Fenella McCarthy says that getting your brand definition right can help an organisation boost volunteer numbers
With over 12 million people in the UK volunteering at least once a month you might think that it would be a doddle for the voluntary sector to get their fair share of help. In fact, recruiting and retaining volunteers is one of the biggest challenges facing charities today.
Worth over £22 million to the sector, volunteering is in many ways the life-blood of charities - enabling them to fulfil their obligations effectively, for minimal outlay. Yet after years of austerity, at a time when demand for many charities’ services is at an all-time high, active volunteering is showing signs of decline. People are spending less time volunteering – down to an average of just 15 minutes a day. This has huge implications for a sector which relies on their commitment to help deliver much needed and valued services.
So how do you make sure that you can attract enough volunteers?
This is where your brand can play a vital role - now is the time when you need to make sure that your brand is as strong as possible.
A strong brand will help your organisation stand out and be noticed for the right reasons. With almost 170,000 charities in the UK, competition is steep and it is essential that you promote a positive, motivating and importantly, consistent brand ‘persona’. You need to communicate clearly who you are, what you stand for and what you are trying to achieve. Evidence is clear that volunteers are attracted to a brand that they understand and believe in. They get both rational and emotional satisfaction from fulfilling roles that are making a difference, which means that communicating your brand clearly is essential.
But you can’t just leave it there, communicating your worth to your volunteers when they arrive and then simply expecting them to get on with it. You need to engage with them, remind them of the important work you do and involve them in your organisation – showing them that you genuinely value them. Ideally you will have created a set of key messages as an outcome of your Brand Definition (the crystallisation of your brand, articulating what makes you unique). These messages can and should be used as the basis for your engagement communications, backed up by other initiatives such as discussion groups, workshops and so on.
Getting your volunteers not just on board with your brand but to act as brand champions won’t just make your working environment more pleasant, it will also make good financial sense. Volunteers might be a free resource but there is a cost to using them, you have to find them, train them and ensure their safety. You don’t want to have to spend time and money continually trying to recruit more volunteers, it is far more effective to keep the ones you have. People tend to stay in jobs where they believe that the organisation has a clear purpose, which they understand, endorse and value. Volunteers are no different. Strong brands reinforce loyalty and commitment as they know what they are about and are confident in communicating their unique story.
It is well documented that an engaged workforce is more productive and in this context, contract or not, volunteers are part of your workforce. Absenteeism, lethargy, low morale are the curse of many organisations and affect results - arguably it is even more important to engage your volunteers as they don’t even have the benefit of a pay packet to keep them interested. Your brand needs to be as strong internally as it is externally, staff and volunteers alike are ‘one’ of your most important stakeholder groups and a strong brand is one which engages its people.
A strong brand will also have a direct impact on your ability to reach (or surpass) your fundraising targets. After its last rebrand Parkinson’s saw an 11% increase in average donations and exceeded its fundraising target for the year by 5%. Having a crafted Brand Definition and communicating it clearly attracts donors just as it does volunteers. You are providing them with forceful reasons to elect to donate their hard-earned money to your cause and they will benefit from a positive emotional glow from doing so. The clearer you are about your brand the more likely you are to get the support you need. People often make split decisions based on emotion rather than serious logic, the easier you make it for them to select you, as opposed to any other charity, the better your results.
So how do you create a strong brand?
It starts with a clear and concise Brand Definition (Vision, Mission, Values, Proposition, Personality and Reasons-to-believe). Your own Brand Definition is important because it is unique to you, it articulates the promise that you make to your target audiences about who you are, what you are trying to achieve, how you are going to get there and what makes you different
It is the role of the brand definition to bring order and control instead of chaos. With a strong definition at the core of your brand, you will find it much easier, quicker and cheaper to build a clear, cohesive image. You will be in control of your marketing and communications activity, able to ensure that every initiative you undertake is working to build the brand image that you want, not the one that others thrust upon you. It is worth spending the time (and money) getting your brand definition right as it is the foundation for your brand journey.
But brand definition programmes are so expensive
They certainly can be, as hiring external brand expertise doesn’t come cheap and often appears out of reach of all but the wealthiest voluntary organisations.
However, there is a new product on the market which will enable all organisations, even the very smallest one-person bands, to access the Brand Definition skills and expertise they need, at an affordable price. Brand consultancy Housebrands has launched its innovative online programme called ‘what’s your purpose’ to allow every voluntary organisation to get the professional help it needs. Using the proven programme, they use with their clients, it is easy to follow - walking users through the step-by-step guide, enabling them to create their unique Brand Definition in-house for a fraction of the usual cost. Packed full of tips, examples and based on a series of worksheets, it’s like having your own personal brand consultant at your shoulder.
Fenella McCarthy is co-founder of brand and communications agency Housebrands.