Published: 24 July 2015

Top tips to overcome brand barriers when on a small budget

Brand is important for all organisations, but small charities face a number of common brand barriers related to their size.

Last month I ran a workshop at CharityComms' Building a brand that delivers conference. My session was based on the Small Charity Brand Survey research I’d carried out with Cass Business School.

My research had identified a number of brand barriers common to smaller charities, which, when shared at the workshop, prompted a lively discussion. People were keen to share their experience of similar barriers in their organisation and how they were managing them. So here follows a round-up of some of those management tips, plus some handy budget suggestions of my own. I’d love to hear yours!

Barrier: It's hard to make the business case for a brand refresh

Workshop tip: “Carry out research with your beneficiaries and stakeholders to find out what they think of your brand – this can help you make the case for brand investment internally.”

Budget tip: Use free tools like Survey Monkey to regularly test what people think of your brand. Try and get a good set of survey questions that you can use as an ongoing benchmark to check any future changes against.

Barrier: We don't have enough staff!

Workshop tip: “We have found that interns can be really good – particularly on social media.”

Budget tip: Definitely think wide and use expertise from among the people closest to your organisation. Involve your board. Use their expertise and networks. When using interns, work experience and volunteer contributions, have a very clear brief with detailed outcomes so that you can use their input efficiently and productively.

Barrier: We can't afford a brand agency

Workshop tip: “Use pro bono support from agencies to help manage costs of brand implementation.”

Budget tip: Use LinkedIn to research the professional backgrounds and personal interests of potential agency contacts. Like major donor research, the best matches will be with people within agencies who have a personal interest or connection with your cause.

Workshop tip: “Be prepared to not be top of the list of jobs when working with agencies if you're not paying.”

Budget tip: Long timeframes can cause hidden costs (time, people, money) so be very clear about the brief and what will be delivered before embarking on any relationship. Check very carefully what input you can have and the exact deliverables. 

A great example of a charity using pro bono very well is Coppafeel. The breast cancer awareness charity is are brilliantly authentic about its brand, story and cause. This ensures that there is a great foundation in place for talking to agencies. 

Download CharityComms' free guide to working with agencies for more on the pros and cons of pro bono work.

Barrier: We don't always have the right expertise in-house

Workshop tip: “There are other sources of support out there. Try looking on LinkedIn for anyone with a CIM (Chartered Institute of Marketing) qualification in their profile.”

Budget tip: Our other suggestions would be CharityComms (obvs!), Bright One, Small Charities Coalition, Media Trust  and also consultants. We network, we blog, we are on social media and we're usually happy to share.

I regularly read Sounddelivery, Zoe Amar, Trina Wallace, and Sarah Myers. But do find your own favourites! There are loads who are CharityComms members.

One last takeaway

The Small Charity Brand Survey research confirmed that charities were better able see the benefits of brand management and to tackle the inherent barriers if the responsibility for managing brands cut across all levels of the organisation. So, whatever the size of your organisation, you can build a brand that delivers if staff, trustees and volunteers realise that everyone has a role in managing the brand.

Download CharityComms' free best practice guide to branding for charities: Branding Inside Out.


Natasha Roe, founding director, Red Pencil

Natasha has worked with charities of all sizes, including small charities and start-ups, on building cost-effective brands without big budgets. She’s currently underpinning her 20 years’ practical experience by completing a Charity Effectiveness MSc at Cass Business School.