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How to fight resistance to raising awareness of your charity’s brand

Brand awareness is a crucial asset for any charity to look after and grow, but raising your brand awareness in this day and age is hard. 


Brand awareness is a crucial asset for any charity to look after and grow: when someone’s aware of your brand, they are more likely to trust you, more likely to give you money when asked, and more likely to approach you to benefit from a service they need. But raising brand awareness in this day and age is hard.

In the days when everyone watched the same TV channels at the same time and bought the same newspaper in print it was easier, but those days have gone. It can feel like a hopeless task and SMTs will often feel enticed, or even justified in giving up, making excuses or looking for short cuts. Ultimately though, this will hold back your organisation. So here are five serious temptations that brand and communication leaders need to constantly confront, resist and dispel among their executives, boards and colleagues:


1) We can’t just blame the recession

Everyone knows we have just experienced one of the deepest recessions of modern times. Recovery has been stuttering and the global outlook still looks uncertain. Understandably many charities want to be cautious about their spending in such times, fearful that it may well be difficult to raise money from a general public with low consumer confidence and ever increasing living costs. It is worth remembering, however, though that compared to long term income trends the same public are still relatively well off.

Many demographics have had to make very few sacrifices and some have even gained. Notably donor confidence and behaviour has been very resilient though the economic turbulence of the last decade. GB has seen the public’s propensity to give remain stable at 80% of the population, and there have been just as many surges as there have been blips (Charity Awareness Montior).

Moreover, there are plenty of case studies both in the commercial and charity sectors to suggest that fortune favours the brave. Those brands that do invest in times of economic difficulty achieve an even greater market share than they would in economically buoyant times when their competitors are actually competing with them. It was in the great depression of the 30’s that Chevrolet invented the billboard, starting the decade being outsold by Ford and ending it with the Chevy 6 becoming the best-selling car in its class (Jessie Scanlon, Business Week).

So being too cautious can be risky in the long term. While saving costs may mean making budget this year, sacrificing brand awareness will only make it harder to raise money and support in future years – especially if another brand has been busy targeting the same market in the meantime.


2) Staying quiet won’t make the public to trust you or give to you

One market in which we have seen a significant decline in public levels of giving is Ireland. Pre credit crunch an even greater proportion of the Irish public gave to charity than those in GB. However, after steady drop off over an even deeper recessionary period, they are now some 10% behind their British counterparts. Among a sample of ten key fundraising brands in Ireland, voluntary income has decreased collectively by some 20% (Irish Charity Engagement Monitor).

This has correlated with a retrenchment in media spending over the same period (nfpSynergy analysis of Nielsen data). The public themselves are directly reporting that charities are less visible be it on the street, the telly or elsewhere. Spontaneous awareness of the top five charities has decreased for all but one. On top of this public trust in the sector has been dented by various media scandals.

It’s worth pondering for a moment whether decreases in donations are driven only by recession, or has a vicious circle also been triggered in which the less donors give the less charities? Each year Irish people said they planned to give more money to charity over the next twelve months than actually had when asked 12 months later – maybe because they weren’t offered the opportunity. Are brands in the UK at risk of triggering the same cycle?


3) Worry about spending too little money rather than too much

Trust in the charity sector fluctuates a great deal (Charity Awareness Monitor). Few individual brands or umbrella bodies place much emphasis on their trustworthiness in the same way as the banking sector for example (witness recent campaigns by TSB and Nationwide that put trust at the heart of their communications) which have seen public levels of trust almost double in recent years, albeit from a lower base. Charities therefore are easy targets for a bored press who ever more frequently misrepresent CEO salaries or try to whip up public fury about other unfounded examples of wasteful charity spending, causing greater dips in public confidence in the sector.

It could be logical to assume therefore that the public would be put off charities spending donor money on large scale media campaigns, creating something of a catch twenty two situation. However, research doesn’t really substantiate this concern. In fact, TV advertising is seen as one of the least off putting activities are charity can do, and one of the most effective ways for them to raise money (Charity Awareness Monitor). When we talk to supporters in focus groups their advice to the charities they support is often to get out and be seen more, rather than just rely on their support. And charities who do spend large sums on brand advertising report positive uplifts in supporter satisfaction metrics at peak times during the campaign.


4) Focusing only on supporters is limiting

It’s true of course that it is cheaper to work on keep an existing donor than recruit a new one. And devising effective supporter segmentations and supporter journeys provide great potential to increase a charity’s revenue by increasing the value and longevity of your existing supporter base. However, supporter care has limitations as a strategy for growth. Without fresh blood any growth will be short-lived and decline in the longer term is inevitable. This inevitability is compounded by the fact that many charities are very reliant on donors over 65, and often over 75. Without putting too morbid a point on it, the UK life expectancy is currently 81. 

Robust long term growth has to focus on attracting more people – getting them to notice you, be interested in you and want to give to you. For smaller charities this is likely to involve increasing your share of the market – targeting people attuned to or already engaged in their cause. For larger charities this will involve increasing the size of the market itself.


5) PR will rarely solve awareness problems on the cheap

Achieving good media coverage is often a good way of getting your cause or issues talked about by the public. However, on its own it’s not so good at raising the profile of your brand. Many CAM clients are surprised and disappointed when substantial press coverage or even a regular feature on prime time TV fails to increase public recognition of their brand.

Even though your coverage may have reached millions of viewers or readers it is important to remember the limitations – branding is often non-existent, and you have little control over the tone, imagery or angle taken on the content. It is worth also remembering the adage that not all publicity is good publicity, and within the column inches achieved there could be criticism or negative commentary. There is also the temptation to chase coverage beyond the key messages or activities of your organisation and thus dilute the brand in the process. Ultimate levels of control are only really achievable with a robust paid for advertising campaign strategy.

Patrick Brennan

Download our Charity Awareness Monitor briefing pack on the right side of this page to find how we can help you to raise your brand awareness. 

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Charity Awareness Monitor Briefing Pack 2016

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