165 reasons why brand matters to your charity

Is branding a bottomless pit into which the profligate cast hard-earned charity income? Or is it a shrewd investment spent by the strategically enlightened, in the sure knowledge that they will see rich rewards? Ollie Leggett, IE’s MD and top charity Brand Consultant, hopes to persuade you it’s the latter – with a little help from Mrs. Leggett.

The charity challenge

First, a confession about that misleading, click-baiting headline. Don’t worry, I’m not going to take you through 165 bullet points. In fact, it should really read 165 THOUSAND reasons, because that’s the number of registered charities in England and Wales. Or 189,000 - the number if you add Scotland as well. And that's without even counting the many thousands more with an income below £5k or that are exempt.

This is the reality of the charity sector, where competition for hearts and minds is fierce. Add to that the recent negative press about charity fundraisers and tougher regulation, and there’s no denying charity marketers face a real challenge.

The cats that get the (coffee and) cream

So, we have 165,000 charities competing for around £70 billion, the total income for the industry as a whole. 71.4% of that income for the sector is shared between the top 1.3%, the super-charities like Cancer Research and Macmillan. So how do they do it?

Recently, my wife told me we were going to be hosting a Macmillan coffee morning. As a family we are faithful supporters of six charities, yet in nearly 25 years of married life we’ve never supported Macmillan, nor hosted a coffee morning. So I asked her, “why?”

She told me one of her New Year’s resolutions was to be a bit more community minded. She loves baking so decided to invite some friends round for a coffee morning. She immediately thought of doing it in aid of Macmillan because, well they run the world’s biggest coffee morning don’t they? She applied for a pack online, ran the coffee morning and raised a little over £100 before blogging and Instagramming about it.

"The Macmillan brand had attracted, embraced and engaged my wife"

Somehow, despite our long term commitment to other charities and our lack of a personal connection (thankfully) with cancer causes, the Macmillan brand had attracted, embraced and engaged my wife. And as someone who has attracted, embraced and engaged my wife, I know what a challenge that can be!

Before its six-figure rebrand, Macmillan was irrelevant and invisible to my wife. The images of institutional settings – surgeries and hospitals – where nurses provide end of life care to dying people, were of no relevance to her. But they managed to move public perception from supporting people dying with cancer to helping us to help each other. From 'they are Macmillan' to ‘We are Macmillan’. Over the following two years Macmillan experienced tremendous success:

  • Income increased by £26m
  • Website visitors doubled
  • Callers to the Macmillan Support Line increased by 35%
  • One in two people interviewed for a job at Macmillan cited the brand as a reason they wanted to work there.

The other 98.7% 

Macmillan won the charity brand lottery. And we all hate admire them for it, don’t we?!

Of course, the rest of us - the other 98.7% - don’t have a six figure sum to spend on boosting our brands. But honestly, in the highly competitive charities market with well over 200k competitors, the key role of any charity marketer, fundraiser, or chief exec is to differentiate the organisation – to compellingly re-express the story of the cause.

We need to tell our donors, supporters and volunteers What do we stand for? and Why should you care?

Survival is all about differentiation. Setting yourself apart from the crowd.

In the case of CSH Surrey, its new tone of voice and key messages were credited with winning them a £110 million, five year NHS contract. IE's brand development thinking helped them to communicate their core values and make CSH more distinctive in the tender process, capturing the imaginations of the panel.  

And that’s why brand matters.