What you say is what you get: Getting the message across about being a charity

What you say is what you get: Getting the message across about being a charity

Through our branding and communications research we've learnt the importance of getting the message across to donors about how you're funded. Here we explore this using London's Air Ambulance as a case study.
Anna Wates


Definitions matter; certainly in the eyes of the public. The extent to which you are recognised as being a charity (as opposed to another type of organisation), as well as whether you are seen as being in need of money or funding, influence whether or not the public say they are willing to give money.  In analysis we completed using data from our Charity Awareness Monitor (CAM), we found that the public are more likely to see organisations as charities if they think they are in need of funding[1]. What’s more, the public are also more likely to give to organisations they see as in need. So, if you’re a charity that relies on public donations, it’s important to let people know that you need money to operate.

This can be an issue for organisations of all kinds, from not-for-profits working in arts and tourism to the emergency services. As an example, only a minority of the public correctly identified some of the country’s best known museums and art galleries as having charitable status. Yet this can present a barrier for these institutions when attempting to raise funds through sponsorship, donations and legacies from individuals. 

We recently worked with London’s Air Ambulance, a charity that delivers advanced trauma teams to critically injured people in London. We carried out a survey which revealed that only 37% of people know London’s Air Ambulance is a charity[2]. By comparison, 74% identified the British Red Cross as a charity. Yet just like the British Red Cross, London’s Air Ambulance relies on the income it gets from public donations.

Following this research, London’s Air Ambulance is working to spread the vitally important message that they are a charity, and that the majority of their income comes from the public. In a recent article published on the charity’s website, Jonathan Jenkins, CEO of London’s Air Ambulance, wrote:

“Our next challenge is about increasing awareness that we are a charity, which will hopefully in turn grow our supporter base. Support from local communities is vital as we build that awareness. We are a service funded by the people of London for the people of London, and community spirit is right at the heart of everything we do”.[3]

As part of the project team at nfpSynergy, I’ve worked on a range of brand-related projects for charities facing similar challenges. This might be in countering misconceptions around an organisation’s charitable status which stem from a historical connection with a major funder or with government, a connection that no longer exists but which continues to inform how the public view the charity. Or perhaps the charity’s name or logo is a distraction, leading people to incorrectly assume they are a different kind of organisation than they actually are. Either way, messaging is key.

A good example of how messaging can be used to best effect is the positive transformation of Girlguiding in recent years. The charity for UK girls and young women underwent a massive shift in terms of brand identity following the arrival of new chief executive Julie Bentley in 2012. Addressing perceptions of the charity as outdated and old-fashioned, Girlguiding embarked on a comprehensive consultation with girls, young women, parents, Rainbows, Brownies, Girl Guides and Senior Section members to inform a decision about the new direction of the organisation. nfpSynergy was involved in this process too, providing insight through our Brand Attributes Monitor, Families Insight and the Charity Awareness Monitor, as well as commissioning several bespoke projects with various audiences.

Under Bentley, Girlguiding has now proclaimed itself an “ultimate feminist organisation” adding a range of new badge categories, including one for body confidence. The charity also altered its oath, from the previous wording of “to serve God and country” to instead asking members to promise to “be true to myself and develop my beliefs”. The key to success for Girlguiding has been in consistency of messaging, communicating these changes across a variety of platforms. Throughout the whole process, beneficiaries have been at the centre, consulted at every stage, demonstrating (and generating) enthusiasm to embrace change. This has resulted in a substantial shift in how the organisation is perceived, from the inside out.

Ultimately, when it comes to engaging with public opinion, perception is reality; so it’s all about getting the right message out about who you are, what you do, and what you need.

These are just some of the issues which we’ve been able to explore through our bespoke work on branding and communications. If you would like more information about our work in this area, please contact insights@nfpsynergy.net or call us at 020 7426 8888.


[1] 1,000 adults 16+, Britain, CAM, Jan 2016, nfpSynergy

[2] Methodology: Online bespoke survey of 1093 Londoners, representative by age, gender and social grade, carried out by nfpSynergy in March 2017.

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