Creating powerful brands for the charity sector
Creating powerful brands for the charity sector

Trust and integrity are the cornerstones of any brand, but when it comes to charity brands – they’re critical. A recent study commissioned by the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) suggests 50% of UK adults trust charities. It’s a figure disputed by Mintel, whose charity report published in 2016, indicates 60% of us have lost faith in the sector. Whichever side of the coin you believe, one thing's for sure – charities have never been under more scrutiny or pressure than they find themselves today.

Let's be clear. Recent scandals at Oxfam and Kids Company have damaged the entire sector, while the negative narrative surrounding charities and currently playing out across the UK media continues to fan the flames of mistrust.

Having worked extensively within the sector, when it comes to charitable giving we'd observe that people are attracted to and moved by causes that directly affect their personal life. Favouring charities that are close to home emotionally, as well as geographically – where they can witness first-hand the impact of their generosity. That’s why Cancer Research, British Heart Foundation and Macmillan consistently occupy the top spots within fundraising league tables. Indicating that relevance and personalisation are crucial to securing a sustainable future within the sector.

Furthermore, the world in which we live has fundamentally changed, and charities must be mindful of the changing circumstance and attitudes within society. As the cost of living continues to rise and the aftermath of austerity continues to bite, modern life has become increasingly difficult for us all – both emotionally as well as financially.

So, why is this an issue for charities?

Historically, charities have deployed shock tactics to land their message and elicit donations. From fatty cigarettes to toddlers shooting-up, such campaigns create a race to the bottom from a communications perspective – where the next campaign must be more shocking than the last to keep donations rolling in. Such campaigns project bleak vignettes of modern life - portraying scenarios that we, the public, have trained ourselves to ignore. Preferring to look away rather than engage with the issue. After all, we have enough problems of our own and charity begins at home, right?

But it doesn't need to be this way. Take Tom's shoes, One Feeds Two and Warby Parker for example. Their 'buy one, give one' model is living testament to the power of positivity within a branding context. These social enterprises and next-generation charities don't just do good; they provide products and services people desire and feel good about purchasing. Actively promoting charitable giving as a part of everyday life, through something we spend money on whether that’s shoes, lunch or glasses.

Moving forward, charities and their brands must be clear about the problem they're solving for people and society, and rethink the way in which they present their issue. It's essential to draw on positive messages, leaving the shock tactics of yesteryear behind. Focusing instead on creating open and inclusive cultures where people feel a greater sense of ownership for the charity and its cause – both internally as well as externally.

The same is true of brand identity. Over the past decade, the way in with we interact with the brands has also fundamentally changed. In today's digital world it’s vital that brands embrace an open-source approach to branding, actively encouraging people to counterfeit their brand. Replacing the dreaded 'Logo Cops' with brand evangelists and facilitators, as demonstrated by our client Breast Cancer Now – whose simple heart-shaped mark can be iced onto cupcakes, printed onto t-shirts, and painted onto runners’ cheeks.  It really is that simple and the more imaginative it is, the better it is for the brand.

At The Clearing, we’ve helped charities including Breast Cancer Now, One Feeds Two, Leonard Cheshire Disability, RSBC and London’s Air Ambulance to create stronger brands. If you'd like to find out more – please do get in touch.