Communications: Charities 'neglect power of branding'

Investing in their brand is essential for all charities that want to secure their long-term futures.

That was the conclusion of a debate held by brand consultancy Spencer du Bois in London last month.

A panel of six from the voluntary sector and the world of brand management debated the question 'Not-for-profit branding: cost or investment?'

Stephen Corry, director of Survival International, opened the debate by arguing that although the word 'brand' may have assumed negative connotations, it is simply a charity's essential message.

He explained: "My job is to take something that for 2,500 years has been seen as bad or barbaric and turn it into something good - in effect, to rebrand tribal people.

"If we can get everyone in the world to think that tribal people are 'good', then we will have achieved our objective. For this reason, I think 'brand' itself can justifiably become the objective of your organisation."

The panel heard that the apparent reluctance of certain parts of the sector to embrace branding lies in a misunderstanding of what it entails.

David Richards, a finance director in the audience, said: "Because so many believe brand means the logo, they do not recognise that it's a mechanism for projecting their beliefs externally. I know of two charities that have recently rebranded, but didn't get as much out of it as they could have done because they reluctantly spent the bare minimum."

Far from being superficial, rebranding can have a major impact on a charity's ability to reach potential beneficiaries, according to Paul Farmer, director of public affairs at Rethink.

"We used to be known as the National Schizophrenia Fellowship, even though we worked with people who had a variety of mental health issues," he said.

"We discovered that some people were being put off contacting us because of our name, so we knew we had to rebrand.

"Although it's hard to quantify the return you get from rebranding, most of the public will be sympathetic if you tell them why you are doing it."

Richard Williams, director of Williams Murray Hamm, the brand consultancy that succeeded in putting baked beans on Hovis packs, echoed this sentiment and said the benefits of rebranding outweigh the costs.

"Consumers are bombarded with information, so the challenge is to get people's attention," he said. "If your brand is not clear, people will not give you money.

"The sector must be honest about the need for brands and the costs involved."

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