Published: 14 January 2020

Five charity brand trends for 2020

Following my trends blog last year, I thought it would be apt to once again explore the trends we should be aware of as charity brand leaders heading into the new year.

1. Charities will embrace the era of brand purpose

I have been passionately banging the drum for brand purpose for several years. A trend where corporate and commercial brands place social purpose at the heart of business and marketing strategy – or steal charities’ thunder, as some might say – either way purpose seems to, finally, be entering the charity sector’s consciousness.

This theme was evident in the latest Future Charity report. Suggesting “charity brands are broken” the report identified six major enablers of positive change, the first being, you guessed it, redefining purpose as charities’ greatest asset in the battle for attention, relevance, public trust, differentiation and competitive advantage.

This focus on brand purpose has also been clear in how many charities who traditionally used vision, mission and values for the strategic foundations of their brands, are increasingly embracing purpose, proposition and personality instead or are creating hybrid brand strategy models.

Campaign provided a useful summary of 2019’s brand purpose hits and misses if you are interested, ranging from Marks and Spencer’s “rainbow washing” LGBT sandwich to The Oatly “Ditch milk” campaign. The publication’s key takeaway: “Brand purpose is a powerful agent for delivering business growth. But it is essential that organisations approach brand purpose with genuine substance. The key is action and authenticity.”

2. Brands across sectors will champion sustainable living

The last Brand Breakfast of 2019 focused on how charities can save their brand mojo with purpose, and how from a business perspective, purpose and sustainability increasingly go hand-in-hand.

Ali Fisher, Director of Plans with Purpose explained how the business landscape is “increasingly placing purpose and sustainability at the heart of their brand strategies ”.

In the corporate sector for example we’ve seen purpose-leaders Unilever commit to halving the amount of virgin plastic used in packaging to reduce impact and promote sustainable living as part of their Sustainable Living Plan.

Meanwhile in the charity sector we’ve seen WWF reposition its brand to champion more sustainable living with new proposition For Your World. They also expanded their traditional animal adoption plea this Christmas, looking towards a more long-term approach and urging supporters to adopt a better future.

3. Charity brands will position themselves as social movements

The brand-savvy among us will have noticed more charities are also positioning themselves as social movements.

The 2008 financial crisis led to mistrust of corporate brands and calls for greater transparency and authenticity. The way we engage with brands also changed forever with the arrival of the internet, and the advent of social media. Today, some of the best brands are open, peer-driven and participatory. People can connect, share, buy and create from their fingertips, which has seen sectors disrupted by the emergence of a new generation of brands built around a virtual community – like Airbnb.

Charity-wise Macmillan Cancer Support was the first to embrace the attributes of a social movement in its 2006 rebrand, but curiously dropped “We are” in its 2019 brand refresh. While recently, Fight for Sight rebranded, drawing upon challenger brand narratives and the concept of a social movement to ignite a revolution.

Whilst easy to label a brand a movement, it is harder to truly live it. Hence “people-powered movement” Parkinson’s UK’s brand refresh launch alongside a new membership product Team Parkinson’s was a great example of purpose and personality, proposition and product working in unison.

4. Hope ‘re-emerging’ as a popular charity brand attribute

‘Hope’ was once one of the attributes I would most associate with charity brands. However, this has sadly been beaten out of the sector by the multitude of brands adopting ‘fighting talk’. However, the tides are turning, as charity brands are evolving their narratives to express hope over fear again.

“For a charity, human rights movement dedicated to exposing abuses, positive communication does not come naturally to Amnesty International”, admits Thomas Coombes, founder of Hope-Based Communications who are working with the charity. “But to make the case for human rights, we need to promise a brighter future. What people need from us is not information about what is going wrong, but hope, and means of making it better.”

Elsewhere, The Guardian embraced the idea that ‘Hope is Power’ for its new brand purpose and campaign, it’s first since 2012, which has become a “huge driver” of financial support worldwide. A well-executed campaign with an empowering feeling, the media group is on a mission to prove the business case for supporter-led organisations.

5.Charity brands need to wake up to inclusion, equality and diversity

Finally, in recent months it’s been hard not to notice the number of discussions dedicated to embracing inclusion, equality and diversity. Clearly this is an area where both commercial and charity brands have a role to play.

The Valuable 500, the global movement putting disability on the business leadership agenda, called out hypocritical attitudes in business to diversity with their campaign #diversish. Commercially Microsoft’s ‘Change the Game’ and IKEA’s ‘ThisAbles’ strived to make gaming and home furnishings more accessible.

Meanwhile in the charity space, Disability Gamechangers Scope brought brands across sectors from Sainsbury’s to BT together for a Channel 4 ‘Purple Light Up’ advert take-over to celebrate International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

So, as the new year gears up, ask yourself how many of these feel relevant to your upcoming brand challenges?

Photo: Jamie Street on Unsplash


Dan Dufour, brand strategy director, BrandDufour

Dan is one of the sector’s leading brand strategists. He has worked on brand development across all sectors including Rightmove, London 2012 and Cancer Research UK. He's best known for his award-winning work across all corners of the charity sector, including Shelter (Design Week Award), Parkinson’s UK (Design Effectiveness Award), RSPB (Third Sector Excellence Award) and Scope. Dan established CharityComms Brand Breakfast, proudly supported by Red Stone, and is an author of our best practice guides to branding and integrated communications.