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CLOCK 10 min read

How to make your charity a lifestyle choice – 10 golden rules to making your brand shine


Charities today need to appreciate individuality, while speaking to lifestyle aspirations and community identities. They can no longer be on the side-lines of the community they are helping; they need to convey they are part of it, immersed fully, embracing all aspects of it and speaking as a peer not a supporter.

By the end of 2018, the number of charities reached the highest level in almost a decade, with over 200,000 registered in the UK. That figure may not be entirely surprising given that a flick through the papers, a journey on public transport or a walk down the street reveals a large proportion of advertising is asking us to dip into our pockets and support a charitable cause.

In fact, the total annual income of all UK charities combined is around £48 billion. Half of that income comes from the public – that’s why it’s vital that charities commit to their brand identity. It’s their chance to make a connection with the consumer – and that, inevitably, is what’s going to make us part with our money!

The public have increasingly high expectations of the charities they have an affiliation with. It is vital that charities tap into our values, beliefs and desires, and inspire us to contribute to ‘making a difference’. It’s a special relationship with a shared outlook that resonates in a way that makes us want to become an advocate.

The past decade has been a turbulent time for charities, with several varying factors impacting on the way they approach their brand strategy.

Standing out from the crowd

Grabbing attention in todays’ communication-saturated world has become even more challenging. For charities, their competitors aren’t just other brands within their sector – there’s now a kaleidoscope of opportunities for engagement, involvement and distraction out there. With vast amounts of content to consume daily, every brand must work smartly to be relevant to the audiences that they want to reach.

Charities now also need to compete with brands from many, traditionally, different sectors, who are now looking to also define their purpose as ‘beyond profit’, e.g. Nike’s partnership with Colin Kaepernick, Iceland’s palm oil campaign and L’Oreal’s recent launch of paper packaging.

For Suzie Baldwin, Brand Consultant from Cancer Research UK, it’s a simple philosophy; ‘to stand out, we need to stand together’:

“We’re a large charity with a huge breadth of activities and audiences, so there must be a golden thread that runs through all our outputs: a consistent visual and verbal style, underpinned by our brand personality”.

Vix Proctor, Head of Marketing & Brand at the MS Society, believes it’s about bravery:

“Standing up when no one else is. Empowering people to believe they can change the world and they can join a movement which can change lives for the better. Movement building speaks to the current climate. It speaks to those who know what they want to care about, and care deeply about what they know about, giving them something to celebrate and identify with but also aspire to”.

The shift to digital

Digital media has been a catalyst to move beyond a one-way conversation. Charity supporters can now, with greater ease than ever before, ask questions of the brand, to the brand – they can talk to the charity directly and want to see authenticity and transparency in how they respond.

T is for trust

The Charities Aid Foundation released a report in 2019 which revealed a gradual decline in trust in charities in the UK. Last year, the charity sector was rocked by revelations that staff had employed local women as sex workers. Within 10 days of the story going public, over 7,000 people cancelled their donations to Oxfam. The charity sector has since faced a sharp increase in public and regulatory scrutiny. These high-profile failings, and a new level of focus on charity transparency, have been a reminder to the sector that it needs to place a specific emphasis on supporter trust. Branding plays an important role in setting and delivering against this expectation.

Victoria Kubie, Head of Brand at the British Heart Foundation feels consumer confidence is at an all-time low:

“A combination of the economic uncertainty of Brexit and new regulations such as GDPR, have seen charities, like all other organisations, having to completely rethink their approach to marketing. It is more important than ever to have a strong and consistent brand in order to stand out”.

Compassion fatigue

Brands have recognised that campaigns that illicit feelings of guilt and sadness, aren’t always the most powerful and are now making way for messages of hope and optimism. There’s still a need to get to the heart of people’s emotions, but making them feel purposeful and uplifted does the job too.

Cancer Research UK have made a purposeful shift to telling stories of people overcoming their battle with cancer who are now in remission:

“Framing things more positively seems to appeal more to all audiences. At the end of the day, we need to inspire people to believe in the cause and take action, and the insight is that using positive rather negative motivations and emotions is the best way to do this” said Suzie Baldwin.

All of these things, and more, have seen charities needing to constantly try new approaches to brand and marketing in order to be relevant and stand out in a crowded market.

Brand identity – creating your heart and soul

Now we’ve set the scene, here are our 10 golden rules to building a strong, brand identity:

Clarity of purpose – be clear on what you’re looking to achieve

Being clear on your mission and purpose is critical to the success of any brand, ensuring that those you speak to understand why you exist and the vision you want to make possible.

Understanding the motivation – know why people support your organisation

David Henderson, from Alzheimer’s Research UK, feels you need to have clarity about what motivates people:
“As the leading dementia research charity in the UK we know people want to see research that drives progress and the key breakthroughs required for dementia. Listening regularly to what your supporters and the wider public think about your issue is critical in considering what your brand identity needs to demonstrate to the world”.

Bring hope – give people something to believe in

Bringing hope and a sense of progress into a charity brand helps people to engage with you and your issue, to take ownership and galvanise support from many different parts of society.

Know your audience – make sure you ask lots of questions

Who are they? Why are they with you? How often do they want to engage with you? How do their current and future life stages impact how they interact with your brand? Then make sure you continue to establish a meaningful connection with your audience. This is crucial to ensure you resonate and are memorable, helping to build a stronger level of support and understanding towards what you do.

Know your values – what do you stand for?

Ask more questions! What does your brand do for the world, or the people/things it supports? Why does anyone care that you exist? How does your brand provide meaningful impact?

Have a goal – know what it is you’re trying to achieve

All charities need to be clear on their mission and their purpose. Having this clarity and consistency within your brand is essential to building strong relationships with current and potential supporters. You need to be able to consistently measure and evaluate your brand each year, have an understanding of how you will increase donations and secure new audiences.

Address what matters – understand and tackle the issues that matter most

“Be it tackling misconceptions of dementia, campaigning for more investment in dementia research, or helping to bring about life-changing treatments for dementia, we focus on making changes that really matter to those that support us and who want to see a better future for those affected by dementia”
David Henderson, Head of Brand, Alzheimer’s Research UK

Be distinctive and be bold – stand out from the crowd

Simplicity can be powerful. It reflects in how effectively you can communicate, making your brand easy to recognise, and adaptable for all channels and platforms. But more importantly a simple brand can breathe, flex and adapt to show allegiance to all communities, issues and groups through adaptation.

One voice – be cohesive and consistent

Define your voice through purpose. No one else can speak your truth more than you. This isn’t about messaging or tone of voice documents, but rather having a list of principles of what matters to your brand.

Try to use a cohesive and consistent visual style and tone of voice that’s engaging, creative and built on your brand personality traits.

Shared belief – a collective vision needs to underpin everything

Ariel King, Acting Head of Brand for Amnesty International, believes it’s all about integration:

“Brand isn’t only the communication department’s story – it is everyone’s story! Anyone that works for Amnesty International – from the face-to-face fundraisers to the Human Resources department – is part of the Amnesty brand. Our approach has been to collaboratively create our brand pillars with the wider organisation and ensure everyone understands our values, so it is present in all that we do”.

If we’ve inspired you to consider your brand identity and you want to talk through any ideas you have, just drop me a line.