It’s fair to say the charity sector is facing a crisis of trust right now.
It’s not a challenge that will be solved by brand or communications teams. As the adage goes, trust is earned. Weathering this storm and winning back public trust will depend largely on how charities respond, by living their values while reducing opportunities for negative publicity.
But brand and communications do play a vital role in connecting audiences. Charities can no longer rely on their status and heritage to attract supporters. Now brand and communications need to work smarter in this heightened era of scepticism.
It’s not enough to build a brand solely around the cause you’re dedicated to. Do that, and you may appeal to people that acknowledge the virtue of your cause, or have a predisposition or level of sympathy towards it. It may be enough to convince them to part with their time and money, once or twice.
Instead, brand should be built around the role your organisation plays in this cause – what you believe, what you’re trying to achieve and vitally how individuals can play a part. Then you won’t just get time and money. You’ll engage supporters emotionally and build loyalty and belief.
At the heart of this approach is a robust brand platform: a ‘why’ and a ‘how‘ to accompany the ‘what’ that forms the basis of your culture, strategy and communications. You need a clearly defined and articulated purpose (why you exist) to give people – internally or externally – something to believe in. A set of values or an established approach (how you will achieve your purpose) will help you to explain what makes you unique, different or assured of success. Both these components are vital if you are to build belief in your organisation, every bit as much as the practical activities, products or services you deal in (what you do).
These three components form the basis of your brand model and need to play a very active role across the organisation in everything from driving internal culture to informing external fundraising initiatives. When these are in place, ruthless consistency is key. The brand needs to be presented consistently across all touch points to connect stakeholders, whether they are employees, donors or beneficiaries. A single, unified brand that tells the story of your organisation to the world.
Brand and communications cannot build trust. But that is not their role. Rather, it is to tell the story of the organisation in a way that engages with people, helps them understand what it’s trying to achieve and how and wins their support and loyalty. It is to build belief. The subsequent behaviour of that organisation will determine whether this belief turns into trust.
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