The pressure to be ‘business-like’
These days the pressures on the not-for-profit sector are enormous. In the current economic climate income from voluntary donations are dropping as levels of individual incomes fall. The coalition government are tightening the purse strings while looking to charities and voluntary organisations to tender for the delivery of key public services.
In this environment, how charities differentiate themselves is vital in keeping their aims and needs in people’s minds. Some larger charities have become more professional not only in the way they operate but in the way they utilise their brand. They understand that their brand is more than a logo it’s a platform from which to communicate to their different audiences. A well managed brand ensures messages are consistent across all channels including internal, stakeholder and fundraising communications.
However there is a difference between being ‘professional’ and being ‘businesslike’. In her article Be professional always, and businesslike in some ways, Third Sector, 20 June 2011, Valerie Mortens says “Charities must cherrypick the ways in which they behave like businesses. The private sector is characterised by an overriding profit motive and cultural attributes that reflect this, but neither of these sit well in the voluntary sector, where the relationships between stakeholders and the charity are dramatically more complex and emotional”.
The danger is that charities can become too much like business and move away from their original ethos and culture. When developing a brand it’s worth remembering that it is not only the hard, rational factors that are important. Effective differentiators can also be softer and stem from deeply held organisational values. Consultation is also important during the development stage as it retains a sense of ownership from staff, volunteers and wider stakeholders.
As charities change to meet today’s challenges they, of course, can learn a lot from the corporate world, but they also have the opportunity to develop new kinds of brands – brands that connect to people in an truly personal and emotional way.