… or so says an article in this weeks Big Issue. According to a â??studyâ?? undertaken by Prof. Adrian Sargeant of the West of England University, charities are seen as a ‘bland, homogeneous mass of very similar organisations” by a majority of donors and “commercial style branding (is) a good option for charities that want to distinguish themselves from the herd.”
Citing ‘successful’ charity brands as examples of branding which supposedly has had a positive impact on how organisations perform, Professor Sargeant seems to see consistent and engaging communication as the way to position your charity above ‘the clutter’. But this only addresses part of the problem – those charities which have undertaken big professional branding exercises undoubtedly look more professional, and by association trustworthy, than their competitors but they also all look the same (see screen shots at the top of the article).
So let’s go back to the start with this problem. Prof Sargeant says charities are seen as a ‘bland homogenous mass of very similar organisations’. Let’s assume they’re seen that way because they are bland and homogenous. When taking into account the â??exponential proliferation of charitiesâ?? in the UK, it’s little wonder. In the UK alone there are 620 different cancer charities, so maybe the way to start addressing this problem is to look first of all at what the charities actually ‘do’. Without a distinct and compelling agenda no charity is going to benefit from a polish of their corporate communications. Even Joshua Blackburn of Ã¼ber-branders ‘Wolff Olinsâ?? recognises that, “Branding has a persuasive allure but it will only reap long-term rewards when it is about real change. Anything less and your cool logo will soon go cold- along with your public.”
Charities can take this ‘do’ ethic and really make it work for them. The prominance of Oxfam as a development charity with a great deal of respect and trust, has much to do with it pioneering the model of the charity shop we now know in the UK, (so much so that people often refer to ‘oxfam shops’ when talking about generic charity shops). It is now updating this concept with the launch of ‘progresso’ coffee houses – not overtly branded as oxfam, but a really smart idea which reflects well on the parent organisation. Progresso has it’s own branding (by â??Graven Imagesâ??) which gives the finished product an air of professionalism, but the really smart design decisions were taken much earlier in the process by thinking about what the charity was doing, and how its actions could be relevant, compelling and worth engaging with for their potential audience.
By using design strategically at the highest level, charities can create a genuine engagement in their work. By using branding to simply â??define and communicate their valuesâ?? , charities will be no further on than the other 5000 new charities a year, doing exactly the same banal thing.