What does brand mean in the charity sector?

By Max du Bois

What does brand mean in the charity sector? What small charities can do to boost their brand (New Philanthropy Capital)

On the bus to work. During your lunch break. Watching TV. Everywhere you look, people are trying to persuade you to buy something or try something. Charities that want to compete in this marketplace can find themselves fighting to be heard against other organisations with much bigger brand names and budgets. So charities of all sizes need to think carefully when it comes to brand.

'The point of brand is very simple, it’s about getting people to do what you want them to do.’ In the commercial sector, this typically involves persuading people to buy a particular product or service, in order to make money. But charities often have much wider goals to meet. They might be lobbying government, raising awareness of an issue or encouraging people to change their behaviour. They might be persuading people to believe in a cause, to volunteer or to part with money.

With complex goals, charities can struggle to get their message across. And with 160,000 charities in the UK, including a growing number of household names, smaller charities in particular can find it hard to make themselves heard.

It is not size that matters, but impact. ‘Charities need to ask themselves whether they think it’s more important to be big or effective. It’s surely better to have fewer people knowing about you, with more actually doing something for you, than the other way around.’

Small charities can achieve amazing things. So what can they do to boost their brand?

Crucially, charities need to think about how their brand can be as effective as possible, meeting their vision and goals. This means looking outside the organisation: ‘Don’t become self-obsessive. Ask yourself, what do my audiences think about me? What do I want them to think about me? What messages do I send them?’

When messages are clear, it makes it easier for an organisation to communicate with its audiences. In turn, communicating with different audiences—perhaps by partnering with similar organisations or simply sharing stories—can improve brand.

And it is important not to forget the importance of an organisation’s logo, name and visual style. ‘People can deal with lots of charity brands, provided they’ve got good and effective branding,’ ‘While it would be great if actions spoke louder than words, in this communications-saturated world, sadly they don’t. You need good branding or else nobody is going to hear about you, no matter how good your cause is.’

While too often, charity trustees can dismiss brand as ‘fluffy nonsense’, du Bois argues that it is a serious matter. ‘Charities have got to do a lot more than other organisations, as they deal with much more complex issues with a hell of a lot less money,’