Stand For, To Stand Out

How could the charity sector as a whole benefit from re-branding as well as individual charities? It’s worth defining what we mean by “Brand”. Branding, although it derives from the Swedish word meaning to mark cattle, is about much more than just logos and brand identities (vital signifiers though these might be.)

“True Branding” is about an organisation’s commercial and societal purpose; its unique history and provenance; its measurable impact; its daily products, services and behaviours and its measurable impact. Good or great brands grow outwards from tightly defined and inspiring purposes and have vibrant, oral cultures that are far more specific and interesting than the bland platitudes of the “values and mission statements” so often paraded in their reception areas. Good brands also have sharp edges: they define what they don’t do, as well as what they do.

Branding is just a cosmetic paint-job unless it’s directly linked to business strategy, which, in the case of charities, will usually be focused on the fundraising/income strategy.

The charity sector as a whole is currently beleaguered and in need of meaningful re-branding. According to the NCVO funding for the voluntary sector will be £1.7bn lower by 2017/18 than it was in 2010/11. According to The Guardian, charities have lost more than £3.8bn in government grants in the last decade. According to Compact Voice, 50% of Local Authorities disproportionately cut voluntary sector funding in 2010/11. Charitable giving by the public dropped by 10% during the recession and has yet to recover.

On top of cuts, there is the assault on reputation created by the severe lack of governance at Kids and Company; regular donors being overly pressurised by charities, in one case leading to the suicide of Olive Cooke, aged 92; and inappropriate relationships between corporates and charities such as Age UK accepting £6million a year from E.ON in return for pushing its expensive energy tariffs to the elderly. Whilst the public sense that these are the sensationalist and unrepresentative tips of a benign and virtuous iceberg of charitable activity, they have weighed heavy on the sector.

Charities are grossly under-recognised and wrongly stereotyped, especially by Government and Business. They are still seen in a rather lame and Victorian way, as “amateur do-gooders”, nurses who patch up the bodies wounded by raw capitalism. Perhaps this is why they have been pejoratively labelled “the Third sector” as if it were a ranking beneath the public and private sectors. Nothing could be further from the truth and the voluntary sector needs to re-present (re-brand) itself.

Charities and social enterprises develop new and unique problem-solving ideas often on modest resources. They are developers and owners of strong intellectual capital with a tangible value.

Andy Haldane, chief economist of the Bank of England, has commented on this in his Pro Bono Economics lecture in 2014. He estimates that all UK volunteering might total 4.4 billion hours per year, with a value of £50bn or 3.5% of GDP.  Of course, that is just the value of the volunteering time, without considering the value of the problem-solving services delivered by not-for-profits in saving Government and Society money.

Charities both need, and would benefit from, this more progressive reputation as “economically important problem-solvers”. This is partly because of the rise of both social enterprises and social businesses, which are both rivals and potential partners. According to the State of Social Enterprise UK’s Survey in 2015, more than half of social enterprises have increased their turnover in the last year; 59% have developed new products and services and 83% have attracted new customers or clients.

Social investment funds and social businesses are also thriving. B Corps, for example, is a movement of over 1500 companies worldwide. A B Corp is a for-profit business that has social and/or environmental outcomes,as certified by the not-for-profit B Lab. B Corps launched in the UK last year with 62 founding member companies.

One such B Corps is Unforgettable, a one-stop, online portal for easy-to-navigate products, advice and communities to help people, and their carers, cope better with dementia. It donates some of its profits to its own Unforgettable Foundation and has a strong partnership with the Alzheimer’s Society. This kind of inter-relationship between social businesses and charities could be a key aspect of the sector’s progressive future.

If those are some of the sector issues and opportunities for rebranding, when should individual charities re-brand, how and to what purpose?

Whilst true branding is about far more than name and logo, one fundamental reason to re-brand is to make your purpose clearer through your name. In 2010, research showed St Dunstan’s that few people under the age of 75 were aware of the charity or what it did. St Dunstan’s rebranded as Blind Veterans UK with a more striking logo. The rebranding cost £90,000 but was central to raising an extra £7m over five years.

This case demonstrates another important principle: that re-branding a charity should be about singularity and distinctiveness not about awareness for its own sake. Both Third Sector’s Charity Brand Index and You Gov’s Charity Index show that awareness of charities is dominated by big causes with big budgets and moves slowly. Better to have a carefully targeted and distinctive awareness than try to paint on too broad a canvas. The RNLI focuses only on awareness amongst local communities; and the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals concentrates on those donors who earn less than £25,000 a year most likely to empathise with the charity’s beneficiaries. Know thyself and know thy audience. Be brave enough to be singular.

You should re-name and re-brand for succinctness and memorability. I am a trustee of what used to be called “We Are What We Do”. We have recently shortened the name to “Shift” to embody its behaviour change purpose and to stop the business cards being the length of a baguette!

You should also re-name to better represent your beneficiaries. Decades ago, the first charity re-branding I worked on was to change the “London Association for the Blind” to “Action for Blind People”, after visually impaired people pointed out that “the blind is something you pull up and down at the window, not a human being.”

Most re-branding should be about better expressing your purpose rather than simply refining your colour palette, typography or photographic style (although sometimes refreshed identities are needed in order to better use digital media). Unicef, for example, when they re-branded in 2014, put the mission “For every child in danger” as a “lock-up’” with the logo and at the epicentre of all their communications, having discovered that many people did not understand their purpose.

When The Partners refreshed the branding for the British Heart Foundation, we created a bold call to action: “Fight for Every Heartbeat.” We also re-launched their lifesaving courses, events and campaigns. The results were a 7% increase in both retail income and fundraising plus a 30% increase in online donations.

If you want a re-brand to work, you need to activate it imaginatively and creatively, especially if you have limited funds. The Stroke Association with no budget for their brand re-launch, gave their staff 5 months to act as Brand Ambassadors, resulting in a tenfold increase in their supporters’ network.

Two final points about making your charity more impactful: think about the right kinds of partnerships with corporates and about creating your own branded social movements.

My suggested guidelines for working well with commercial businesses are as follows:

     Businesses are best at ‘doing good’ when they leverage what they do well commercially. Persil’s ‘Dirt is Good’ campaign would be brilliant at promoting outdoor play with the right charity partners thus enhancing the well-being of children but also promoting their dirt-cleaning credentials

     Partnerships work best when both sides are equally committed, motivated and passionate about the cause. The partnership between Domestos and UNICEF on better sanitation is a good example.

      Be clear, creative and, above all, highly specific about your social goals. Toms ‘One for One’ scheme uses the profits from the pair of shoes you buy from them, to provide shoes to someone poor who would otherwise go barefoot.

     Actions must precede words. Too many companies do an ad campaign on a social purpose before acting tangibly on that purpose. Look for a corporate partner that does rather than just says.

As someone who has co-founded The Big Lunch, Change the World for a Fiver and TimeBank, my guidelines for a successful, branded social movement are as follows:

•     Make it fun and rewarding; simple and inclusive

•     Give it light and shade, shock and optimism

•     Make it simultaneously bottom-up and top-down

•     Allow for lobbying/ campaigning, fund-raising and volunteering as responses

•     Develop distinctive iconography and a unique and regular place in the calendar

“Movember” is a perfect embodiment of all the above principles, raising awareness, funds and action for testicular and prostate cancer like nothing before.

Re-branding the charity sector and individual charities, in the true sense of the term, is not an expensive “paint job” but essential if the voluntary sector is to thrive in ever more difficult times.

This piece was originally published in Charities Management.