Brand Purpose can help build trust

Brand purpose, branding, trust

There is no doubt that the third sector is currently suffering a crisis of trust with the Charity Commission reporting that public trust has fallen to a ten-year low.

At the same time, the annual Edelman Trust Barometer reports that business has closed the trust gap . Of the four major institutions (government, charities, business and the media), it is business that has seen the largest increase in trust. With an eight-point rise over the last five years, financial services have seen the biggest gain.

One could also argue that some businesses are stealing charities’ thunder by building purpose into the heart of their brand and business strategies, rather than it just sitting on the corporate social responsibility sideline, from Unilever and Patagonia to B Corporation Ella’s Kitchen. TOMS Social Entrepreneurship  Fund is also encouraging more start-ups to do the same globally.

One area where the charity and business sector can often differ is in their approach to branding, in both speed and sophistication. As I’ve previously warned in Third Sector, branding in the charity sector can sadly be stifled by a lack of bravery and ‘design by committee’.

Ten years ago when I was one of the sector’s first, lonely, brand managers I was told I couldn’t even use the dirty ‘B’ word. Colleagues saw ‘brand’ as ‘marketing fluff’, ‘logo twiddling’ or associated it with big corporations or luxury goods. They couldn’t understand why a charity would invest in its brand.

I felt like the Sheriff of Nottingham, stealing precious funds from front-line services; and so I embarked on a national charm offensive to persuade people what brand really meant and what it could achieve. Ultimately it was about making sure more people understood what the charity stood for to build awareness, understanding and trust, so more people would support them or turn to them for help.

If people struggle with the word ‘brand’, I often tell them to use ‘profile’ or ‘reputation’ instead. As Anita Roddick once said, “a brand is the space you occupy in someone else’s mind”. But a brand is also described as a promise; what the company (or charity) commits to the people who interact with it. And promises are there to be kept. If the brand promise is broken trust declines.

I like to think that ‘branding’ is now an essential part of business strategy. However, in the charity sector it can quickly equate to just a logo (and how much it costs) or a visual identity at best. Yet Third Sector Excellence Award winners of different sizes from Prostate Cancer UK to Shooting Star Chase demonstrate the impact a brand can have across all departments.

Developing a strong and enduring brand requires a brand strategy upon which to direct products and services, culture and operations, communications and innovation. The brand purpose and personality should run through every brand presence, not just the look.

Your brand should connect people to your corporate strategy, inspiring them to create a positive impact that is measurable and enduring. It should also deliver an honest and transparent story that inspires people to care about your cause in order to build trust and loyalty. When the external experience of a charity aligns with its internal culture, the brand resonates authenticity.

Research by SustainAbility shows that two-thirds of consumers and shareholders now value purpose and that having a clear brand purpose can help build trust. Aligning the dynamics of your brand makes strong business strategy, adhering to a compelling central idea. But until more leaders in the charity sector recognise brand as a strategic business tool its full potential will sadly be wasted. Surely in a time where trust is shifting the power of branding has a role to play, whether it’s viewed as a commercial evil or not.


To celebrate International Day of Charity on 5 September The Team is hosting a TeamTalk debate with brand specialists across mutliple sectors, and producing a book on the era on Brand Purpose – in just 48 hours!  For more information on this event and The Team’s Brand Purpose offer, contact