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Beating the ‘Clutter’: Charities Must Learn to Stand Out in the Crowd


Charities must be genuinely distinctive to stand out in an increasingly crowded market, according to new research funded by the ESRC.

If they seem identical to other charitable organisations, appeals they make are doomed from the outset, says a study led by Professor Adrian Sargeant of the University of the West of England.

Researchers found that few facets of charity brands were genuinely distinctive. On the contrary, donors take the core values of charitable bodies as read, simply because they are charities.

The situation is very different from when people judge commercial brands, says the report. Donors seem to begin their appraisal of a charity from the position that the core values automatically apply, until they are given a specific reason to believe otherwise.

Unless charities can come up with messages which get them noticed, they will appear to be ineffectual, bland and ‘a contributor to the increasing charity clutter’, says Professor Sargeant.

And he advises that for charities to make their mark they should not develop their brands in isolation, but instead do it with at least one eye on the competition.

Professor Sargeant said: “Interest in branding seems to be growing. Those charities which bring in most money have long recognized the benefits. But now an understanding of the need for branding seems to be permeating the whole sector. And with good reason.

“Successful charity brands can have a very positive impact on how organisations perform, how donors feel about them, and on the income they get.”

The study included focus groups of charitable donors, and a postal survey among 9,000 of those who support nine charities – three dedicated to the cause of children, and the same number to animal welfare and visual impairment.

Donors identified 61 different ‘personality traits’ or values which they felt applied to the charities. However, researchers were struck by how similar people’s perceptions of the organisations were.
Professor Sargeant said: “What our study shows is that people have a strong sense of what it means to be a charity, but they find it very difficult to distinguish between causes - much less specific charities.

“To be blunt, it appears that charities are perceived as a bland, homogeneous mass of very similar organisations.”

There was no discernible link between how a charity was viewed and how much money people would give it. Donors’ income, wealth, age and gender were the key factors.

However, there was a relationship between what a charity’s values seemed to be and what percentage of an individual’s charitable ‘pot’ they would be willing to donate.

Professor Sargeant said: “When it came to people deciding where to place the majority of their support, the key factors were the degree of emotional or intellectual stimulation it could give, how much influence people thought it could wield, and the tone of voice it adopted in communications.

“By contrast, values such as caring, compassionate, dedicated, ethical, honest and passionate are expected of a charity and may be a pre-requisite for support – but they have no influence at all on the amounts that will be given.”

William Godwin | alfa
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