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Charity sector marketing professionals are strapped for time, and under pressure to meet targets while keeping marketing budgets to a minimum. The choice of marketing channels is therefore critical. Social media continues to be an important tool in raising awareness. However, email not only provides the best return on investment (ROI) of any marketing channel, but also email techniques oﬀer significant opportunities to keep potential supporters engaged and loyal to your cause by building trust.
The key is to find innovative ways to be "invited" into the hearts and minds of potential supporters. "Batch and blast" email campaigns were never a good idea, but with new tighter rules like those from the Fundraising Preference Service, coupled with tighter email marketing regulations around the globe, they are less likely than ever to convince people to give their hard-earned money, valuable time or personal data.
Create meaningful content
Oﬀering the right email content, delivered in a creative way, will make your supporters stop and take notice. The trick is to take the time to understand what your donors and volunteers really care about.
People are more likely to give to causes when they understand the impact their donation is making. According to a report from charity think tank NPC, British consumers would donate an additional £655 million each year to charity if they had access to more information about evidence of impact and knew exactly how their money would be spent. Around 20% of mainstream donors and 34% of high income donors would increase their overall giving if charities were better at communicating their successes.
Use content automation
One way to make your content a success is to re-purpose your existing web content. If you already produce great articles and blog posts or other types of content on your website, you can use content automation to pull that into email campaigns. This is done using XML feeds, but you don’t have to be techy! Your Email Service Provider [ESP] should be able to help you set it up.
Another proven content idea is creating modular templates. In order to have enough time to focus on content, make sure email design is not one of your worries. A modular template approach in a robust Email Editor means you can pick and choose design layouts and simply insert the creative as and when you need it.
Individual contextual messages
First-Person Marketing allows you to communicate personal and individual contextual email messages on a large scale. Essentially, it’s the polar opposite of batch and blast, where you have one generic message pushed out to an untargeted list.
This is not just about using a mail merge tag with someone’s name. First-Person Marketing allows you to use advanced data integrations to incorporate individual preferences, behaviour, interests, and lifecycle/journey touchpoints into your content. The net result is relevant content that will resonate with your supporters on an individual basis.
Here are some tips to get started with First-Person Marketing:
- Stop thinking about your list as just "data". Think about it as a collection of individuals with needs, opinions and interests.
- Reign back on "one size fits all" email blasts. There will inevitably be times when you need to communicate a single message to everyone, but it should not be your only consideration.
- Use testing techniques before you press send. Always ask "why?" and "what if…?" and then work out what you need to do to make it happen.
- Commit to ongoing change. Sometimes a charity’s structure and politics can make significant changes seem impossible. The important thing is to keep looking for small incremental changes on an ongoing basis.
- Increase efficiency and relevance with automation. By taking time to examine donor journeys and decide where you can introduce automation, you not only save time but improve donors, experience by sending relevant content.
There are a number of effective techniques you can employ straight away, with minimum effort, for maximum return - with perhaps some help from your ESP.
Engaging a new supporter
Charities often start a relationship with a supporter based off a single key event or campaign. Bring them further into the fold with an on-boarding campaign. These are usually a sequence of automated emails that can take your supporters through a process to become more entrenched in your brand and what you stand for.
This could be stories about how their donations make an impact on the recipients of your charity, or helpful information to keep your supporters engaged with an event such as a marathon or sponsored walk.
You might provide progress updates on your project to encourage supporters to share details with friends or oﬀer additional donations, or certificates and social media badges when supporters have completed an action such as hosting their own fundraiser or completed a run to encourage word-of-mouth. Don’t forget to use dynamic content to personalise the email with their name, amount raised and completed time for a race (if appropriate).
Your supporters will never be more engaged with your email programme than on the day they sign up. Maintain that enthusiasm with an automated welcome campaign. These emails can be used when someone initially engages with your brand, makes a donation or signs up to volunteer. The goal is to let them know quickly, normally within 24 hours, that their help and support is meaningful and appreciated.
For example, thank people for their donation and let them know how it will be used. Then send follow up emails when a supporter opts in to receive your content via your website or social media pages. In addition, communicate a process such as "what happens next" to let people know what to expect over the coming weeks or months.
Nurturing potential supporters
Nurture campaigns are designed to contribute to the process of developing long term relationships at every stage of a "sales" process. Testing the type of messaging and timing of these emails is crucial as every audience is diﬀerent.
Consider oﬀering something to your supporter before you ask them to give their time or money. For example, the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) oﬀers guides on how to build "homes for nature" including a "bug hotel" and a "hedgehog house".
Set up a carefully timed sequence for optimum results. You don’t want their interest to become weak, but you don’t want to email them every day either. Start with a weekly or bi-weekly sequence of three or four emails, and test the timing to determine the best level of engagement.
Set clear objectives for every email in the sequence. Do you want these contacts to understand more about the scale of your cause, or do you want to tell them a story of the impact of a donation?
Use an abandoned basket functionality to nudge potential donors towards completing their donation.
List segmentation allows you to oﬀer relevant content to your supporters based on demographics, behaviour, purchasing history or interests. Even at a basic level it can improve the success of campaigns.
Start with broad segments such as donors, volunteers or advocates. They all believe in your cause, but have diﬀerent motivations to get involved so it’s important to address those to keep email engagement optimised.
Drill down further into identifying the diﬀerent target audiences within each segment. You will have more than one type of donor or volunteer. Think beyond the obvious. It’s easy to come up with broad brush terms such as "over 50s", but if you try and think about common interests, beliefs or behaviours, your campaigns will be more eﬀective.
Even if you haven’t collected much data, you can start small by gaining insights from past behaviour.
Low cost engagement
Charities need to find cost eﬀective and efficient ways to stay in touch with supporters, donors and volunteers on a consistent basis. Email marketing, when done well, ticks all those boxes.
GOOD RETURN ON INVESTMENT. Email marketing is still one of the best value marketing techniques out there, both in terms of time and cost. Email still outperforms any other marketing activity for moving your supporters towards your desired outcome. A recent email industry report shows that 84% of charities have experienced excellent ROI from email marketing techniques. That’s an increase of 18% since an earlier report in 2014!
INSIGHT ON BEHAVIOUR AND INTERESTS. Email marketing oﬀers you fast results without having to undertake expensive market research. You will find out almost immediately what works and what doesn’t, so you can take steps to fix or edit your content to get better results.
PERSONALISATION. Personalisation has been mentioned numerous times during this piece, and with good reason. The more relevant your campaigns, the better the results.
INSPIRE FURTHER ACTION FROM EXISTING SUPPORTERS. The people on your email list have already expressed an interest in your charity and the work that you do. Your TV and social media campaigns are great for bringing new people into the fold. But your email marketing can even enhance these, to encourage and inspire action in a more eﬀective way.
Make it resonate
Remember, if your message as a charity doesn't resonate, you can be switched oﬀ with just one click. With relevant communications planned for the lifecycle of your supporters you will build long term engagement and trust – surely the key objectives of any charity.
For decades, charities have invested in direct marketing to reach new and existing supporters. From cold calling, knocking on doors, street fundraisers to mail drops, it has been an effective method of fundraising. However, times are changing and consumers are becoming increasingly frustrated by this type of communication.
According to research carried out by the American Press Institute, 88% of millennials now get their news from Facebook. Meanwhile Brexit negotiators, such as the EU leader Michel Barnier, often express their views on Twitter first before they make the news headlines.
Implications for charities
Social media has become the ideal place for charities to share information about their organisation without donors or supporters feeling specifically targeted or solicited. And thanks to new, more affordable and accessible technology, charities have the opportunity to invest even more in their social media communications to help them save time, resource and money. But it is apparent that many charity trustees feel concerned as to whether social media can truly benefit their charity. This mindset can prevent them from giving it proper consideration or investment.
According to research in the Charity Digital Skills Report, more than 70% of charities rate their board’s digital skills as low or with room for improvement, and 80% of respondents want their leadership team to provide a clear vision of what digital could help them achieve. Trepidation shouldn’t be an excuse to avoid social media, as it is a huge part of people's everyday lives, and can help charities get their messages in front of the right people and even deliver services more efficiently and effectively. Social media needs to be embraced from the top down and trustees should not only get involved but also empower staff to make the right decisions.
As leaders, it is imperative to understand the opportunities that embracing social media can offer to a charity, regardless of size of cause area. With over two billion monthly users on Facebook alone, the reach that these platforms have cannot be ignored. The question has now moved from "can you afford to invest in social media?" to "can you afford not to?"
Quality not quantity
As a trustee, are you aware of what technology your charity is using and how much it is costing the organisation? I will bet that most trustees do not know the true cost. Legacy platforms and outdated CRM (customer relationship management) systems can cost huge amounts of money due to the number of licences needed, hosting costs as well as possible unexpected costs such as additional training for volunteers to use them. And if they are outdated, they are also ineffective. There are much cheaper and more cost-effective ways to build stronger relationships; social media is one of these solutions.
Social media offers an unparalleled way to communicate directly with supporters, journalists, MPs and many other stakeholders compared to other methods of communication. Being able to directly tweet a journalist about a campaign or in response to an article they have written saves time and is more effective than sending them an email. Over 80% of journalists say that they find their news stories on Twitter so building a relationship with them on this channel will increase opportunities for media coverage or being approached for an expert quote.
A tired public
Whilst methods such as cold calling, direct mail, street and door to door fundraising have been effective to a degree, we must consider the public’s increasing disregard for these methods of communication. After a summer of discontent in 2015, the Fundraising Regulator was set up to keep the sector in check and to offer the public greater control over how charities communicate with it.
As part of this, in July 2017, the Fundraising Preference Service (FPS) was launched - an online website which offers anyone the ability to stop emails, calls, texts and addressed mail from any charity in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. This means that charities will need to continuously download reports for the FPS and update records accordingly.
These are not the only changes that are happening. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is coming into effect in May 2018. It’s complicated (I urge you to read up on it and ensure your charity is on the road to GDPR compliance) but in a nutshell, it also offers people the ability to choose how they want organisations to communicate with them.
Speaking to your supporters just got harder. But this is where social media can bridge that divide. Through social media hashtags and "social listening", which act like a search function, it’s easier to get your message in front of the right people. If your content is engaging and inspiring - not merely "broadcast" to the masses – it is possible to strengthen relationships with new and existing supporters alike.
After all, no one wants to be caught in a "broadcast" channel that merely promotes an agenda. These merely talk at people, rather than engage with them. Social media is about getting closer to supporters, through having meaningful conversations, which have value in engaging existing supporters and donors (thereby increasing their goodwill and propensity to give more in the future), as well as finding new ones.
Boosting your ROI
According to fundraising consultant Ken Burnett, it takes a charity an average of two years to recoup the money spent on acquiring a donor who gives £5 per month and costs them £160 if acquiring them through face-to-face methods. Is this money (and time) well spent? Well, if that donor continues to donate for the rest of their lifetime, then yes. But as we all know, this is unlikely, as many disruptive factors will come into play. Social media can help raise funds and boost return on investment considerably more than other methods.
Social media plays a big part in getting people to donate to causes, whether it’s by donating to a friend’s fundraising page that they shared in a Facebook post or whether it’s a tweet asking people to donate to a crowdfunding appeal, such as the recent Grenfell Tower disaster. Social media can help amplify causes because the key to winning hearts and minds is through storytelling and building a community.
Think of social media as a touch point. Once someone engages with a cause on social media, they are a warm contact. If they then go on to sign a petition, sign up to a newsletter or donate money, it is then up to charities to nurture that relationship and make it go the distance. The right technology can help automate processes and make user journeys frictionless.
Revolutionise your processes
Charities are doing the most important work in society yet are often restricted by inferior technology. Low or zero budgets means having to make do with inefficient CRM systems, or free technology which isn’t built for the sector and is therefore not fit for purpose.
Social media is the leveller where every charity, no matter its size, is on an even playing field. A clear strategy is needed in order to make the most of available resources, to produce quality content, engage with audiences and then analyse efforts. Once a strategy is in place, the appropriate tools can then be sourced to help with efficiency and effectiveness.
For now, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and Snapchat are the big players in the social media space but they won’t be appropriate for every charity - and, of course, there are new platforms emerging all the time. If time and resource are limited, make sure they’re spent wisely.
Before jumping on a platform, charities must spend time researching whether it will be worth the investment and if it’s sustainable. Focus efforts on one or two platforms; for most charities, this will be Facebook and Twitter as they are the largest. Spend time crafting messages and using appropriate images or video as they are proven to increase engagement and help content stand out. Delve into the analytics to see which posts perform the best and then create more of that kind of content.
Don’t forget to include clear calls to action so that people are taken on a logical journey. For example, if posting about a new fundraising campaign, the call to action should ask people to sign up and a link to the sign-up page on the website should be included.
Social media is not a magic wand. A clear, well thought out strategy needs to be in place for charities to make the most of the opportunities that social media offers. Trustees need to understand its potential and that investment may be needed in order to reap the rewards. After all, a more engaged supporter base can enable impact to happen.
"Social media offers an unparalleled way to communicate directly with supporters, journalists, MPs and many other stakeholders compared to other methods of communication."
"A clear strategy is needed in order to make the most of available resources, to produce quality content, engage with audiences and then analyse efforts."
The onset of new social channels has opened up exciting and potentially rewarding ways for charities to engage with today’s connected consumers; however, the downside of spending more time and effort on getting out through these additional channels, without more budget, can often mean that brand strategy is being neglected.
Your charity may think it has a "brand message" but is this being communicated across all channels?
Checking on your brand
The way to check you have a brand is looking at "brand focus". There is an awful lot to consider when putting together an effective marketing plan, but the first thing to get right is brand focus. Among other things, this will dictate how to take a message to market.
All too often a marketing plan is done and dusted, perhaps even underway, when the brand hasn’t been truly defined or a proposition revisited in the past 12 months.
Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle strategy is very useful for scoping out a brand with the idea that we should start with "why". Asking why you do what you do, or why people respond to why you do what you do. How can you get people to support you, or buy from you, or be loyal if they don’t know why?
Moreover, starting with why is much more straightforward and valuable to a charity than to any consumer brand or B2B proposition. A charity’s why is a direct plug in to making the world a genuinely better place; and the why of a charity also carries integrity.
Constantly asking why, and asking the question across all areas of the charity, as well as supporters, can help to keep a brand focused and relevant.
New rules of engagement
So why is getting the "why" secured so important in the current media landscape? Because there are new rules of consumer engagement and tapping into these can transform the way a charity generates results through its multi-channel marketing.
The old model of customer engagement is based on the principles of the manufacturing age: “Company creates a brand (this is done through developing products and then advertising them); the brand then attracts its customer; the customer sustains the company though repeat purchase of the products.”
The new model is very similar, but with one subtle, crucial change. Instead of creating a product first, the company creates customers. This is done through product development and social media. It’s then the customer who creates and drives the brand though purchase and brand advocacy and, in turn, the brand sustains the company through brand loyalty driving repeat purchase.
This might seem counterintuitive, but it’s a new way of thinking that is being embraced by some of the world’s leading brands, such as Apple, Uber and airbnb.
They’re all making their brand something people can identify with, something people care about, something people are prepared to share. It used to be that the brand with the best products won. Now it’s the brand with the best customers that comes out on top.
Target market defines the brand
A "primacy of the customer" approach also means your brand isn’t what you say it is. Today, more than ever, your brand is what your target market says it is. If they believe in your why, they will promote your organisation. Because customers don't buy brands, customers create brands and they join brands.
The idea of "creating the customer" is so much more powerful today because customers have the tools and the audience to market themselves. Customers have the tools and the audience to market stuff they love. And customers write their own stories.
If we can provide our target market with an experience that they have a deep and emotional connection to, and with content to share, then they will want to tell people about it. Encourage them to do something inspirational, cool, daft or important and they will want to share this or post a photo of them doing it.
This is Behavioural Economics, a thinking straight out of Harvard. By garnering a following, a tribe, that has shared values with your organisation, your charity can build an army of foot soldiers who carry your message, tell your story, and market your brand.
This approach was illustrated most recently with last year’s Carers Trust Britain’s Biggest Breakfast campaign. Lots of quality content was put on the website and across social media channels, including a free downloadable recipe book featuring recipes from various food bloggers and campaign advocate Joanna Lumley. All this proved more popular than any previous years’ tactics. It generated more than 1 million unique views on Facebook alone.
While final numbers are still to be confirmed, the Carers Trust has reported considerably more participants than in previous years thanks to this latest approach.
This approach worked for England Netball and Cancer Research UK too. The partnership between the two organisations used social media to tap into England Netball’s membership of 96,000 women and girls, as well as the 1.5m who regularly play. Over five years the partnership raised over £2.5 million.
Garnering people power
People power is out there. It’s up to us to garner this power and put it to good use. Consider campaigning platform Change.org for example. Its members win “people-powered campaigns for social change” everyday, from eggs from caged hens withdrawn from supermarkets, to people saved from execution. These are massive victories and it wouldn’t be possible without the social influencers that technology has enabled over the past 10-15 years.
The "why" of a charity also shapes "how" you reach supporters in an integrated approach. In the words of Ivan Menezes, CEO of Diageo, “It’s not about doing ‘digital marketing’, it’s (now) about marketing effectively in a digital world.”
Also this is an important way to view all marketing per se. It’s time to break out of historical marketing silos and take a fresh look at integrated brand marketing, making sure that the "why" message is consistent across all brand touch points and using the channels that are the most important.
While the digital age has opened up more and more marketing channels for us to choose from and consider, this doesn’t mean we should use all channels. Also, it marks a line in the sand where offline methods now need to be superseded by digital and social – simply because they are more effective now.
Controlling the brand message
Controlling a brand message is more challenging than ever, but as we’ve identified it’s more important too. A neglect of brand strategy can risk a message being diluted, or, at worse, not present across a fragmented, ever-increasing number of channels. Moreover, why spend time operating an Instagram profile if this doesn’t reflect the rest of your comms or if your potential supporters aren’t there.
By having a clear view of who your potential supporters are, what they want from their interaction with your charity and what form of advertising has most relevance to them, and importantly using this insight to encourage consumers to promote your message, charities can really start to focus on delivering the right solutions to consumers' perceived problems with a stronger, more consistent integrated plan.
Getting involved in a shouting match, across more channels, has much less impact than ensuring cohesion, consistency and relevance of your cause at every touchpoint.
"All too often a marketing plan is done and dusted, perhaps even underway, when the brand hasn't been truly defined or a proposition revisited in the past 12 months."
"A neglect of brand strategy can risk a message being diluted or, at worst, not present across a fragmented, ever-increasing number of channels."
Public affairs can seem like a daunting world shrouded in smoke, mystery and skullduggery. But over the last fifteen years the time of the backroom deals made by greying lobbyists over a cigar and whisky have been left behind as we are moving towards a more transparent politics. In turn, this leads to opportunity for charities across the country to access public affairs and influence policy to aid their cause.
Charities, no matter how big or small, can have their say. It is no longer possible for a letter to be ignored or information to be withheld, without the possibility of being called out. Add to that the pressure social media can place on politicians and a well targeted campaign can have impactful results.
Define your goals
Before embarking on any campaign, it is important to understand, at all levels of the organisation, exactly what it is you aim to achieve. Are you aiming to increase awareness amongst decision makers, increase funding or, perhaps, change policy? Whatever your goals they need to be clearly defined before the campaigns begins. There is no point focusing on 30 issues as your messaging will get lost and there will be no clear ask coming out of your campaign.
Politicians do not want to know what you think about interfaith issues in America if you are seeking funding for a UK project. Similarly, they have no interest in your view on the National Health Service if you would like to ban e-cigarettes. Rather choose a cause; you can’t do everything at once. One policy or cause is more likely to succeed, even if it is the tip of the iceberg, rather than looking to cure all the world’s ills in one campaign. This will allow you to tailor your campaign to those who can impact your charity (and come in on budget).
Animal Aid has many issues it wishes to campaign on regarding the raising, transport and slaughter of livestock. However, in the past two years it has been successful in engaging parliamentarians in its campaign by focusing specifically on the introduction of CCTV into slaughterhouses by only discussing this issue and its wider benefits. By focusing on a narrow topic they have gained media and parliamentary support as well as the backing of food leading manufacturers across the UK.
Talk to the right person
We have all been there when we have just made the world’s best complaint/pitch/plea only to be told that you are talking to the wrong person. Once you know what you want to achieve, the next step is to identify the individuals who can help you to achieve your goal. Detailed stakeholder mapping can be the difference between two good meetings and six months of chasing your own tail. Lists of councillors, elected representative and relevant trade bodies are widely available online.
Whilst local representatives – councillors, MPs and (for now) MEPs – are likely to have a vested interest in your charity, it is also good to look for others who have an interest in your cause. So if health is your cause, some desk research into members of the All Party Political Group into Health will provide you with a ready-made list of interested MPs. Many APPGs also host events that will give you an opportunity to network, engage with other interested parties and position yourself as a thought leader in your area.
Just one able advocate can take a campaign from a local excursion to a legislation changer. This is a tactic which can be employed particularly effectively by small charities. Lillian’s Law is a perfect example of how a hyper-local issue can expand to engage with the legislative process. Fourteen year old Lillian Groves was struck and killed by a speeding car driven by a man under the influence of drugs in 2010. Following her death, her family campaigned tirelessly for a zero tolerance approach to be adopted when sentencing drug drivers, in the same way as drink drivers.
The campaign was taken on by local MP Gavin Barwell, who persuaded the then Prime Minister to include the Bill in the Queen's Speech. It was eventually adopted onto the statute books and became law in 2015. All from a low level campaign run by the teenager’s family.
If you are strategic, you are more likely to be successful. Targeting a member of the Shadow Cabinet who will never be able to make progress with government, has few, if any, benefits. Knowing the political system will allow you to encourage politicians to use tools such as e-petitions, Early Day Motions or Adjournment Debates to have your issue raised and increase exposure. It is unlikely that they will come up with the ideas themselves, although it might be good if they think they did, so make sure you have the knowledge to make suggestions if needed.
Day to day campaigning
Well written letters to key stakeholders, following up to secure a meeting and being coherent when you all sit down are really important. If you are able to make it relevant, you are more likely to be able to secure a meeting, so monitoring the media is crucial. If you can link your cause to the news it suddenly becomes topical.
Make sure your messages are clear and that you have a simple and easy to follow leave behind which can be used as a briefing for the next time the politicians needs to raise the topic. It is also important to understand what influences the decision makers. Do they have an adviser who really makes most of the decisions or is their main source of information the Daily Telegraph whilst eating their cornflakes? The more your messages are seen and heard by the right decision maker, the more likely the campaign will be successful. But this does mean that low level campaigns aren’t successful.
Good PR will help any public affairs campaign. But it is more important to prepare lines to quash those opposing your campaign than to be proactive with your PR. You can be having the most productive behind the scenes discussions with public leaders but one bad article can set you back years.
It took only seven months for Kids Company to go from having a £3 million grant approved by the Government to closing its doors mired in scandal. Preparing for the worse will allow you to bat away obvious scrutiny and ensure your campaign can maintain momentum throughout.
How a good campaign works
However small a public affairs campaign, there will always be benefits for your charity. There could be anything from building relationships to gaining a more in depth understand of what’s going on in your area, all the way through to creating a new law or bringing about real change.
Before you begin, define a clear budget, resources and timescale to deliver the campaign. This will need to be regularly measured and research should be conducted throughout to back it up with statistics. There is no one size fits all in this area, rather a thorough check of how many meetings are planned or how many new followers you have on Twitter are equally good guides to the success of a campaign.
There are no short cuts
No matter what the cause, be prepared for the long haul! Nothing happens overnight and especially not in politics. Don’t overwhelm audiences with arguments, keep it simple and be prepared for the alternative views so that you can rebut criticism quickly.
Set yourself short, mid and long term goals and keep assessing what you have achieved. If you are able to make your case as local and personal as possible then your chances increase, but given time anything is possible. The effort you put in to get to know key stakeholders and their staff, even if you don’t see the results now, will pay off in the long term.
Charities are missing a golden opportunity to create compelling emotional engagement. That’s the key message emerging from our recent analysis based on research of the top UK charities. Apart from a handful of exceptional examples of good practice, most value statements have become generic, bland and undifferentiating
Playing it safe with generic values, confusing them with internal behaviours and not being bold enough are the key traps organisations are falling into in their bid to reassert trust.
The once clear delineation that existed between the charity sector and the corporate sector has blurred. Both sectors appear to have swapped their language - the corporate sector has started focusing on passion and heart whilst the charity sector is aiming to sound more effective and businesslike. Where the corporate sector is focusing on the value of doing good, charities are aiming to be seen as more professional, talking about impact, returns and investment.
Losing value focus
Losing this focus on their values has resulted in many charities unconsciously allowing their positions to erode.
Whilst charities are naturally risk averse, they need to recognise that the only risk in this current climate is standing still. As the sector is disrupted by technology, increasing competition, and changing donor behaviour, it’s the actions they take that break through and deliver impact.
Here are some key actions to be undertaken so as to ensure a charity brand is firing on all its cylinders and using the full potential of its authentic values:
Ditch generic "table stake"values
Table stakes are those values that are shared across a sector, expected and assumed by all, but that are often considered "things that we should probably say".
The main problem with using a table stake as one of your values is that you end up stating the obvious or telling people what they already know. In the private sector the most common table stake values are "professional" and "dynamic". So what table stakes did the survey find in the charity sector? Some of the worst offenders were "honest" (10% of the charities researched), "passionate" (25%) and "committed" (25%).
These values are almost universal in the charity sector; it’s like stating that you are "altruistic". You may know a few organisations that lack these qualities in your area but chances are they will claim they have them anyway.
The bare minimum to aim for when choosing and expressing your values is to not waste your audience’s time by simply telling them what type of organisation they can expect to find in the charity sector. What’s more, it can arouse suspicion, “Why do you feel the need to say you’re honest?!”
Distinguish values from behaviours
Almost 35% of the charities looked at showed evidence of confusing "values" and "behaviours". The simple rule is this: Don’t tell me you’re funny, make me laugh! In other words, demonstrate you are professional, inclusive, transparent, etc. and use your values statement for something really engaging and differentiating.
This is understandable, as values, which are external communications tools, and behaviours, which are internal management tools, have a similar sounding, positive, meaning-laden vocabulary. Using "respect" (28%) and "effective" (16%) are examples of this.
Crucial opportunity lost
However, the key difference is that behaviours are "the standards you operate to" and values are "the principles behind your actions". When these two get confused a crucial opportunity to engage and connect is lost. In the worst examples one found values statements that read like the internal strategy documents they were probably copied and pasted from!
Your values should be about why you do what you do. They’re an opportunity to connect by saying what drives you, what you believe and what are you not prepared to tolerate. They are not an occasion to talk about your equal opportunities policy or customer focus.
In addition to those relying on generic table stakes and standard internal behaviours, 28% of the charities looked at didn’t explicitly talk about their values at all. Now, if their values shine through strong copy and engaging branding then that’s one thing, but if it is a deliberate attempt not to alienate or offend then it is a serious misjudgment.
All charities are expected to have core beliefs and want to see a change in the world. Over a third of the charities researched cited "equality" as one of their key values, therefore they should really be upsetting someone somewhere because if not, they aren’t fighting the vested interests that perpetuate inequality.
So what to do? If playing it safe will leave you drowned out, indistinct and unengaging does that mean you have to be "dangerous"? No, not dangerous and certainly not reckless but bold, ambitious, leading and real.
Standing for something
Draw your values out from the organisation and tell them well. Tell people who you are and why it matters that you exist. If you don’t take a stand for something, you may as well not stand for anything. By trying to please everyone and playing it safe, you could risk not getting through to anyone.
Get past the obvious
Remember, in a crowded market, people will listen to you and give you time and money when they care about your cause and share the values that drive your approach.
Don’t waste the opportunity to use value statements to say something really engaging and differentiating.
When emotional engagement is the goal, lead with the "why" rather than the "what" or "how".
Driving your approach
Talk with people who care and tell them how your values drive your approach.
The solution is not to make something up; if you can’t find anything genuine then be prepared to fundamentally change who you are.
The objective is to identify the truth of what you stand for, and then tell it well.
Your values are about why you do what you do. Values are about the principles that drive you.
Stand for something, cause a reaction, get past the obvious and taken for granted, remember who you represent and find something genuine. Then people will rally to your cause, give you the funds you need and make you the change-maker you were conceived to be.