The importance of brand for fundraising
Regular income provides a charity with the confidence and security to plan for the long term. Fundraising is just one aspect of creating a steady and healthily diverse stream of income. Whether you’re communicating with a trust fund, a foundation, a corporate donor, looking to win statutory funding or making a pitch on a street corner to a potential individual donor – they’re all going to be asking the same questions... Who are you? What do you do? And why should I care?
Entities like charitable funds and corporates will have clearly identified criteria for the sorts of organisations that they’re looking to partner with. Individuals may be less organised in their thinking but they’re all fundamentally asking the same question… Do I want to partner with you? Do I want to weave you into my story? And a great brand will address these questions head on with consistency and conviction.
To understand the importance of brand in relation to fundraising we must first define "brand". Your brand encompasses everything that your audiences think, feel, believe and say about your charity. A brand is crucial in engaging audiences; it’s the ethos, character, personality and mission of your charity and it’s embodied not just in your logo, but in the entire experience a potential funder has when they encounter your organisation.
The world’s a complex place. We’re all time poor. And the competition for precious income is fiercer than ever. So the importance of a strong brand - a clearly defined position, an arresting set of messages, eye catching visual assets and a compelling proposition – has never been greater. The goal is to make you an "easy" acquisition. A no-brainer.
That’s going to mean nailing your colours to the mast. A clearly defined brand knows its audiences. A brand can only ever be as attractive as it is repulsive. What I’m trying to say there is you must avoid the temptation of trying to be all things to everybody.
Understand your audiences and their drivers. Hone your brand, your proposition, your story, to appeal to your audiences exclusively. And don’t fret about all the other people who will be lost along the way.
Of course, when someone chooses to give long term, they will have a clutch of essential "hygiene factors": Are you legitimate? Have you got a decent reputation? Are you making a difference and delivering value? Beyond those they will want to identify a charity with which they share inherent values. Donors always subconsciously ask: "If I am going to donate, is this organisation in line with who I am, my personal choices and how I want to be seen and understood? Is their work something I am passionate about supporting?"
People who feel organisations resonate with their own values and are compatible with their beliefs, want to acquire the badge – and brand – associated with the organisation. They want to become part of your story and to invite you into theirs.
That is why it is important to research your audiences to find out who your potential and actual primary donor groups are, and what their perceptions of your charity may be. Then through brand behaviours and messaging you can go out to these audiences and engage them with confidence – raising awareness and increasing acquisition.
See how this fits in with the story of the UK arm of an international charity which was facing the specific problem of an ageing donor base. It urgently urgently needed to reposition the brand and visual identity to reinvigorate the organisation and its fundraising efforts.
The charity concerned, SIM, is an international Christian charity with over 1,600 missionaries serving in over 60 counties. The UK branch arm has almost 200 people working around the world. It was once the Sudan Interior Mission, but as its geographic focus changed it began to use the acronym SIM.
Part of the problem it was facing was that SIM didn’t mean anything to its audiences, and potential new donors were finding it hard to understand the organisation and its mission. SIM UK needed to increase its recognition within the Christian charities market.
During a research exercise, competitor mapping and stakeholder focus groups identified that the vast majority of the SIM’s direct competitors also had three letter acronym names – meaning SIM was undifferentiated via its brand name. Given weak brand recognition and awareness, SIM considered an evolutionary development of the name and a substantial re-expression of its visual identity and messaging in order to increase audience engagement and fundraising.
SIM became Serving in Mission, which had been more of a strapline for the 20 years before the rebrand. Its new logo − a clay pebble symbolising the readiness of members to be shaped by God, their readiness to work with Him in every opportunity and serve together - gave Serving in Mission a clear identity and a clarified hierarchy of key messages.
New calls to action – "Go", "Pray" and "Give" – reaffirmed the importance of donation at the top level of the brand messaging, alongside its work to send volunteers to help communities to connect with the message of Christianity and the practical expression of help.
A healthy focus on brand is a fantastic means of concentrating minds on increasing awareness and deepening engagement. However the relationship doesn’t end when someone commits to giving. Charities must nurture the relationship and continue to communicate with donors. They should be thanking them for their support, reassuring them about the difference they are making, communicating where their money is going, and giving them the sense of playing an essential part in all that is being achieved.