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19 February 2020 by Megan Wellman



In today’s market, trust and reputation are everything. Your donors are interested now more than ever in your values, ethics, where their money is invested, who your brand ambassadors are, and more. How can you ensure you’re presenting yourself in the right way, so that your audience continues to support you?

To trust is to have full belief in the reliability, truth or ability of a person or brand. Reputation based on the beliefs that are generally held about them. So, how do the two correlate? If you have a bad reputation for being misleading, or for overspending, you can’t expect people to trust you. Likewise, if people do not trust you, you can’t expect them to believe you have a good reputation and good values. The two come hand in hand. 

Imagine you want to buy a new phone. You really care about the impact purchasing things has on the world around you. You see a phone you like, but the company imports from countries where workers are paid unfairly and work in poor conditions. You choose to take your business elsewhere, to their competitor. They still import the goods from other countries, but they have rules and regulations to ensure the workers are paid a fair wage. In this instance, one company lost out on business because they couldn’t be trusted by a potential customer. Put this in a situation that applies to you, a person makes the decision that they want to donate to charity, but one charity makes it clearer about where their money will go. Who do you think they are going to choose? 

On the 15th September 2019, a journalist at the Daily Mirror published an article detailing how the RNLI had spent £3.3million of their donations abroad. This was after the RNLI had recently made a large number of UK staff redundant, and the story was spun in a negative way. The journalist had made it seem that the RNLI were secretive over where their donations were invested, and some MP’s even questioned the priorities of the organisation. 

This caused public outcry, and soon #RNLIdisgrace was trending on twitter. However, in a turn of events, the bulk of the tweets were people pledging to donate and the RNLI have announced since that although the story was negative, they ended up experiencing a spike in donations. 

The RNLI issued a statement explaining that less than 2% of their annual spending went on international drowning prevention activity. That 2% goes towards giving out burkinis – costumes with a head covering, long-sleeved tunic and trousers to protect the modesty of Muslim women, and providing free creche places in Bangladesh which stops children playing by rivers and reduces a child's risk of drowning by 82 per cent, the charity added. 

The very next day the Guardian reported about the spike in donations, the website crashing due to so many people wanting to donate, and the statements that the RNLI had issued. The RNLI was bold, honest and stuck to their values. They’ve been around for nearly 200 years and have built a solid reputation in this time. So much so, even when a negative story is written about them, instead of ruining their reputation and creating doubt, it caused an increase in donations, brand awareness and solidarity in their supporters. 

There are several factors that come into protecting your brand. They include building trust, communicating with your audience, appreciating your staff, understanding your values and making sure you do the ‘legal bits’ correctly. 

The most effective way to do this is to be honest, open and transparent with your donors and potential donors. Having a ‘Where your money goes’ page, is a great way to show that you are transparent and can be trusted as an organisation. 

You need to think in depth about your communications. One of the most impactful ways to communicate as a charity is storytelling. Almost 67% of people said they were more likely to donate to a charity after having seen a positive image than a negative one, so how do you think they would react to a moving story showing the journey of what your charity has accomplished? E.g. You show the journey of a child who has battled cancer, and is now cancer-free. Similar to the advert run by Cancer Research UK. It’s important that your donors feel like they are part of the story, and have contributed to making a difference. 

If you have angry or dissatisfied staff, this will become public knowledge. If donors or potential donors know that your staff are unhappy, do you think they will buy into your charity brand? If your staff feel underappreciated and undervalued, do you think they will be working to their best potential in order to ensure your charity is the best it could possibly be? You need to ensure your staff are operating in a happy work environment. Invest in your staff and the environment around them. Give them the opportunity to attend networking events or professional development courses, encourage hot desking to get to know different people, organise activities for the team to enjoy together or even something so simple such as supplying them fresh Coffee and Tea every day. 

Your charity needs to define why you exist, how you will achieve your goals and what you are doing. If your staff and brand ambassadors don’t understand this, how can you expect the public to? Take some time out to think about your why, how, and what. When you believe in your values, the public will too. 

Make sure you follow any rules and regulations. You don’t want to be caught up in a PR storm because you’ve not paid a bill, or don’t have the right safeguarding practices in place. Not only do you not want a bad PR storm, you don’t want an unexpected bill to hit and affect your finances, or put anybody in danger. Ensure your staff are fully trained  and your charity is compliant.

Having brand ambassadors is a great idea. It gives you the opportunity to reach a wider audience that perhaps you may never have interacted with. When thinking about the people you may want to partner with, make sure you have a mental checklist of certain things that you are looking for. Don’t go for an ambassador who is just looking to increase their following and are trying to ‘look good’. Go for somebody who genuinely cares about your cause, what you are trying to achieve and actively wants to help you reach that. Make sure you do your research on the person as the last thing you want is them causing the charity bad press. 

Trust and reputation are key to successful charities with loyal donors. Be honest, know and stick to your values, and appreciate the people who make your charity thrive. 

RNLI News Story -

RNLI Donations Surge - 

Cancer Research Story -