In the past year, 91% of adults have experienced an increase in their living costs (ONS, 2022). And 60% of charities are concerned about people having less money to donate to their causes (CAF, 2022). As the recession bites, public services are squeezed yet again - and it’s the charities that are left to pick up the pieces. To survive this ‘cost of giving’ crisis, charities need a strong brand.
Charities are the original purpose-led organisations, and brand is the start point for everything they do. Brand articulates their reason to exist. To raise funds, connect with the causes, rally colleagues, supporters and partners.
But charities – and charity brands – can be passionate, highly charged environments. With emotion always close to the surface, organisations can shy away from making hard decisions, trying to please too many of their hugely diverse audiences. And those passionate, committed people might not always have the same opinion about the direction it should be taking.The challenge is always that charities need to battle for every penny of their funding – which can mean that some of their stakeholders might see spending money on their brand as a criminal waste of precious resource that would be better spent helping the cause they’re committed to.
At The Clearing, we’ve seen what a difference brand can make when trying to reach the largest possible audience and make the biggest possible impact. We believe that charity branding is some of the most rewarding work to be involved with. But where do you start?
Here are three things we’ve learned:
1 Roll up your sleeves and get stuck in
The desired outcome starts with the first conversation. Listening to the personal experiences of everyone from marathon runners and researchers, to lobbyists, volunteers, colleagues, partners, leaders, trustees and, most importantly, those affected by the cause. The more people you meet the more you learn. There’ll be differences of opinion, but what counts is that people will have had the chance to be involved. You’re looking for participation, not necessarily consensus. When we rebranded Leonard Cheshire, it was the positivity and rich detail we uncovered from our visits to their residential services, as well as the stakeholder interviews and conversations we had, that inspired the new direction for the brand. Seeing them do everything humanly possible to help anyone with a disability live and work as fully as they choose inspired the colourful, bold, energetic brand identity that celebrated people’s abilities – far removed from the organisation’s old, institutional and restrictive disability-focused brand.
2 Remember: everyone loves a story
Any successful charity brand is fundamentally a great story well told. And the role of the brand is to tell that story. It must capture the problem, but crucially also offer a solution – a vision for a better future. How the story is told defines how powerful the brand is. Top it off with a powerful promise to bring focus, clarity and direction for everyone.
Our work for Dogs Trust celebrates the joy of dog. It’s a bold, bright and shaggy identity that’s deliberately a bit rough and hairy around the edges, celebrating personality over groomed perfection. At its heart is the logo held in a dog tag. Why? When a dog comes into Dogs Trust’s care they put a collar and tag on it: it’s a symbol of their commitment and care for that dog, ensuring its future is safe and securing a happier life for it. And, more broadly, it’s a symbol of what they are working towards for all dogs around the world.
3 Make it unbreakable and democratic
A great charity brand must be simple, memorable and visually democratic. The identity should tell the story with a conceptual idea and be capable of stretching across all charity activities. It cannot rely on expensive photography or illustration and at times needs to be so simple that someone with no design skill at all can use it. Coffee morning anyone?
When we worked with Breast Cancer Now, the symbol we designed of a breast and heart was so simple it could be created in icing on a cupcake or used as a face paint design. This meant that the brand could live anywhere it needed, regardless of how well it had been reproduced, in a truly authentic way. It wasn’t about creating a brand that needed to be policed – but rather putting it in the hands of supporters and volunteers in such a way that they felt they could genuinely own it.
Rally to the cause
With the societal challenges we all currently face and charities picking up so many of the pieces, we can’t afford for these organisations to fail. A charity’s survival is dependent on the strength of its brand and the ability to rally people behind it. We believe it’s about bringing these brands to life with great storytelling, in simple, memorable ways. It’s not about over-complicating things with brand temples, keys and assorted other theories. Let’s face it - are you really going to get a volunteer energised by feeding them a (brand) onion?