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Branding Inside Out: a Best Practice Guide

23 November 2012

Branding is a huge subject: when putting together CharityComms’ Branding Inside Out Best Practice Guide the hardest task was keeping it to a manageable length.

Clocking in at 84 pages of invaluable information, advice, tips and wisdom, we think Branding Inside Out is a pretty comprehensive guide to everything you need to know about charity branding.

But busy people – especially chief execs or trustees who struggle to see the value of investing in brand – don’t want the full intricacies of how to develop a successful brand. They want the basic facts that will help them understand what brand is, persuade them why it matters and convince them that getting brand right is the key to organisational success.

So here, in a nutshell, are the nine things you really need to know about branding. Download the full report.

1) Brand is about perception, about trust, about personality and about impact

Brand doesn’t start and end with a nice logo – it’s the impression a charity makes, and what people say, think and feel about you. It’s everything you say, and everything you do. It’s how the world knows it can trust you.

2) Charities invest in their brands as a precursor to the rewards of rising awareness and income

There is much debate across the sector as to whether branding is a worthwhile investment or not, but enough case studies to demonstrate that if done properly it can boost morale and inspire supporters to help you achieve your vision, growing market share and fundraising. It’s not always straightforward to demonstrate the return you get from investing in your existing brand or a rebrand. But you can research its potential impact through development and put measurements in place to evaluate its actual impact over time, from both a communications and fundraising perspective.

3) Brand starts with organisational strategy

Successful brands are led from the top and fit together with strategy development like hand and glove. If your organisational strategy is the plan that will take you from where you are now to where you want to be in the future, branding is the complementary process of shifting your audiences’ perceptions from where they are today to where you need them to be in order to achieve your strategy. Branding is the process of closing the gap.

4) Robust research evidence helps build the business case for brand investment

Drop in membership, drop in fundraising income, loss of services or contracts are all indicators that it’s time for a brand refresh, as are any major shifts in strategy or the need to fundamentally differentiate yourselves. Comprehensive research will help you identify the benefits and expected return on your brand investment.

5) You’ve got to get buy-in

Without buy-in and leadership from the top of the organisation (ideally the CEO) you have real limits to what you can achieve. As far as you can, involve senior management, trustees, staff and volunteers in the process. Taking your staff on the brand development journey with you is key to promoting a common sense of purpose, pride and commitment.

6) There are three core elements that make up a brand

These are your mission, vision and values (or equivalent); your visual identity; and your tone of voice – how you use language to express your organisation’s personality. Pay close attention to all three elements to build a clear expression of who you are, what you do and why you do it.

7) To create a strong brand, you need to:

  • Set clear objectives
  • Understand your audiences
  • Lay the foundations through your mission, vision and values, and by clearly identifying your position and what sets you apart from others
  • Bring the foundations to life through words and images. Translate brand values into practical behaviours and actions communicated to all staff
  • Take people on the journey with you – the best brand development projects are those that are “done with” not “done to”

8) Integrate the brand with other functions

Be prepared to review and explore the flexibility of the brand to ensure it works for different departments without losing its integrity. Fundraising, services, HR, finance, campaigns and policy – your brand should shine through everything you do. It’s vital to bring your brand to life digitally too, through your website, e-communications and social media.

9) Future-proof your brand

With commercial brands increasingly behaving like charities, not-for-profits need to do more than just make people feel positive for donating time or money, or even guilty if they are not doing so. Consumers increasingly expect brands to be entertaining, experiential and collaborative and to fit within their own culture and interests. Whether your brand leads the field in your sector or is the new kid on the block, maintaining personal and cultural relevance will make the crucial difference to achieving success and support.

That’s the bite-sized version. To enjoy the full branding feast, download the report here.

Vicky Browning


Vicky became CEO of ACEVO, the charity and social leaders’ network, in January 2017, helping to empower our inspiring sector leaders to make the biggest difference they can to their beneficiaries, their organisation and to society. Vicky was previously CharityComms’ director for nearly seven years.