When branding gets in the way of engaging supporters

Speech bubblesA guest blog by Esther Preston.

As a qualified direct marketer I believe in building true attitudinal loyalty with supporters. What I mean is, that supporters are both inspired and understand the difference their support makes, to the point they are happy to tell their friends about it and encourage them to support you too.

This is normally achieved through carefully thought out consistent communications to build trust in our charity brand. The use of key messages to make it easier for people to digest what our cause is about, and a shopping list to let people know the difference their donation can make are two commonly used communications for building engagement. However, we all know as fundraisers that it is the real life stories that move our supporters and connect people with our charities. I only have to look at our Facebook page to see that any time we post a patient story, the number of likes, shares and comments go through the roof. It is particularly relevant for a hospice because many supporters have themselves experienced our services.

With this in mind I was inspired by a presentation by Catherine Miles and Sam Butler from Anthony Nolan, the blood cancer charity, at the recent Institute of Fundraising National Convention. It was titled ‘Empowering supporters to run their own digital/social fundraising campaigns’. It challenged my views on the importance of accurate brand and key messages in favour of emotive supporter generated video content that lacks any branding or information about the charity.

The first video we watched was about Jessica, a supporter who was training for the London Marathon.

It is a great example of a social fundraising campaign as she makes you want to support Anthony Nolan because she does – and she is really likeable.

The second video was Lucas Ruddy’ journey (do not watch without a tissue to hand).

I will be honest that at the end of the video I still didn’t know anything about the Anthony Nolan charity but if there had been a donate button I would have clicked it. Why? Well, I don’t give the charity because I understand the process of how they achieve their results, I give because of the result. In this case the family saying that Lucas was alive because of Anthony Nolan did it for me. I felt instantly connected to the charity and, importantly, it made me want to find out what the charity does.

I think we can sometimes be too precious about our brand and wanting to let people know what our charity does but if we don’t make that emotional connection first, then the best brand in the world won’t compensate. On the other hand, encouraging supporters to generate their own content that makes the emotional connection but doesn’t meet brand guidelines won’t do your brand any harm. That is as long as your own website has a clear brand and message to develop a person’s connection to your cause.

Esther Preston is director of fundraising and marketing at Ashgate Hospicecare, Chesterfield.

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