When it comes to trust does brand matter?

We hear a lot about trust and its particular importance in relation to the Irish charity sector. Because the sector is dependent on financial donations and volunteering, public trust in charities is essential for the sustainability of the sector.

Research by Sargeant and Lee (2004) concluded that higher degrees of trust in a charity have been shown to predict a greater willingness to become a donor; to make a larger donation amount; and higher levels of trust improve the possibility that enduring donor-charity relationships will develop. And we know that enduring donor-charity relationships are critical to success in fundraising.

So what is it charities need to do in order to gain and maintain trust so that they can derive the benefits of higher degrees of trust?

Measures to enhance trust

To start with trust has to be earned and it is earned by being trustworthy. Collective efforts by the sector over the past number of years to bolster public trust by providing evidence of such trustworthiness have been initiated, for example the introduction of voluntary codes such as the Statement of Guiding Principles for Fundraising, the Governance Code, the good governance awards, training courses in governance and best practice, and the voluntary adoption of Charities SORP, to name but a few. By signing up to these initiatives charities can reassure the public that they can be relied on to be competent, transparent and ethical in the work that they do on behalf of their beneficiaries.

Image of heart in hand

The role of brands in enhancing trust

In the middle ages most of the goods that people bought were bought from local producers, who they would have known personally. People judged the character and quality of what they were buying by what they knew about the people who had made the goods. And by the mid-thirteenth century bakers in England were required by law to put their mark on every loaf of bread that they baked “To the end that any bread be faultie it might bee then knowne in whom the fault is”. (Baker S. and Mouncy P., 2003)

So right from the beginning brands have always represented a guarantee of quality. And reputation, integrity and trust have always been important brand attributes.

In the charity sector “brands are in essence a promise to the public that an organization possesses certain features, or will behave in certain ways.” (Sargeant & Jay, 2010)

A charity’s brand should permeate internally through the organisation in the charity’s structure, culture, systems, processes, leadership, staff and volunteers. But it is important to remember that a charity’s brand identity is about how it is perceived – brand reality is driven by the donor experience. So through authentic communications with donors as part of donor care programmes, designed to develop mutually beneficial, enduring relationships, a charity’s brand can be leveraged to build supporter loyalty, reduce any perceived potential risks in donating and provide assurance that donations will be used effectively.

Given the role of brand in enhancing trust it is important that brand management is not left to chance, particularly when we consider that “organisations that develop brands are simply more successful at fundraising than those that do not.” (Sargeant & Jay, 2010)  By uncovering what really matters to donors a charity can ensure that the brand delivers what it promises.