your target audience is exposed to. Charity appeals to people's altruistic nature, but a realistic professional and targeted approach is vital for success. If you appeal on multiple levels you will dramatically increase your effectiveness.
Building your charity's brand into an asset
In the noisy world of charity marketing there is often a whole host of charities operating with similar goals, missions and service offerings. With a similar raison d'être and similar campaign focuses to "alternative providers" (that’s charity-speak for competitors), your brand can often be your biggest differentiator – and your only chance of standing out in a busy marketplace.
By brand of course I don’t just mean your logo. Your brand encompasses your reputation, your heritage, your behaviours, your organisational culture – and so the list goes on. Brand is the vehicle through which you communicate your own unique set of messages to your audiences. Carefully constructed, your brand can both tell your story and invite others into it. It can build loyalty amongst supporters, donors, volunteers, staff and funding bodies – and ultimately it can become your greatest asset.
This article will define what "brand" stands for, what your brand can deliver and how you can effectively craft and identify your charity’s brand essence.
First let’s go back to the definition of brand. Simon Middleton, the self-appointed "brand guru" says: “Brand is about meaning. Your brand is the sum total of all the meanings that all your possible audiences carry around about you in their heads and in their hearts.”
In other words your brand is everything that your supporters, service users, staff and stakeholders think, feel, say, hear, read, watch, imagine, suspect or even hope about your charity.
That’s beginning to get there in terms of a definition, but for me the best metaphor for brand is always that of a person. You hear a name – like Ollie Leggett. It may be you've stumbled across the name in a web search or through a business network or a mutual friend. It sounds familiar. You begin to gain a measure of the person. You maybe suspect English heritage and you build a mental picture of him.
You check him out on Linkedin and request to follow him on Twitter. You notice his name coming up in conversations. Still no photo – no visual identity – but lots of information that has helped you to build a wider sense of who he is – his brand – including his history, his relationships, his tone of voice, his key drivers, pet hates etc.
Then finally you meet. He's younger than you expected and you'd imagined auburn hair and a beard but he's blond and clean shaven. You find his dry sense of humour endearing. You share interests and a little overlap in social circles and you become friends, and begin enjoying his company and introducing him to others.
You'll now happily defend his reputation amongst peers and won't hear a bad word said against him. You've become his friend. You choose to spend time with him, to be influenced by him. You are loyal to him, you know he values your friendship and a part of your own identity is now bound up in your friendship.
His appearance – his visual identity – by now is just a tiny fraction of your overall knowledge of him and his character – the Ollie Leggett brand. Far less important than the emotional engagement you’ve come to enjoy – and it’s emotional engagement that is the holy grail of branding. It’s there that brand loyalty lies.
A strong brand can deliver four really powerful and valuable assets to your charity in the crowded market:
INTEGRITY - and I mean integrity in the psychological sense. Psychologists tell us that we’re all seeking a healthy level of integrity – that’s a place of internal and external consistency where the person that we truly are and the person we are understood to be are in healthy alignment. Human beings are amazingly good at "reading" people – and we bring this same unconscious skill set to reading brands.
We enjoy being around people who are "comfortable in their own skin" and we instinctively trust people who "walk the talk". We’re just as quick to recognise inconsistency and pretence.
If your charity is a mess, then popping a totally new, shiny brand mask over it is no solution. The most powerful brands are true. And that’s why any decent brand agency likes to listen to you AND your audiences – they’re looking for the truth about you so that ultimately your brand can have genuine integrity.
VISIBILITY - it’s all very well understanding yourself and having a fantastic proposition to offer but if you’re invisible in the ever-increasingly competitive world of charity marketing then you’re on a highway to nowhere.
A strong brand can give you a face that your target audiences recognise, a tone of voice they can hear above the noise, messages that give them hope and call them to decisive action.
CREDIBILITY - your brand needs to be a signature they can trust. It needs to be delivered through behavioural consistency: consistent quality of service, consistent messaging, physical spaces and visual identity. We trust those who behave consistently. That’s why brand guidelines are so critical in policing and protecting your brand after initial launch.
LOYALTY - the holy grail of brand. One is talking about the emotional engagement that will motivate supporters and funders not just to give to a specific campaign, but to sign up to support you on an ongoing basis, to become advocates and enthusiasts, to campaign and volunteer.
I support six charities via monthly direct debit. Four of those I’ve given to for over 25 years and the other two for over a decade. They’re not just worthy causes that I support. They are part of my identity, part of my story. My relationship with them has had ups and downs but over many years they have enjoyed my loyalty. And, like an inner circle of lifelong friends, it would take a great deal to break my ties to them.
For your brand to deliver integrity, visibility, credibility and ultimately loyalty, you need to identify where people can emotionally engage with your brand, how you can make them feel part of your story. You need to know who you are and what you stand for – your essence – and then you need to behave like a friend – be generous, consistent and grateful. Give me opportunities to feel significant. Invite me to be the Godparent of your firstborn. Ask me for help when you need it. Celebrate together. Challenge me. Introduce me to your friends. Confide in me.
This is not rocket science, it’s the stuff of everyday relationships and it goes back to that metaphor of brand as a person. In order to really know anyone you need to do more than read a mini biog or have a quick coffee. You need to understand their journey, their background, you need to speak to their friends and family, learn about their passions and their idiosyncrasies, walk alongside them through feast and famine.
In order to understand the state of existing relationships you need to speak to your supporters, your service users, staff and other audiences to discern what’s going on. If you’re lucky, amongst all that detail, something distinctive, something that is unique about you will emerge - something that defines you and sets you apart from everybody else – your essence.
Whilst other charities might be able to offer a similar service to you, your brand, whether focusing on your heritage or your charity’s deep understanding of the location you operate in, is what can really set you apart.
Once you have identified your brand essence you then need to ensure that it’s translated into an arresting and engaging visual identity, a tone of voice and a set of key messages that will enable you to communicate consistently.
And maybe even more importantly, you need to encourage the whole charity to cherish this new expression of your brand. You need to take internal staff, volunteers and stakeholders on the journey with you. You need to consult with them, communicate the key findings of market research, focus groups and competitor mapping. Encourage them to feel a sense of shared ownership. Only then will they want to play their part in protecting, policing and embodying the brand.
Every volunteer and staff member of your charity must live out your charity’s brand every day in every interaction with your audiences in order for it to survive and thrive. It’s this consistency that can make your brand identity your biggest asset.
Ultimately you and your people are the brand – your empathy, your passion, your professionalism, your expertise, your advice – you. Your brand can only be as great as your people are – as inspiring as your team is – as outstanding as you are.
"...your brand is everything that your supporters, service users, staff and stakeholders think, feel, say, hear, read, watch, imagine, suspect or even hope about your charity."