Branded Or Not


The Charity Identity

Fundraising & New Media

By Trevor Maynard © 2002

The Value of Effective Integration of Marketing

Who am I?

Inspiration, Chaos and the Rubber Band Theory of Organizational Management

I am a charity, although, before answering the question, it may be necessary to first establish if “I am” at all.  To determine this, it may be useful to think in terms of company law, in that a company is, in law, a separate entity.  A charity, whether a company or not, could be said to be a separate entity, and therefore as such, it has an identity. Knowing I exist is a good first step, but the purpose of my existence, as a charity, cannot be performed unless I am funded.  And how do I become funded?  I promote my identity to potential funders.  And whom do I serve? I promote my services to potential beneficiaries.  And how do these stakeholders recognise me?  Maybe through my name?  Or should I say brand? 

More below…

 Motivational Theory




Fun Stuff



Branded Or Not, The Charity Identity, by Trevor Maynard ©2002

Like most words, the word brand has a murky past; the hot metal stamp pressed into the flesh of animals (Keaveney 2001); and similarly, I would suggest, once upon a time humans too, to denote ownership.  However, in the modern renaissance world of marketing, branding has undergone a makeover. The ownership now is of one’s own identity and not that of others.

A brand reveals, “who you are and what you do”, or in terms of a charity, “the nature and essence of what the charity is and how it is understood”(Keaveney 2001).  

Charities, on the whole, think they know their identity, or what it is they want to be, but often what they fail to take account of is how they are perceived by those outside in the real world, which constitutes, significantly, their existing and potential customers/clients/users/funders.   If a charity has not evolved an idea of who it is, then how it is perceived may very well be different from how it thinks it actually is perceived (Bruce 1998).  If a brand identifies what a charity is about in terms of all the feelings and associations of those outside of it, then it can better meet the needs of the aims and the objectives they relate to.

So, a charity is not only who am I, but how others perceive me.  Therefore, a brand should communicate the personality of the charity, as well as its values, attributes and culture (Seargent 1999).  I would say that all these things could be said to reflect a lifestyle choice.   For example, a charity for which an important part of their identity is trading fair trade goods, say Oxfam, are not only fulfilling a charitable aim by providing third world workers with a fair wage, they are also promoting their brand as a choice of lifestyle; caring, eco-friendly, liberal family.   If anything branded services, or according to Bruce “idea products” (1998), are always about selling a lifestyle; for example inclusiveness, lifelong learning, independent living, a green planet, spiritual healing and so on.

How do I find out who I am?

There are several marketing exercises that can help a charity decide on an identity, or a brand.   One is to get to the essence of the charity by asking the stakeholders of that charity to sum it up in one word, or phrase.  A good place to start would be the charity’s mission statement.  (Keaveney 2001).  Another is to gather the staff or trustees or both on agency days or away days and divide into focus groups and concentrate on comparing the organisation to an animal, or discover a metaphor to describe it.

In conjunction with this, the two marketing exercises of PEEST (Political/Econmic/Enviromental/Socio-cultural/ Technogical) and SWOT (Strengths Weakness Opportunities Threats) could also prove useful (Seargent 1999).  The results can help to identify the personality of the charity and therefore help decide on how best to brand it.  It is also a useful way of discovering if the different stakeholders have different perceptions of the charity, as they often do (Bruce 1998).

Often a charity’s name becomes its brand and this can sometimes be identified as a problem, for example The Spastics Society needed to change to SCOPE to survive. A charity I once worked for used to be called “Elfrida Rathbone Committee Islington”.  The above exercises revealed that the staff felt this sounded old-fashioned and paternalistic and consequently the feel of the charity was condescending and out-dated.  This had been communicated to them by many of the users.

The SWOT and PEST exercises also echoed this.  Some work of the charity – large residential hostels were no longer politically or socially acceptable, and with the emergence of tendering, no longer economically viable either.  There was a real threat to funding and therefore the existence of the charity.  On the other hand the staff did wish to find new ways of moving users on from residential homes and of providing new and innovative services to users.  Staff felt there was a lot of positive energy within the organization, however, it was not translating into how the charity was perceived, e.g. The charity was not revealing its true personality, it did not know who it was.

What’s in a name?

The charity brand was changed; the name became The Elfrida Society, on the following grounds:  Elfrida was, for both staff and users, shorthand for the charity, and Society because this reflected feeling of inclusiveness. Inclusiveness is very much part of the aims and objectives of the charity; this concurs with the concept that a name should sum up the core values of the charity (Keaveney 2001).  A suitable logo was introduced and stationery materials printed all in what became the corporate blue. All these elements constitute the brand and as such create an identity that is effective, consistent, and evident of a high quality of service (Bruce 1998).  The other thing all this branding did, of course, was to attract new funding and ensure that the charity was better able to fulfil its aim and objectives.

This example shows how the brand name communicates the image and the personality of the organisation.  How powerful this can be is even more evident in the commercial sector, where the name and the logo have, it can be argued, transcended mere products.  Disney has built a town called Celebration with strict rules of entry and behaviour, Disneyland Paris forbade facial hair because it was not within the brand, and, even more worrying, the main employer of the town of Cashmere in Washington threatened to move its operation elsewhere unless the residents agreed to rename their two main streets after its products (Klein 2000). 

Where I would argue that charities are trying claim ownership of their identity through branding, the commercial sector seems to be intent branding its customers – people living branded lives in branded villages in a branded world (Klein 2000).  This may seem a long way from the vast majority of charities, and yet, even within a modestly sized charity, it is easy to find the warning signs.  The charity beneficieries football team for which The Elfrida Society provides support had to change its name to Arsenal Learning Disabilities United to secure funding, and then change it again to Super Leyton Orient when its sponsor changed. 

So, branders beware?

Charities should be aware of the pitfalls it is true, but they should also be aware of the positive too. Branding is the packaging of the whole organisation into something that gives cohesive definition to the services it provides. (Moi Ali 1997) A strong identity projects a perception of knowledge or quality, which can help transform a new customer into an existing customer who in turn becomes a regular customer, at which point their experience of the charity adds further equity to the brand. (Bruce 1998). Word of mouth is an excellent way of promoting the brand, hence the identity of the charity.  And there is useful advice, even from the most branded of the branded, Starbucks; “consumers don’t truly belief there’s a huge difference between products” therefore you brand an identity strong enough to “establish emotional ties”.   (Scott Bedbury, Vice President of Starbucks, in New York Times, 1997).   Put plainly, if you know whom you are dealing with (i.e. brand identity is clear) then the choice of which charity to choose becomes simple. (Bruce 1998).

Finally, branding is not a panacea, and the fact is, in the commercial as well as the voluntary world, the bigger you are, the more power you have.  By their very nature most charities, even if they have a strong brand identity, are usually no more than big fish in small ponds.  Part of their survival is how they position themselves by segmenting the market, either by providing niche services, or premium services larger charities cannot match for quality (Bruce 1998). 

The irony is, of course, that it doesn’t really matter if you think branding is a good idea or not, the moment you have an identity and you perform some purpose, is the moment you will be perceived of as having a brand. If you choose to recognise this and actively promote yourself, then you may get funding to continue or even extend your purpose and you will be perceived as a worthwhile charity with a good quality of service. If you choose to reject branding, it won’t mean that you are not branded, just that the outside world will perceive your brand as a poor one, and most likely will not fund you, and you may not be able to fulfil your purpose.

Branded Or Not, The Charity Identity, by Trevor Maynard ©2002


Ali M, (1997) The DIY Guide to Marketing, Directory of Social Change, London

Bruce I (1998), Successful Charity Marketing – Meeting Need (2nd Ed.), ISCA, London

Keaveney P (2001) “The Chairty Brand and its identity – who you are and what you do” in Marketing For the Voluntary Sector, Keaveney P and Kaufman M (Eds.)  Kogan Page, London

Klein N (2001), No Logo, Flamingo, London

Kolb B M (2000), Marketing Cultural Organisation, Oak Tree Press, Dublin

Seargent A (1999), Marketing Management for Non Profit Organizations, Oxford Univeristy Press, Oxford

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