Published: 7 October 2013

Branding on a budget for small to mid-sized charities

Tax Credits. Creative Commons

CharityComms’ brand development conference on 24 October seems to have come along at just the right time. Despite cutbacks, many charities realise it has never been more critical to develop their brands to support the delivery of their goals.

However, I’ve spoken to many smaller charities who feel that a good brand is only possible on a big budget. I don’t agree. Charities can punch well above their weight if they follow some simple rules about branding. Brand lies at the heart of many communications issues faced by charities: here’s how to maximise your brand on a tight budget.

1. Redefine your brand

Chances are things have changed a lot for your charity over the last few years. Perhaps you’ve merged, or you have a new strategy. Is your brand aligned with these developments? It may be worth running a session with your board of trustees to explore how fit for purpose they feel the current brand is. Some simple but effective changes such as refreshing your key messages could give your brand a whole new lease of life.

2. Test your brand

Check in with your stakeholders and ask them what they think of your brand. You could use online surveys or focus groups; I’d recommend a combination so you get both depth and breadth of insights. One of the best things you can do is to go out and talk to opinion leaders in your charity’s audience. Buy them a coffee and ask them for their brutally honest views about your brand. I have done this and I guarantee that you will learn something new and useful every time.

3. Review your branded materials

Here’s a challenge. Select a range of your offline and online marketing collateral at random and check if the brand has been used consistently across all of them. I bet you’ll find at least one thing that needs tweaking. Another good tip is to review how mobile and tablet friendly your collateral is. A client of mine did this and was horrified to discover how her organisation’s lovingly produced reports appeared when viewed on her phone. Also consider what people read and keep. Your business cards, invoices and printed copies of annual reports need to work extra hard for you, so invest in them.  

4. Keep everyone on board with the brand

Never, ever start thinking your brand is sorted. I’ve seen good charities fall into this trap, and it can lead to the failure of the whole organisation.  The great challenge of working in communications is that your market is continually shifting and before you know it your brand will have to step up a gear. That’s good though; who wants to be complacent? So, start by making sure all your colleagues are still on board with your brand. Are people using the brand guidelines? Do they get how important it is to uphold the brand? It’s a good idea to do a quarterly internal brand review, where you bring everyone together to discuss the brand and how they think it’s going. This will help your organisation see the brand as a living, breathing, evolving thing. And you may even get some helpful ideas about how to develop your brand identity further.

5. Remember your brand is social

Back in the day, the marketing and communications department would develop the brand and own it. Thanks to social media, everyone can now be a high profile brand ambassador. This is a great opportunity for charities as much as the professionals who work for them. As part of your brand development I would recommend doing a session with your digital team to establish what role staff can play in the brand using social, as they are likely to need some guidance and, of course, a good social media policy. Bromford Housing in Wolverhampton is an excellent example of a truly social organisation and it is worth reading about the benefits it has experienced from this.

How do you think small to mid-sized charities can make the most of their brands? What are your low cost tips?

Download CharityComms’ Branding Inside Out Best Practice Guide.

Zoe Amar, director, Zoe Amar Communications

Zoe Amar is founder and director of Zoe Amar Communications, a charity marketing and digital communications consultancy who've worked with Action Aid, CAF, Crimestoppers and many other great charities. She also blogs for The Guardian. Zoe shares charity marketing resources over at www.zoeamar.com and @zoeamar