Can branding benefit small charities?

Civil Society screen shot - small charity branding blog

Civil Society screen shot – small charity branding blog


Branding works for the big boys but can it work for small charities too?

Here’s the full text of a blog I wrote for Civil Society…

“Branding should be a critical issue for charities because it has been shown to impact dramatically on income.” (Hudson, 2008)


Brand is perceived as a cost not a strategic investment. (Merrilees, 2007)

Sound familiar?

Reading the trade press, you might question what’s not to like about branding, as these headlines in Civil Society taken from 2012 – during the midst of the recession – illustrate.

So Hudson’s right then.

However, look closer and there’s a pattern. The charities making branding headlines are the bigger ones.

What I was seeing when working on the ground with smaller charities were a lot of examples on the side of Merrilees.

Hudson… we have a problem.

Chances are that the staff, volunteers and trustees who are involved with the 97.2% of charities with incomes of £1m or less, will be on Team Merrilees,

Merrilees had probably found a good reason for this when investigating brands in small enterprises with Wong in 2005.

“the limitations on financial and human resources and time …force firms to concentrate on what they can do best in daily operations.” (Wong and Merrilees, 2005)

But what if Hudson is right, and small charities are missing a trick by not seeing brand as a strategic investment? Perhaps even a tool for helping them out of straitened times, as their bigger counterparts were doing?

No academic study on branding in small charities had ever been published.

This was the starting point for Branding in Small Charities: Towards a Theoretical Understanding and Practical Application.

 The method

One hundred and thirty-seven charities with annual incomes of £1million or less plus a focus group of eight small charity practitioners took part in the research. Branding in Small Charities investigated whether small charities are managing their brands and, if so, whether they are experiencing the organisational performance benefits evidenced in research with large charities, commercial organisations and SMEs. It also investigated whether who manages brands in small non-profits makes a difference to realising operational advantages.

The end goal was to develop practical Information, Advice and Guidance (IAG) for small charity managers and CEOs to help build strong, effective brands.

The findings

Branding in Small Charities found that small non-profits are actively managing their brands but that it was necessary to adapt the models of brand management found in the research with other sectors to make them relevant to smaller charities.

From the contributions of the study’s participants, it was possible to draw up models of branding specific to small non-profits and identify the priority IAG required to support staff and volunteer teams to manage brands across the areas studied – brand benefits (measured in outputs and outcomes) drivers and barriers.

Branding in Small Charities also found that small charities where the brand is managed by a team of people across different managerial levels are better able to realise the benefits of branding practices and manage barriers.

What does this mean?

Branding in Small Charities brings the numerous, well-evidenced benefits of brand management identified in better-resourced sectors within the reach of small charities through the models developed and the lessons learnt about the most effective ways in which to manage and build strong brands.

Given that the well-established benefits of branding practice in other sectors, include ‘raise more income’, ‘grow supporters’, ‘increase reach’ and ‘develop more sustainable partnerships’, for example, these are very significant strategic advantages.

It is particularly important that these significant operational advantages can be achieved by following straightforward practical models and introducing relatively small changes to managing brands.

Team Hudson is within reach of small charities too.

Want to know more?

My study was inspired by my branding consultancy work with charities of all sizes, including ones with incomes of £1 million and under – and seeing first hand how can branding benefit small charities too. If you would like to talk to Red Pencil about a branding project for your organisation then please get in touch – we are always happy to chat



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