Categorized | Communications, Marketing

Branding in the charity sector – does it work?


I did an interview with one of my student callers last week for her dissertation, which is all about branding in the charity sector. It was great fun and she asked some questions that didn’t fit with my experience of the sector but which set me thinking.

Laura thought there was a resistance in the third sector to the idea of branding and so we talked about the huge effort lots of charities put into their visual identity and messaging, to show this wasn’t really the case. But of course that’s at national and global level with some very big players. Maybe smaller charities indeed don’t want to go there for all sorts of reasons. But as I also said to Laura, just because you have a lovely visual identity doesn’t mean you have a brand. Not unless your supporters know you and think about you in a particular way, and even then, their ‘brand memory’ of you may be out of step with your current positioning – Parkinson’s Society, for example!

But big or small you may fall into one of these brand groups:

  1. The ‘local /close knit group of supporters’ identity. Defined by a particular area of the country or a group of people which feels marginalised and under/misrepresented. Feels like a family.
  2. The national campaigning charity. They right wrongs we care about.
  3. The ‘personality’ brand. In the commercial sector, this might be Apple; in the Third Sector perhaps this is Joanna Lumley and the Gurkhas? We trust Steve Jobs. We love Joanna.
  4. The international/global fixer – Oxfam, Amnesty, Wateraid, Red Cross, we all know them: we want to be associated with the kind of person their branding implies.

These are crude groupings of course, but the key thing is that you need to know where within these you fit in order to have your best impact.

And also, the bigger you get, going by Mark Phillips’ research at Bluefrog, the more of a challenge you’ll have in presenting yourself the way donors want you to be – personal, relevant to them, and running off a small cost base!

Funnily enough, some of us, like universities, have a ‘global/ international’ corporate brand, but looking at our donor numbers should we be presenting ourselves as a ‘close-knit group of people who care’ charity brand? Does that make sense? It certainly presents a challenge in mediating between our corporate and philanthropic branding.

Do we all need, particularly if we’re bigger, to split what we do into ‘family size’ chunks, so that even if our donors rationally know they’re giving to something big, they all feel like a special group of people who care?
Do we need well-trained people in supporter care and stewardship who can translate large sums donated by many, into personal meaningful feedback for individual supporters?

I think we do – how about you?

Article kindly republished from

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