The squabbling ugly sisters who thwart effective branding

There is lots of heated debate going on about whether charity branding is worth the investment or just a waste of money – the same debate that raged when I was brand manager at Shelter many moons ago. Back then, and even now, I sometimes feel like I’m made out to be the nasty Sheriff of Nottingham, stealing valuable charity funds for the purposes of ‘marketing’. And yet I do what I do because I firmly believe that branding can provide clarity and inspire more support and income. And when I talk about branding I don’t only mean the logo, which is another common misconception we’re still fighting.

Brands are often measured by a range of criteria, such as awareness, understanding, relevance and consideration to support. One of the most common metrics is public awareness, spontaneous and promoted, which often sits within the communications team. However, what’s the point of people simply knowing you if they won’t consider supporting you from a fundraising perspective? For me the relationship between awareness and consideration to support is critical, and if the gap is too high then brand isn’t working hard enough.

Fundraisers are more concerned by not only consideration to support but actual real engagement and the bottom line – such as how many people donate, the profiles of people who donate and how much and how often. These metrics often sit in their department and are sometimes neglected by communications.

All too often than not, the two sets of metrics are not examined together and yet they’ll paint the best picture of whether a brand is effective or not. To paint a real picture of whether a brand is working or not you need to put the data sets together. This may require clashing horns with colleagues in a different department or, indeed,  extending an olive branch.

Much of the debate is actually caused by the way many charities are structured and evaluated. In some charities, communications and fundraising work together harmoniously. But in others the battle lines can be fierce – in the worst cases like two squabbling, ugly sisters with the true needs of supporters cast aside like Cinderella. Internal structures are of no relevance to supporters, but the way in which the two disciplines work together is critical to a charity’s success. The communications and fundraising functions are now being brought together by some of the big players such as RSPCA and RSPB, with others finally beginning to bury the hatchet. Hopefully this will help break down silos, which may in turn lead to greater efficiency.

I joined this agency because, as a brand expert, I wanted to be surrounded by fundraising experts. Brave, I know. The longer I’ve been here, the more convinced I am of my decision and the more I question why any charity would want to work with an agency that doesn’t understand fundraising to create a charity brand. You might as well blindfold them and tie their hands behind their backs. Unless you apply brand development (strategy, design and messaging) to a fundraising context and test it with existing and potential supporters, how on earth will you ever know it’ll work?

Dan Dufour is head of brand at The Good Agency