Charity brand trust crisis – part 2

The Team, brand purpose, social purpose, brand design, design thinking, employee engagement, employee experience, customer experience, charity brand trust

Dan Dufour discusses what charities need to do to go back to basics and increase their brand trust in the second part of his two-part blog series – brand trust.

One area where the charity and business sectors can often differ is in their approach to branding, in both speed and sophistication. In fact, there is currently a lot wrong with charities from a brand perspective in my option: understanding, employee engagement, veneer and innovation.

Despite more and more charities investing in their brands, there is still a lack of understanding about the role of a brand, with a narrow-minded focus on how it looks. Last week’s CharityComms Brand Breakfast on brand management and curation sadly cemented this for me.

Many companies who do invest in their brands rush to get them to market and focus on the brand on the outside, rather than embedding it internally with employees and volunteers first. Even though CharityComms’ best practice guide to charity branding is called ‘Branding Inside Out’. This is very dangerous in building brand trust.

The charity sector was late to the concept of branding but have invested in creating ‘corporate identities’. This is counter-intuitive to charity brands built on shared beliefs and values, who should focus on their humanity, or learn from the brand attributes of the increasing number of of brand-evoked movements.

The aid sector in particular is known for its guilt-inducing direct response fundraising. Particularly Save the Children during the leadership of former Chief Executive Justin Forsyth, who has resigned from UNICEF after allegations of inappropriate behaviour. This type of marketing commonly referred to as ‘flies in their eyes’ causes much heated debate. Whilst some will argue donors are tiring of this type of manipulative marketing and that it strips people of their dignity, others will claim is it still highly effective in raising money.

As one former Oxfam staff member said: “Slick communication material eulogises aid workers as heroes and their job as pure, noble and simple. Some charity bosses, invariably men, have internalised that narrative or expertly manipulated it to claim that they or their organisations are above reproach.”

Oxfam had in fact undertaken a 2012 global rebrand with a ‘practical visionary’ personality, only to retreat to more traditional direct response fundraising afterwards. But to be fair the brand has innovated where others haven’t, with its My Oxfam app which promised to put donors ‘in control’, striving to meet demand for a closer, more modern, responsible relationship.

At times of crisis like these I would encourage charities to go back to brand basics.

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 values 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.