Donors often struggle to describe what makes one charity different from another. I've seen people in research groups trying to prise child welfare organisations apart by talking about levels of "seriousness" or average age of beneficiaries. I've seen healthcare charities being discussed in terms of bedside manner. I've even seen charities working with homeless youngsters being compared according to perceived staff attitudes to getting hostel residents up in the morning (so they can go out to look for work). And I've seen huge effort put in as people tried to squeeze a cigarette paper between two development charities.
Few of these attitudes were representative of the true nature of the organisations and few opinions were held particularly strongly.
Trying to get to the emotional heart of an organisation was pretty tough.
That was until some focus groups delving into attitudes to giving to development charities had a Land Rover introduced to them.
The vehicle in question was a long wheel based version with a covered back (I think its model number was 109). Rather than simply talk about the charity. We asked them to tell us about what they imagined the vehicle was carrying, where it was going, who was driving and what might happen on the journey.
Each photograph was identical, but with photoshop trickery we put different development charity logos on the side of the vehicle.
In all cases, the vehicle was seen to be carrying the equipment of development – things like tools, seeds and medical supplies – to poor people. But that was where the the similarity ended.
Some vehicles were seen to be driven by "sandal wearing hippies from the home counties". Others were under the control of local staff. In some cases priests were at the wheel. On the way, some charities would have to hand over part of the load to local war-lords just to get the remainder through. In other cases the whole consignment would arrive safely because of local knowledge or the respect that the organisation was seen to command.
Offering people this simple mechanism gave them a tool to focus their thoughts and helped us to identify some startling negative perceptions that people held about certain charities – perceptions that represented significant barriers to giving. Barriers that we could look to address and break down in creative work.
Brands are powerful things, but not all the values that people associate with a charity are necessarily positive. In managing our brands we need to tackle negative attributes as well as simply promoting our positive ones.
It might sound like a no brainer, but it is often given little more than lip service.