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Three human truths for a future fit charity brand

24 April 2020

“Charity involves generosity, but it’s about more than that, it’s the fundamental human instinct to search for solutions where we see problems, improve what is already good, and to leave the world in a better place than we found it.”

The Chair of the Charity Commission’s speech on the ‘Future of Charity’ perfectly articulates the role of charity in our society today. However, Baroness Stowell also emphasises the need to address areas in which the sector isn’t fulfilling its potential.

The fact the public no longer gives the charity sector the benefit of the doubt, indicates there’s a real need to learn, adapt and evolve in order to keep working towards leaving the world in a better place than we found it.

With this in mind we’ve taken an in depth look at three human truths, we believe are set to influence and shape the future landscape for charities.


Traditionally charities have thrived because of their entrepreneurial spirit and willingness to try new things. Nothing quite embodies this like the Oxfam superstore, which was specifically created to challenge perceptions of the charity shop.

Including a drive-through for drop off donations, the superstore has been designed as a social hub and workspace to give people a greater sense of the difference they can make by shopping, donating or volunteering at Oxfam.

The Oxfam superstore

However, as many charities have grown and developed internal structures that mirror their commercial counterparts, they’ve lost their innovative spirit and become less open to taking chances.

Our Brand Effectiveness Score Card research suggests just 12% of charity professionals believe their brands are future proofed, very engaging and set to drive their organisations forward.

Harnessing a flexible, future focused brand that looks ahead and reflects who a charity is now as well as projecting who they want to become is the perfect way to counter Baroness Stowell’s worries.

As Thomas Edison said, ‘we have no money therefore we must think’.

Finances are important, but are often limited in a charity context, and ultimately no substitute for the spirit of a challenger. Being a challenger is about mindset (think Brewdog, think Monzo or even Innocent), and refers specifically to organisations with ambitions that outstretch their marketing resources. Sound familiar?

When successfully channelled, this mindset can not only help charities match the efforts of their commercial counterparts, but also make a real difference in the most impactful way possible.

Human connection

In the break neck paced social media world we live in, brands are no longer static entities. Interacting daily and in real time is nothing short of an essential requirement.

Yet despite being more connected than ever, we are also more isolated than we’ve ever been.

People are seeking out and demanding deeper, more meaningful connections. Especially Millennials and Zennials, who actively seek out movements to belong to, with shared values that resonate.

The challenge for charity brands moving forward will therefore be to re-connect with disconnected audiences. To become less institutionalized, less process-driven and radiate a distinctive personality.

A good example of this personality driven approach is the new brand Spencer du Bois built for Home-Start – the purpose of which was to clearly articulate the urgency and importance of the compassionate support the charity offers on a day-to-day basis.

Driven by an essence of ‘parents supporting parents’. Home-Start are there for parents when they need us the most because childhood can’t wait.

The Homestart rebrand

Collaborative positism

For years we have seen charities using ‘poverty porn’. Otherwise known as sensationalised suffering, as a means of soliciting attention and donations.

But as it has recently been widely discussed, motivating people to donate out of shock and guilt, raises serious ethical concerns – and often leaves the truth on the sidelines.

Charity brands should be driven by collaborative positivism. In other words moving away from being seen as ‘a saviour’ to taking on the role of an ‘empowering partner’. As by tapping into a shared focus on positive action and building a sense of personal involvement to drive social change, brands can stand out.

For example, in a crowded development sector dominated by big name brands, Send a Cow’s approach sets them apart.

The Send a Cow brand image

Instead of falling back on the traditional ‘flies in the eyes’ trope, the new Send a Cow brand is built on the premise that ‘change can only start from within’.

Each beneficiary has the potential to create a brighter future for themselves, with the charity and its supporters working with them – not in lieu of them – to achieve it.

Combining these messages with a visual brand and imagery style based on joyful development, Send a Cow has been able to cut through the clutter and own their status as the development sectors challenger brand.

So what does this all mean?

As a sector if we are to improve what is already good, and leave the world in a better place than we found it. It is going to be essential we recover public trust and that all-important benefit of the doubt.

We believe the three human truths identified to each be potential strategic directions in the quest for authenticity with those prospective supporters and allies. However, it’s also crucial to remember to not over estimate the short-term benefit of brand, and importantly never under estimate its long term potential impact.

Don’t miss Lucy and her Spencer du Bois colleagues’ ‘How to put your brand on the front foot post-Corona’ session at our online conference ‘Engagement strategies for charities in a Coronavirus dominated world and beyond’ on April 30. 

Photo: Harry Quan on Unsplash

Lucy McLaren

strategy director, Spencer du Bois

Lucy is the strategy director at Spencer du Bois, creating breakthrough brands by uncovering fresh insight and articulating what makes a brand unique. Lucy's previous experience includes developing brands for Unilever and Hammerson, before moving to the charity world and leading marketing for welfare charities to drive income growth.