Overcoming the hurdles: five charity brands that have impressed recently

photo of people in a race jumping hurdles

Overcoming the hurdles: five charity brands that have impressed recently

In this week's blog, Tim Harrison-Byrne reflects on some of the challenges charities have faced in recent years and highlights examples of five charity brands that have been able to stand out in this difficult climate.
Tim Harrison-Byrne

To be a successful charity brand in 2021, you must overcome many hurdles. One of these is staying relevant to those that support you and the broader public – a particularly tough ask during the pandemic when the charity sector has not been top of mind. Many of the UK’s most successful charity brands have universal awareness among older generations and have been relevant throughout their lives. But this has not been the case for many younger adults, as is reflected in their lower awareness and engagement levels with charities. How this plays out over time is a decline in awareness for the top charities as, to put it rather brutally, older people with high awareness are being replaced by younger generations with lower awareness.  

Charity brands also find themselves under pressure from social movements that have exploded onto the scene and now sit alongside long-established charity brands in awareness. Movements such as Black Lives Matter and Extinction Rebellion demonstrate an urgency and fearlessness that many charities could only dream about, let alone a view on law-breaking that would have many trustees breaking out into a cold sweat. These movements are more comfortable with risk than many charities, and this also means they are not afraid to upset people – as my colleague, Tapinder, wrote about in her blog a couple of weeks ago on Black Lives Matter.

But movements are not necessarily the blueprint for charity brands. Many charities, of different sizes and sectors, have shown you can achieve success. We highlight just a handful here.

CALM – successfully targeting young adults

CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) is a charity that is leading a movement against suicide. It has been around since the mid 2000s, but it is in the last few years where awareness of the charity has increased from single figures to a quarter of the public saying they’ve heard of them. What’s even more impressive than this growth is that the proportion of 16-24s who’ve heard of the charity is triple that of the over 65s – something that no other charity we test in the Charity Awareness Monitor has. The tone of the brand is accessible, and its content has good engagement. I particularly liked their YouTube video with rugby player Joe Marler.  

CALM are not the only mental health and emotional wellbeing charity that have impressed in recent years. Samaritans are successfully becoming more associated as an emotional support charity, and Mind and Rethink Mental Illness have successfully bucked the sector’s downward trend in awareness. Many charities in this space are effectively responding to the huge concern around mental health, particularly after multiple lockdowns.

Breast Cancer Now – a charity brand with momentum  

In only a few years since Breakthrough Breast Cancer and Breast Cancer Campaign merged, Breast Cancer Now has doubled its awareness – growing its brand awareness year on year. The more recent merger with Breast Cancer Care now enables the charity to position itself as the ‘research and care charity’. Breast Cancer Now were seen to be the charity with the most momentum in 2019 in our Charity Brand Evaluator research. Like for many organisations, the pandemic has had an impact, but the foundations are still there for growth as we enter the recovery period.

Macmillan – consistently staying relevant  

Any blog about charity brands has to mention the big three – Macmillan Cancer Support, Cancer Research UK, and British Heart Foundation. All have performed well in their own ways. BHF and CRUK continue to maintain their awareness at incredibly high levels – they have some of the highest awareness levels with young people of any brands we test.  

Macmillan on the other hand maintain a high level of relevance. They top the Charity Brand Evaluator Relevance benchmark, with particularly high levels of their audience thinking the charity is more relevant today than ever before. Other high achievers include Mind, Crisis, and Age UK.

Cats Protection and Dogs Trust – growing across all metrics 

In the animal welfare sector Cats Protection and Dogs Trust have both increased awareness from already relatively high levels. This has also been matched by a rise in their voluntary income – another important metric for brand strength. Dogs Trust’s brand is all about positivity and it clearly resonates with their supporters.  

Screenshot of an online Dogs Trust campaign advert. Photo of a dog at the front door of a house that reads Our golden oldies need your help now. And a donate button.

The Dogs Trust brand is also very respected by MPs. Dogs Trust’s Puppy Smuggling Campaign has achieved high levels of support, with one MP saying the charity is much respected in their constituency.

Barnardo’s - holding true to values

In October last year, Barnardo’s wrote a guide for parents on white privilege. It was met with both praise and criticism, in particular from a group of Conservative MPs (see Barnardo’s response here). It takes courage to take a stand, particularly on issues that divide opinion. Barnardo’s may have lost supporters because of its actions, but it may also have gained new supporters who respect the charity for speaking out. Many organisations are grappling with what it means to hold true to their values, particularly in the context of structural racism, workplace culture, and their own history. Barnardo’s have shown us one way of doing this, and credit to them for doing so.

Many ways to achieve success 

There are many ways a charity brand can be successful, but also many different ways of defining success. As well as the overall challenges charities have faced in the current climate, specific sectors or causes will also have their own unique hurdles to overcome. However, the examples above show that you can still stand out. If you would like to find out what measuring brand success could look like for your charity, please get in touch. We’d love to talk. 

To find out more about our Charity Brand Evaluator please contact: CBE@nfpsynergy.net
To find out more about our Charity Awareness Monitor please contact: CAM@nfpsynergy.net



Submitted by tim (not verified) on 13 May 2021


I am struck that the blog covers the branding of some of the biggest most affluent charities - two of which I would argue are extensions of state infrastructure. With a capacity to invest in brand identify they ought to be good! The ability to do extensive and consistent branding and build profile / identity for a small not for profit without any particular expertise is something else. Where is this done successfully - branding on a small budget is much more pertinent and relevant to medium and small ngos.

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