Change starts with your brand

The relationship between donors and charities is changing, says Rose Bentley.

Rose Bentley
Rose Bentley

Donor participation is key to securing support and increasing income, but involving donors can mean making big changes.New thinking is clearly vital to increasing donor participation, but where do you start? Using technology to innovate? Targeting potential profit centres such as new sponsors? Looking at what your users need?

Start with your brand and you could save a lot of time and money. Macmillan Cancer Support was best known for its Macmillan nurses, who provided a fantastic service to people with cancer but were often misperceived as 'angels of death'. We helped Macmillan use its brand to define a much broader role - a source of support for anyone affected by cancer and a force for progress in cancer care. The name changed from 'Cancer Relief' to 'Cancer Support'. Innovations included a website on which cancer carers could share experiences and Be Macmillan, a one-stop online shop from which volunteers could download materials for events. As a result, Macmillan has attracted 27 per cent more supporters and has raised almost £100m.

As the Macmillan example shows, brand-led innovation works for charities because it allows you to come up with things that fit your culture. It goes further - brand-led thinking helps you to identify things that are unique to you and which the competition cannot readily copy.

Samaritans embraced this thinking when it found it was failing to reach the people most at risk of suicide: younger men. It also wanted to break down some of the taboos that surround suicide and depression. So Samaritans reinvented itself from 'suicide helpline' to 'emotional health charity' and updated its brand around the idea that people are 'stronger together'.

Forming partnerships is another part of branding. The (RED) initiative, launched in 2006, was an idea to give a percentage of the profits from selected products to HIV/Aids charities. To get large corporations on board, the project's brand was built around the idea that (RED) should inspire, connect and empower consumers. The result? (RED) partners delivered £28m to a global HIV/Aids fund in one year alone.

There is no single formula for using your brand to create something new. The key is to use it as your starting point. Recent research from the Oxford Said Business School shows that, when you start with your brand, you are more likely to create new products, services and ways of working that will succeed.

And that sounds more like investment, less like speculation.

- Rose Bentley is head of sales and marketing at branding agency Wolff Olins

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