I’ve been working almost exclusively in the third sector (or NFP sector, as some call it) for the last five years, and if there’s one piece of simple(ish) advice I’d offer – having worked with/for several organisations – it’s: stand for one thing.
Much like an advert (or an entire campaign) should only contain a single message, charities need to stand for one thing, above all – to keep existing donors, attract new ones, or just foster donor trust in general.
Donors (whether individual givers, major donors, philanthropists, trust funds) need to be led to the cause… and it’s the charity’s job, as a brand, to lead them there, by enabling them to understand exactly what they’re putting their money towards – the one issue that particular charity helps with: the one problem (whether medical, societal, animal welfare-based) they look to solve.
Most charities will have, as standard, a tone of voice guide (or at least a style guide).
Within this, there’ll be what’s commonly referred to as ‘boilerplate copy’: mission statements, of differing lengths, that can be lifted/copied and pasted and dropped into any press release, report, content (or even repurposed for ads) to say, in a nutshell, what the charity does.
There’ll be versions of this: a full/lengthy paragraph, a shorter paragraph, then a two-line blurb (three lines at most).
This indicates that the charity is certain of why it exists, what its purpose is, who it serves/helps in society, how it helps them, and why a donor should give funds.
It also indicates which areas the charity doesn’t cover.
But, beyond boilerplate copy, charities should be able to say – in one quick line – exactly what they do / who they help… or there should be a public perception of them which allows for this.
Crisis = the charity for single homeless people (those with least rights)
Shelter = the charity for families in danger of becoming homeless
St Mungo’s = street outreach for those who are already homeless
Centrepoint = for young homeless people (teens to mid-twenties)
Cancer Research = researching cures for cancer, and better treatments
Macmillian = support for those who have cancer, and their families
Marie Curie = palliative care – giving people dignity in their final days (and helping their family)
Mencap = supporting people with learning disabilities, and campaigning for their rights
British Heart Foundation = helping people with heart conditions, and raising awareness of them/how to prevent them
WWF = animal conservation: helping endangered species, worldwide
Mind = mental health charity – providing support and advice
I could go on and on, listing charities that have an obvious singular purpose, that the public ‘get’.
What doesn’t work so well, is when a charity tries to be all things to all people: ‘Oh, we prevent domestic violence… but we also help those with addictions… but we also help adults with disabilities…’
‘We’re a mental health charity… and we help homeless people… and we also help young women into education’
This often happens with older charities, whose vision has changed over the years… but they’ve tried to keep everything under one umbrella, even if the services offered are disparate and don’t give a clear picture, to Joe Public, of what they do.
The thing is – it’s possible to stand for / offer services relating to quite a few things, and donors will often come to you on that basis (it may be that they’ve been helped through one of the services that isn’t part of your key offering, and have become loyal to you because of that)… but you have to stand for one thing: ‘we help children with cancer’… ‘we offer international aid’ … ‘we support the LGBT community’… ‘we support people who are blind’.
Otherwise, if you don’t stand for one thing, cold/floating donors will simply go to the charity/ies with a clear purpose: they’ll look to put their money on ‘a winning horse’.
Pick the one thing you stand for, and stick to it.