Brand people and fundraising people have fought in charities ever since I’ve been involved with the sector. Too often the two areas have had conflicting mandates and compete for attention and resources. At its most extreme one brand manager in a charity I worked for explained to me that she saw her role as counter-acting all the unhelpful messages that the fundraisers were putting out. Which effectively meant that the charity was spending money competing with itself.
The balance of power between brand and fundraising tends to shift from time to time and in the UK at the moment there’s possibly a bit of a move back towards brand for a number of reasons, the growing importance of digital and a reaction against some of the more aggressive fundraising techniques of the past being amongst the most important.
No sensible fundraiser would reject the importance of effective branding in supporting fundraising just as no rational brand marketer would question the imperative of raising the money a non-profit needs. So why the tension and misalignment?
At root are a number of misconceptions on both sides. There are probably still some fundraisers who think that brand is just about logos and “fluffy stuff” that have little relevance to the gritty business of raising the money.
On the other side, there’s definitely a view that often comes from commercial brand marketing approaches that misunderstands how people give to charitable causes. It assumes that the role of marketing is to raise awareness of the charity without which any ask for money will be unsuccessful. The brand is what people engage with.
But fundraising doesn’t work like that. People give when they are emotionally engaged with an issue and motivated to act to make change. And to give they need to be asked in a way that works for them. The charity isn’t important in this, it’s the relevance and urgency of the cause and the needs of the donor.
Where the charity brand itself is important is as reassurance. It provides trust that the money will be used for the cause. Awareness is really helpful here as people generally trust more charities whose name they have heard of. Then for repeat giving, the confidence given by being informed what happened with the last donation and the impact it had is really important.
Donors don’t, and shouldn’t, care about charities. They care about causes and they care about themselves (and their loved ones). Brand in non profit marketing is about trust and confirming and reinforcing the donating decision.
Progressive organisations are moving on from old brand vs fundraising arguments. There’s a trend for nonprofits to bring fundraising and communications activities together into integrated marketing departments. This can be helpful but what is more important is for a truly informed understanding of what each of the specialisms brings to the overall success of the marketing process. Where there’s a proper relationship, founded on knowledge of each other’s area with common objectives and goals, brand and fundraising will support and strengthen each other.