Opportunities for brand to rebuild trust in third sector
There’s no question that the charity sector has been undergoing significant change since 2008. Not only did the financial crisis alter the reliability of fundraising and government funding for many charities, large and small, but the move to digital communications has caused communications challenges for those in the third sector.
At July’s Transform Conference Europe, one of the programme’s two sub-streams focused on branding in the charity sector. The key topic speakers discussed was around trust and engagement in turbulent times. “How do we make charities as robust as possible to mitigate the possibility of trust being shattered?” asked Katy Donovan, brand manager for Cancer Research UK. The question inspired the morning’s discussion of fundraising, business model and branding.
Donovan says charities can succeed in brand communications, and to increase trust, if they keep their message simple about the impact they have. If they’re able to humanise that impact, they’ll be able to improve trust. Timothy Harrison, director of tracking research at third sector research organisation nfpSynergy agreed. He said trust had become a major focus, particularly because of negative press coverage. Despite the lack in trust, he noted, charity incomes have doubled since 2000.
Despite that increase in income, smaller charities are feeling the pressure, says Caroline McCormick, chair of the Achates Philanthropy Foundation. The organisation, which tells stories about supporters of the arts, has worked to improve the image of arts funding and philanthropy. She says smaller organisations may be forced to band together to stay relevant and continue to reach audiences for fundraising and communications purposes.
Finally, Max du Bois, executive director ad London-based branding agency Spencer du Bois, talked about the challenges related to charity branding. He said charities are neither cutting through nor making themselves distinct. This, alongside the increasing age of most regular donors, may mean charities require a new business model. One option, he said, is to parter with brands relevant to Millennials. This may help charities reinvigorate their relevance to a young audience and target them more effectively.
One such brand, Brewbird, put its social purpose behind its brand to achieve better business results. The company trains former inmates to be baristas and “The whole brand is based very simply around saying it loud and proud,” du Bois said. By talking about the cause in a relevant way, he added, companies like Brewbird can start to own that area, thereby aligning their brand with a specific impact.
Trust may be decreasing, but there have never been more ways for charities to communicate. It’s up to them to be creative, adaptable and impactful in their brands and communications.