A new analysis of charity marketing has shown that many are missing a key opportunity – the opportunity to create compelling emotional engagement.
The key message emerging from our recent analysis based on research of 50 of the top 100 UK charities is that charities are missing a golden opportunity to create compelling emotional engagement. Apart from a handful of exceptional examples of good practice, most value statements have become generic, bland and un-differentiating.
Playing it safe with generic values, confusing them with internal behaviours and not being bold enough are the key traps organisations are falling into in their bid to re-assert trust.
Whilst charities and NFP organisations are naturally risk averse, they need to recognise that the only risk in this current climate is standing still. As the sector is disrupted by technology, increasing competition, and changing donor behaviour, it’s the actions they take that break through and deliver impact.
Here are three of the best acid-test indicators to ensure a charity brand is firing on all its cylinders and using the full potential of its authentic values:
Forget Generic ‘Table Stake’ Values
Table stakes are those values that are shared across a sector, expected and assumed by all but that are often considered ‘things that we should probably say’.
The main problem with using a table stake as one of your values is that you end up stating the obvious or telling people what they already know. The most common table stakes we found were ‘honest’ (10 percent of the charities researched), ‘passionate’ (25 percent) and ‘committed’ (25 percent).
These values are almost universal in the third sector; it’s like stating that you are ‘altruistic’. You may know a few organisations that lack these qualities in your area but chances are they will claim they have them anyway.
The bare minimum to aim for when choosing and expressing your values is to not waste your audience’s time by simply telling them what type of organisation they can expect to find in the charity sector. What’s more, it can arouse suspicion; “why do you feel the need to say you’re honest?!”
Distinguish Between Values From Behaviours
Almost 35 per cent of the charities we looked at showed evidence of confusing ‘values’ and ‘behaviours’. The simple rule is this: don’t tell me you’re funny; make me laugh! In other words, demonstrate that you are professional, inclusive, transparent, etc. and use your values statement for something really engaging and differentiating.
This is understandable, as values, which are external communications tools, and behaviours, which are internal management tools, have a similar sounding, positive, meaning-laden vocabulary.
Using ‘respect’ (28 per cent) and ‘effective’ (16 per cent) are examples of this.
The key difference is that behaviours are ‘the standards you operate to’ and values are ‘the principles behind your actions’. When these two get confused a crucial opportunity to engage and connect is lost. In the worst examples we found values statements that read like the internal strategy documents they were probably copied and pasted from!
In addition to those relying on generic table stakes and standard internal behaviours, 28 per cent of the charities we looked at didn’t explicitly talk about their values at all. If their values shine through strong copy and engaging branding then that’s one thing, but if it is a deliberate attempt not to alienate or offend then it is a serious misjudgement.
All charities are expected to have core beliefs and want to see a change in the world. Over a third of the charities we researched cited ‘equality’ as one of their key values, therefore they should really be upsetting someone somewhere because if not, they aren’t fighting the vested interests that perpetuate inequality.
So what to do? If playing it safe will leave you drowned out, indistinct and un-engaging does that mean you have to be ‘dangerous’? Far from it. You have to reach deep into the organisation and be brave, bold and authentic.
Draw your values out from the organisation and tell them well. Tell people who you are and why it matters that you exist. If you don’t take a stand for something, you may as well not stand for anything. By trying to please everyone and playing it safe, you could risk not getting through to anyone.