Charity marketing strategy with a ‘special ingredient’

Charity marketing strategy with a ‘special ingredient’ 

Diverse group of Asian, Hispanic, and African American teen girls are studying together in college or public library. High school or college students are discussing something with study group while using digital tablets, laptop computers, and textbooks to prepare for exam.

Squeezing the last drop of ‘specialness’ out of your charity brand has never been more important. But, you’ll need to find that ‘specialness’ before adding it to the marketing mix. Which is easier said than done. Often, it requires input from an external creative agency, who can bring fresh thinking to your charity marketing strategy. This upfront investment pays dividends in the long run because it portrays an organisation that’s authentic and genuine. It creates something tangible that people can buy into. And this sentiment can filter down to even the smallest piece of communication in a charity’s marketing portfolio. From charity advertising campaigns to websites, literature and employee communications.

The great thing about the work we do as a charity marketing strategy provider, is that it puts us in touch with a diverse cross-section of charities in the cause related sector, and this enables us to meet and work with many talented and committed people. It’s tremendously inspiring to see the wide-ranging challenges the not-for-profit sector contends with on a daily basis; every challenge different, every solution demanding energy, innovation and versatility. Managing these expectations while focusing on a charity’s marketing strategy and fundraising campaigns is a challenge in itself. Particularly for smaller charities, where boundaries are blurred and responsibilities shared. With this in mind, it’s no wonder even the smallest organisations rely on charity marketing agencies to lighten the load, and bring complementary skill sets to the table. The success of charity marketing campaigns can make or break an initiative, which is why it’s so important to get under the skin of your organisation, to tease out its essence before relaying it to the outside world.

The need to find a ‘special ingredient’ is the one thing all charity brands have in common. It’s fundamental and pivotal in driving them forward and helping them to help others. It’s the need to appear special; to be perceived as different for positive reasons and, thus, to be able to make a lasting impression on all those with whom contact is made. The purpose is to outline the real benefits that accrue from a clear, empathetic charity brand positioning, and how to communicate and market that positioning through a charity’s marketing strategy. Ultimately, that’s what being special is all about.

Self-assessment

You may have asked yourself what it is that makes the organisation you work for special, but can you describe it in one sentence? Is this being relayed consistently a rudimentary level, through your charity’s marketing strategy?

It’s more difficult than it sounds. The tendency is to list the many areas in which your organisation makes a difference, the lives it touches, the impact and effects it has; the wide range of qualities and attributes that make it what it is.

If you find it difficult, imagine what it is like for your audiences. What do you think they would say if they were asked the same question?

Identifying that special ingredient – the one that makes your organisation stand out – is a process that can sometimes start within the organisation. After all, who is better qualified? But, as mentioned, charities of all shapes and sizes benefit from outside thinking in the same way as commercial entities. 

The sizzle

We believe the dictionary definition that best sums up what ‘special’ is, is this one: ‘distinct in comparison to others of the same kind.’

In pure marketing terms it would be called the USP, unique selling proposition. In terms of creating, or rather highlighting the positioning and marketing strategy for your charity you could consider the tried and tested ad man’s maxim; ‘sell the sizzle, not the sausage’.

Avoid getting bogged down in the many rich and reassuring details that attest to the professionalism and efficacy of your organisation and focus on the promise – how
you change lives. And make this the driver for your charity’s marketing strategy. It’s what makes you special and helps people remember you. It will garner interest in your cause, help you make connections and stimulate interest. 

Empathy/image

Take the charity Macmillan. It’s an organisation that helps and supports people affected by cancer. It’s specialness is encapsulated and amplified through a warm and friendly tone of voice, top-level messaging and visual identity. This is communicated through a wide range of initiatives, and virtually all of its charity fundraising campaigns, because it’s central to an overarching charity marketing strategy.

Its promise is clear, and it delivers. But rather than taking a convention approach, Macmillan allows its own personality to shine through. Breaking down barriers and long-held traditions in the process. It’s not only relaying its message to people diagnosed with cancer, it’s reaching out to their friends, family and employers too. The informal tone it adopts is engaging and appeals to sponsors and fundraisers, the lifeblood of any charity.

Shelter is another charity brand which captures its specialness in a belief (or vision) statement; ‘Shelter believes that everyone should have a home.

We all know what it stands for and what it is that it wants us to remember. In this case, the first impression certainly lasts. By being clear about what makes your organisation special, you are helping your audience to know the real you and what you stand for. While it is no guarantee of support, it is certainly making it much easier for them to understand why you are worth supporting.

It is the basis of building a relationship with people and getting their interest.

What’s special about you?

Every organisation has something that is special. Often it is buried deep down in an organisations make up, occasionally overshadowed by other factors.

The specialness becomes diluted or, worse still, washed away in a plethora of mixed messages.

If this happens, it’s time to get back to basics and get into the process of self-assessment. Undertaking relevant research to understand what you need to say and how you need to say it can be a prohibitively expensive process, but it needn’t be. And, your charity’s marketing strategy may well provide a better return on investment, so this work is cost-effective in the long run. 

Consider the following questions:

– What is our impact on the people we support?

– How do we change lives?

– What’s the one thing that we do better than anyone else?

– If we had one wish, what would it be?

– Why would I support our organisation?

Ask colleagues to consider these questions. Better still conduct a workshop to see what collective themes emerge. You could start by looking at your marketing communications strategy, mission, vision and values, which could spark inspiration.

How long is it since your charity’s marketing communications strategy was put under the microscope? Is it still just as relevant today? Gather together a range of your charity’s fundraising and marketing material and audit each of them, recording what they say and how they say it. Do you get a joined-up picture of what your charity does? Are there any common themes? Is a clear communications strategy steering your advertising campaigns, or are you producing marketing material and fundraising campaigns in isolation?

Consider asking your existing supporters what it is they see in you and why they chose to support you. You can use digital media channels – such as online surveys – to cost-effectively gather this information. Their feedback will help to give you real insight.

You are what you do

Once you have narrowed down exactly what it is that makes your organisation special, you can begin to build your proposition around it. Can you sharpen it into one sentence or even a few words? It could even become your new mantra and strapline, displayed prominently across every piece of collateral in your marketing mix.

Check with other organisations to make sure it’s unique to you. And once you’re happy with it, don’t be afraid to use it everywhere. Fabrik’s highly successful ‘Shave or Style’ charity fundraising campaign for Macmillan proves this point. The most recent campaign raised almost £5 million, an astonishing achievement. 

Finding your special something doesn’t mean conducting a complete re-branding exercise, although for some organisations it might be the only sensible option. For most though, you can begin the process of positioning without a complete overhaul of the brand identity. A charity brand is a collection of values, aspirations and impressions, built up by a range of experiences. You can influence those experiences by what you say and what you do, which is where an effective charity marketing strategy comes into play.

Every organisation has something about it that is special. Take a close look at your charity. Dig deep and find out what it is that makes it special. Then, go ahead and tell everyone. Display it prominently through your charity advertising and fundraising campaigns. Apply it to absolutely everything in the marketing communications mix, and monitor the results closely. You might be pleasantly surprised.

About the author...

Steve Harvey

Client Director. Captain of calm. Armchair football fan. It’s 18 years since Steve turned his back on investment banking (and any chance of early retirement) to plough his own furrow in creative services. Experienced. Knowledgeable. Meticulously well-organised. Keeps Fabrik running like a well-oiled machine. His temperament is cool. But his peppermint tea is piping hot (with a Fox's Crunch Cream on the side).

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