Pareto Fundraising Creative Director, Stuart Ghent, heads into the kitchen to cook up a not-for-profit branding storm and shares a couple of secret ingredients.

Talking about ‘brand’ is a lot like talking about Spaghetti Bolognese. Everyone knows roughly what you mean, but when fork comes to plate, you pretty soon discover that almost no-one shares exactly the same idea. “My mum used to add a pinch paprika.” “I prefer to use half veal and half pork mince.” “The trick is a little milk added right at the end. “A little parsley on top.” “No, parmesan!”

Brand is the same. “Brand advertising is the stuff that doesn’t feature a product.” “Your brand is your logo.” “It’s the font you use.” “Or the colours.” “Or your photographic style.” “Or your tagline.” For me, the truth is your brand is all of these things. And more. It’s everything you are and everything you do.

As Jenny O’Donnell, Fundraising Director at WWF-Australia knows, the brand is so much more than the panda logo. The brand is their DNA: “Our brand inspires what we do, informs what we say and shapes how we say it. By communicating our key messages clearly and consistently, we can connect with a local and global audience and motivate more people to get involved in our conservation mission.” The panda is shorthand for the mission. The mission is something people want to be part of.

The challenge for charities and not-for-profits alike is to attach your brand to your mission. So, where do you start? Well, here are a few tips to take into the kitchen.


Before we get stuck in, there’s one unique characteristic of charity and not-for-profit branding that needs to be addressed. The f-word. Fundraising.

Many of the world’s best and most successful fundraising academics, commentators and practitioners consider fundraising and brand as mutually exclusive. And, to give credit where it’s due, they’re absolutely right. Fundraising communications work best when they open a window onto donors’ own hopes, dreams and ambitions – where they are the agents of change, forging a world they prefer.

Talking about yourself (or your brand) in that context shines the light in the wrong direction. People care about themselves, ultimately. Not you. So talking about you gets boring. And that can kill fundraising. All that is right. So, what am I disagreeing with? I’m disagreeing with what they’re calling Spaghetti Bolognese.

They’re talking about what the brand is busy saying. My view is that it is much more instructive to think about your brand in terms of what you’re busy standing for. As WWF demonstrates, fundraising and brand go happily, merrily, inexorably and beautifully hand-in-hand when they’re standing for the same things.


Let me squeeze this metaphor just a little harder. The ingredients you choose, the recipe, the cooking method, serving temperature –there are myriad factors that affect the flavour of a good Spaghetti Bolognese. But there’s one secret ingredient that all the best ones – and the best brands – share. Truth. Sounds strange but bear with me!

Way back in 1912, advertising agency McCann registered the world’s first advertising trademark: “Truth Well Told”. And they still use it today, making it one of the longest-serving advertising properties of all time. But I digress. The sentiment is as true for every great brand as it is for every great advertising campaign.

Arriving at your truth, though, is no mean feat. It takes a great deal of introspection, courage, self-awareness and honesty. There are as many processes to arrive at your truth as there are ways to make a famous pasta dish. One simple and useable one that I like comes from (here’s a twist) fundraising author and copywriting legend, Tom Ahern.

He says when formulating your fundraising case, it helps to think of how the world would be without you. How would it be less? Therein lies not only a fundraising proposition, but for my money, your truth. Therein lies your brand. After that, it’s just a simple matter of living up to it, day after day, in everything you do, and everything you say. Easy, right? Well no, but the good news is it’s far from impossible.


Charity: Water is a great example. Lots of people think of them as the Apple of the fundraising world with their leading-edge design, amazing innovation and products that speak to a donor’s heart. Unlike Apple, they don’t have a massive marketing budget or a big team to support it. But what they do have is a powerful truth: Charity: Water brings clean and safe drinking water to people in need.

It’s a compelling message that clearly tells a donor not only what the organisation does, but what it stands for – that everyone, no matter what their situation, has a right to life. It’s an easy truth to nod at. To adopt as your own. To give to.

From the first click on their website, on through everything they do, Charity: Water lives their brand. They show impact: donors see every water project Charity: Water does. They show the how: making it clear they work with local people on the ground. They show they can be trusted: with 100% of profits going directly to the field. And, importantly, Charity: Water makes the donor feel they are the hero: constantly celebrating the power of their supporters.

Yes, they do deliver their message consistently and attractively. But that’s not what makes them a successful brand. What does, at the risk of repeating myself, is the clarity and power of their truth – a truth that donors can make their own.


One thing that is clear, looking at Charity: Water, is that while they look like themselves, they look the part. They look like a charity.

A few years ago, fundraising researcher Professor Adrian Sargeant identified that while commercial brands fight to differentiate themselves, charity brands actually benefit from being similar. Just being a charity implies values such as compassion, effectiveness, trust or honesty. And all charities benefit from this.

But what he also discovered was that if you fail to differentiate your organisation as the best vehicle for meeting the donor’s aspirations – and you don’t look much different to the next charity – you’ve entered the zone of sameness where you’re indistinguishable from others. And donors who can’t distinguish one group from another aren’t especially committed.

It’s a balance worth striking, as Charity: Water has proven. They now have over one million donors worldwide. Hmmm, that’s some tasty Spag Bol.


Stuart Ghent

Stuart is a copywriter, creative director and sometime creative strategist who has spent what he describes as altogether-too-embarrassingly-long-a-time in direct marketing, integrated communications and advertising. What gets him up in the morning – his professional coffee if you will – is doing great work for great causes.


Already a subscriber? LOGIN HERE

F&P brings you all the latest in fundraising including case studies, best practice, strategy, trends and benchmarks, thought leadership & industry insights.


subscribe now

  • Latest print and digital magazine edition delivered to your door, computer, tablet and mobile
  • Multi-user subscription packages at a nice price so all your staff can enjoy F&P
  • Online access to all our archived magazine articles
  • Fortnightly enewsletter
  • 20% discount off F&P conferences (save hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars a year)