OPINION: Sector catches branding bug

LISA HARKER, deputy director of the Institute for Public Policy Research

It's a stereotype, but if someone had compiled a "books bought by those in the voluntary sector

bestseller list, I'm willing to bet that Naomi Klein's No Logo would have made it onto last year's shortlist.

Its appeal is obvious. How refreshing to be reminded of the shallow world of advertising and obsessive niche-marketing that belongs to the corporate sector, safe in the knowledge that you are working for a charitable cause.

Come again? It seems a day hardly goes by without another charity make-over. The National Schizophrenia Foundation has re-thought its brand and come up with Rethink. Crisis launched a logo to reflect its new focus and within days Centrepoint announced that it needed to re-consider its brand in order to differentiate itself from Crisis.

Charity branding is definitely in and it seems that image manufacturing is big business. Books about the subject are hastily being written and brand consultants are busily ploughing the new furrow. It's a sign that the sector is more and more image-conscious, a consequence of the competition for resources and profile in a world that is evermore public and media-aware.

But it's not about selling. For charities this is a way to communicate an ethos and values. The techniques may be familiar to the corporate world, but the underlying message is far more value-driven.

So it's disappointing to find that evidence on how charities can financially benefit from building a strong brand is being used to make the case for image make-overs. A study funded by the Economic and Social Research Council found that fundraising managers who regarded their organisations as brands generated more income than "low brand-orientated

fundraisers.

An effective charity is one that knows what it's about and is able to convey its message to the outside world. But charity branding ought to be driven by the desire for social change, not by a need to raise funding.

Producing messages that chime with public sympathies may maximise donations.

But does it change society?

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