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  • Writer's pictureIan Morris

Branding a small charity: How it works and 5 tips for getting it right

In a world of increasing financial pressures and a cacophony of noise and messages with numerous creators screaming for attention, it can be hard to stand out. It is especially tough for charities, who must balance maintaining a strong brand image to help get money through the door while consistently delivering (often critical) frontline services.

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It is hard enough for those with highly emotive causes and big budgets to drive their messages into the national conscience. But a far more challenging endeavour is creating stand-out for a smaller charity with a less ‘glitzy’ cause. Those charities compete for the same people’s attention but with less time, fewer resources and a smaller team. The fight to be heard above the chatter can be exhausting. We get it.

In this article, we peek behind the curtain when branding a small charity, explaining some of the most common challenges many charities face. Read our 5 tips for getting it right below.

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Another common challenge for smaller charities, often because of the way funding is granted, is that services become gradually more disparate and messages diluted. What the charity stands for at its core can become unclear over time, which is a big problem. One thing that makes all branding communications easier to manage and more effective is clarity of message – don’t say five things when one homerun story will do. In our branding process, we help draw this out in a workshop as part of our brand strategy phase. We help develop this with our customers, including many charity branding projects.

Our team at Threerooms know these challenges well, and we can help. (Did you know we specialise in creating award-winning charity brands?) Take a peek behind the curtain, hear the common challenges and read five tips on how to get charity branding right.

What a charity stands for at its core can become unclear over time, which is a big problem.

Our five tips for branding a small charity

We have five key steps that help us create charity brands that have a real impact:

1. Understand the internal challenge as well as the external challenge

Focusing on the external challenges facing a charity can be all too easy. Or course, these need to be considered, but the first thing to do is look internally. Understanding the culture, stakeholders, and any barriers that might stand in the way will help you navigate a clear path and lead to an outcome that everyone is proud of.

Charities are often complex places with many and varying stakeholders. Trustees, paid staff, volunteers and service users all have distinct needs and likely see the charity differently. It is essential to understand their needs and expectations of the project, alongside their fears.

In truth, managing trustees can be tricky in the early stages, but things settle down quickly once they understand that our team are not only very good at what they do, but we’re there to build on the strengths of the brand rather than rip out the heart of the charity in exchange for a few clicks.

Branding a small charity should be a fun and positive experience, a chance to re-energise and focus on the future. Branding isn’t an exercise that charities can embark on regularly, so the investment must be worthwhile and long-lasting. Identifying and solving potential internal challenges will help avoid setbacks, streamline the process and get the most from everyone involved.

2. Engage and collaborate

The answer to the ‘branding challenge’ can often seem simplistic and obvious, and it can be tempting to race to a solution too soon in the process, potentially risking railroading staff. In smaller charities, passions can run high, and those involved have real emotional connections to the subject; it’s more than a job; it’s a way of life. So taking all key stakeholders on a journey is essential, engaging and collaborating from day one.

We aim to get a feel for all stakeholders, board members, supporters and service users, often meeting in person or on calls. Listening to their needs is hugely valuable in informing and shaping the strategy and brand identity.

There should be no “Ta-Da” moments, either. Instead, those that care and passionately serve the charity become a central steering group. We like to think of a branding project as a partnership – we need to work together, working in constant collaboration to deliver a brand that everyone can take ownership of. Teamwork makes the dream work.

We are also careful to avoid agency jargon and explain what’s happening at every step. This isn’t about dazzling a charity with a masterclass in branding but ensuring that everyone feels included, engaged, comfortable and heard. Getting everyone involved and taking the time to listen pays dividends. After all, if everyone’s passion is central to the success of the charity, then it will be key to ensuring that it shines through in the brand.

If passion is central to the success of the charity, then that passion must shine through in the brand.

3. Recognising the role of equity and legacy

Equity is the value that a charity has harnessed to date. It helps to direct what will be valuable to the brand in the future. Legacy is what the brand has done and wants to be known for. It helps preserve what has gone before.

Let’s first talk about equity. There will be a lot that a charity has already created that will have real equity that needs to be retained. It may be the values, an infamous emblem, a phrase, or a particular colour. These are the things people instantly think of when they hear the name. There will likely be aspects of the existing brand identity that have grown over time and should continue to have a place in its future. This all needs treating with respect (and can often form the basis of the next iteration).

The job to be done is understanding what has equity and why. Then using that as the foundation, we can build a future-proof brand. One that respects the past while being fit for the modern world.

Legacy has a different role; it speaks to what the brand has achieved and what it wants to be known for. Understanding what is done, just because it has always been done vs what is essential to the very essence of the charity, will help to crystalise the legacy and help it shine through stronger.

4. Ensure that modernisation feels evolutionary, not revolutionary (even if it is)

Very often, due to budgets, time and skill sets, a small charity’s brand identity is rarely reviewed and revised. They often fall behind, lacking modernity and the natural evolutions that larger organisations apply over time.

By the time a small charity engages with a charity branding specialist, they often need to revisit its brand’s purpose, vision, and values (we call it a brand’s DNA), as well as its visual identity. The world, their audience and the work they have been doing have moved on, and it is time for the brand to catch up.

That modernisation may end up being revolutionary, but the key is making it feel evolutionary. That’s why it is crucial to ensure that modernity feels logical and relevant, not just exciting. Born out of what the charity does and the needs of the people it connects with, all whilst taking the stakeholders on what can feel like a risky and nerve-racking journey.

Often, due to budgets, time and skill sets, a small charity’s brand identity is rarely reviewed and revised.

5. Distinction born out of truth

The most renowned charity brands are distinctive and authentic, with an engaging story to tell. They are distinctive because they ooze a unique truth – what the charity does and stands for and why. The best are informed by the internal and external inputs, built on equity whilst honouring legacy – modernity born out of relevance.

Using these elements to inform the brand strategy and the creative identity means creating something unique and ownable, something distinguishable to your charity alone. Going on to use your brand strategy to inform great content, on-brand media, and activation is where the brand cuts through and has a real impact.

And that’s it, 5 tips for branding a small charity. We hope you find it useful. Need help with yours? Read on.

Why work with us?

We are proud to say we are getting it right, with multiple awards, a 5-star Google rating and great client testimonials. Our charity clients are happy. For us, it’s not only an enjoyable process but a rewarding one, sharing in the passions of our clients and being privileged enough to help them make a difference. If you have a small charity with a brand challenge, drop us a line and learn how we can help you stand out.

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A specialist Brand Agency

An award-winning branding agency, Threerooms has spent over 15 years making brands stronger and businesses more successful. Whether modernising brands with meaning or crafting effective marketing campaigns, our amazing team is focused on delivering brand transformation while providing exceptional customer service.


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