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What does a charity brand need to do to keep up?

It’s exciting. We are living in an age of unprecedented change, driven by disruptive market forces, the democratisation of communication, ever cheaper and more accessible technology and a mainstream acceptance of innovation.

Sure, it’s not all down to the internet, but over the last two decades, it has become possible for anyone with a smartphone to take an idea and build it out, reaching global audiences and potentially changing the economic status quo along the way.

In the relative blink of an eye, we are trusting new companies in every category with our money (Monzo), our transport (Uber), our holidays (AirBnB), our homes (PurpleBricks), our food supply (Ocado), our utilities (Bulb) and even our sex (Tinder).

Being new and being trusted are not natural collaborators. Heritage, security and provenance have been cornerstones of branding for decades and are still core to many establishments. Lloyds Bank for example have traded on little else in their marketing history.

This dependence on heritage is particularly strong within the charity sector. Of the top ten fundraising charities only three are less than 100 years old. And why not? Before “the internet”, it made sense to trust something that had been around for a long time.

The trouble is, trust is on the wain across most measures. In 2017, the Edelman Trust Barometer surveyed people in 28 countries to gauge public trust in business, media, NGOs, and government. For the first time in 17 years, it showed trust was falling in each sector.

As new models of business, communication and technology enter the mainstream, the charity sector is beginning to catch up. More and more challenger brands are entering the market, connecting with and capturing supporters. And most importantly, they’re being trusted. So what can more established charities learn from them?

Be relevant

Understand the concerns of your audience and address them. Help Refugees was born out of a 2015 #HelpCalais hashtag that went viral because it responded to how people felt about the worsening refugee crisis. They’ve now helped almost a quarter of a million people across Europe and the Middle East. They pride themselves on leapfrogging NGOs and traditional charities and getting help directly to those who need it most. 94% of donations go directly to work on the ground. Impressive.   

Be transparent

Tell the whole story, warts and all. Sports for employment charity Streetleague prides itself on telling supporters about failures as well as successes. The impact dashboard on their website gives readers dynamic information on how well their projects are doing. Former CEO Matt Stevenson-Dodd has pioneered a culture of transparency and puts success down to “being up-front about the things we didn’t get right”. Streetleague’s impact-led approach has had impact of its own, with CLIC Sargent’s 2018 impact report featuring a “Hands up, we’re not perfect” section. October 2018 saw the F word conference, an event devoted to talking about and learning from failure.

Be a community

Need an excuse to get to know your neighbour? How about raiding their fridge for unwanted food? According to Hubbub, 81% of us would be happy to receive food from a neighbour, and food sharing app Olio makes it easy to start veg-based banter with the people next door. Since 2015 they’ve signed up over 850,000 people and over 1.2 million food portions have been shared. Olio brings people together to solve problems in practical ways that benefit them as individuals, as well as a community. As a brand proposition, it’s relevant, inclusive and exciting.     

Be disruptive

A disruptive brand changes the market, sector or category in which they operate. They are inherently anti-establishment. Challenging the status quo is baked into their strategy. Think Neflix, Uber, AirBnB and you’ll get the idea. In the recruitment sector, social enterprise Auticon works solely with autistic job candidates to place them in careers which match their extraordinary technical or cognitive abilities. It’s a whole new – and hyper focused – way to recruit, benefiting employers and employees.   

Be current

According to the Blackbaud report (The Next Generation of UK giving 2017), Gen Z’s and Millennials contribute the largest amount of money to charity in the UK, 30% of the total donated, giving £2.7 billion in 2017. Their expectations of involvement are deeper than any other generation and they want to see transparency, efficiency and effective use of funds. The Blockchain Charity Foundation gives charities am absolutely transparent way of raising money and tracking donations, supplying links to the cryptocurrency exchanges and all the transaction detail that goes with it.  

Where to start?

If you’ve been going a while, even 10 years, you’ll have some degree of cultural and bureaucratic inertia. It’s inevitable. As organisations grow, they have to be be managed. So where do you begin if you’re to challenge the challengers? Easy. Get a new website. Joke.

Here’s five quick actions to get you to think different:

  1. Understand your audience, your market, your category and your competition.
  2. Authenticity is central to a trustworthy brand, so be true to who you are. Don’t try to be a platform, an initiative or an enterprise if you’re not.
  3. Focus on what makes you different, effective and better than the rest in your category.
  4. Review why you do what you do and reframe it in the most current and relevant way you can.
  5. Tell your story loudly and proudly. Be bold and have faith in your ability to make a difference.

To discuss how your brand can capture more than a feeling, drop us a line at aruna@narrativedesign.co.uk

Narrative Design