Trust: why branding matters for the third sector

Small person holding a placard with branding logo on it

Branding and the third sector

The public is more brand aware than ever. Charities, like all organisations, are realising the importance of brand and its impact on income generation.

A strong brand should be identifiable even without the logo. Below are examples of charity posters, with the logo obscured. These three charities are top of Third Sector’s annual Charity Brand Index – which ranks charities based on a number of factors including whether respondent’s were aware of them, cared about their cause, would donate to them, and trusted them.

Charity materials with logo obscured
Charity materials with logo obscured

So brand is more than just a logo – it is the collective term for the culture and values of an organisation, how it communicates, how it looks (the visual identity) and it’s tone of voice. All charities have a brand but not all have one which is thought-through and used consistently.

Brand consistency is about making sure that at every point where the oragnisation comes into contact with the public, clients, stakeholders or funders, it feels like the same organisation.

The single greatest benefit of brand consistency for the charity sector is that it creates trust. Unlike product-based companies, charities are offering something intangible in exchange for the donors money. The donor must trust that the charity will spend their money wisely. A consistent, relevant brand projects professionalism and expertise. This is more important than ever as trust in the charity sector continues to decline.

The single greatest benefit of brand consistency for the charity sector is that it creates trust.

As quoted in a BBC article, “since its 2006 rebrand, MacMillan Cancer Support has seen both its brand recognition and market share increase rapidly. Awareness among its core audiences of people diagnosed with cancer and their families and friends rose from 41% and 38% respectively to 65% and 66% between 2006 and 2011. In the same period, fundraising income increased from £97m to £141m.”

By putting out a single consistent look you help establish brand awareness. The more familiar a person is with a brand, the more likely they are to trust it, and trust them with their donation. Consistency helps to establish a level of intimacy between the individual and the brand – a personal link.

A successful brand is memorable – one which stands out for the right reasons but it must also be functional. For example a brand that dictates large images be used on posters will not work for an organisation with no photography budget, a logo with three colours will be more expensive to reproduce in publications than a simpler one.


How to achieve brand consistency

Brand consistency is achieved by creating brand guidelines. These define the brand assets and (colour palette, logo, fonts) and visual identity, set out how and where assets can be used, and give guidance on the tone and content of copy and imagery. 

As well as ensuring consistency, they have a long term cost benefit insofar as it speeds up the design process. Rather than the designer coming up with an entirely new look each time they work on a publication, they instead have a set of tools and parameters to guide them. The organisation is also less beholden to any one designer, because so long as the designer sticks to the guidelines the resulting materials will always look like they come from the same place. 

It also removes the obstacles of individual taste and aesthetic, both within the organisation and with external designers. Once the design guidelines are set, then things are either on brand or not. The process of creating the brand guidelines should be an inclusive one, with key members of the team, and potentially stakeholders and donors, being involved in their formulation. Management and policing of the brand could then lie with the Comms team or designated brand guardian, rather than senior staff being troubled with day-to-day sign off.


Evolution or revolution: how to put it right

Research suggests that the public do not always respond favourably to a charity rebranding. 67% of respondents to a survey thought charities who change their name, logo or look as part of a rebrand was ‘somewhat’ or ‘very’ wasteful, with just 11% seeing its worthwhile. However, the stats show that this is a miscomprehension and money invested in branding can increase income, partnerships and public awareness.

So the charity must tread carefully between appearing to waste money, and creating a professional image.

Sometimes the best change is one that happens in small increments – an evolution rather than revolution. An evolution involves taking an audit of what assets the organisation currently has, and formalising these into a cohesive visual identity: a set of brand guidelines. You can make small changes here and there to bring all assets in line with one another.

Macmillan has recently made some tweaks to its brand identity to help attract a more diverse range of supporters and to project a more positive image. Some changes reflect the need for new assets, like the a small M icon for use on social media.

This shows the subtle shift from the old logo (shown as an outline) to new.
This shows the subtle shift from the old logo (shown as an outline) to new.
New dynamic social media icon, which shifts from an M to a heart.
New dynamic social media icon, which shifts from an M to a heart.

A more all encompassing route for charities is to completely rebrand: to update the brand with a new logo. A revolution. The benefits of this are that the charity has the opportunity to start afresh and set out a new look and feel that adequately represents the organisation as it is now. The new logo can be designed with social media, internet, merchandise and print in mind. A new brand launch can generate media interest too.


Contact us

If you’d like to talk more about how your organisation could benefit from a brand refresh or tidy up, please get in touch. We’d love to hear from you: hello@smallstudios.co.uk.