The Role of Brand: Understanding door number two

By Ronan Hegarty

Ronan Hegarty asks why people start supporting charities and how understanding the different supporter journeys can help you grow your supporter base.

Why do people start supporting charities?What makes them care about charities and how can you make people care about your cause and support your charity?

It is the job of every marketer in this sector to deeply probe these questions and create successful campaigns that give individuals a strong motivation to help in some way.

To begin to answer these questions it is important to differentiate between those who support a charity due to personal reasons and those that were strongly influenced by an organisation’s brand and marketing strategy.

Personal reasons often mean they (or someone they care about) have been directly affected by the cause the charity is championing.

Consider this: the path to support, or to put it another way, the opening chapter of the supporter journey, starts by opening one of two doors.

1. Door one houses personal reasons, powerful, yes, but it has a hard cap on the number of potential donors if your cause has niche incidence within the population.

2. Door two represents the Role of Brand.This is the realm of marketing and arguably this door shines more brightly because it has the potential to tap into a virtually infinite audience.

Understanding when and why people donate to a cause, particularly one about which they have no immediate personal connection, is a perfect place to assess the potential for marketing and branding activity for your own charity.

It is particularly valuable to understand why people pass through door number 2. This is because they have no personal bias towards that cause.

How has the owner of that door elevated their cause from being previously out of sight, something they are not personally affected by, to being top of mind and what they end up supporting? What can be learnt and then borrowed from this event?

Using BrandVue to understand the Supporter Journey
BrandVue Charities is the first platform that allows us to seriously understand why people donate to a charity in the first place and how the role of brand feeds into their behaviour.

This is because BrandVue Charities tracks over 120+ charities on a daily basis and have asked thousands of donors why they initially began supporting a charity.

This allowed us to calculate how much income is derived from marketing and branding strategies and actions. This is expressed in the form of a Role of Brand score which forms a major part of the valuation methodology behind the Top 100 table.

Let’s contrast and compare various supporter journeys...
For many donors, personal reasons are the driving motivator of their support. People care about issues that directly affect them and their loved ones.


Conversely, if a charity brand is damaged this has much deeper ramifications for charities where the Role of Brand score is high.

Take Oxfam for example. There is a perception that Oxfam works overseas and their mission statement reads ‘Our purpose is to help create lasting solutions to the injustice of poverty’. We feel pretty far removed culturally and materially from the plight of poverty in developing countries, yet Oxfam is a national institution known by over 95% of the UK and widely supported.

When Oxfam was hit by its scandal last year, 57% of the general public claimed to have heard something negative about the brand. Donations were hit hard but if this had of been a major health charity, the blow may not have been quite as severe.

This is because the Role of Brand score was lower. People’s personal experience with the cause would have acted as a psychological buffer of sorts against the fallout.


It is essential for charities to understand the relationship their brand plays on donations.
Role of Brand is not only an important predictor of risk, it also allows charities to adopt a more nuanced marketing strategy that helps direct the right amount of brand investment needed for income maintenance and growth.

Even the strongest charities should always seek to understand their role of brand, at the very least, for the simple reason that investing in the right marketing leads to higher engagement and subsequently income.


While there is no such thing as a good or bad Role of Brand score it is an important start point to understand the supporter journey, which BrandVue sheds light on.


Charities looking to grow should always seek to increase their role of brand score for the simple reason that it is the key to unlock new markets. This will lead to higher engagement and subsequently income.

But in doing so charities that increase their Role of Brand must also pay close attention to monitoring the health and strength of their brand. This is because, as with climbing any ladder: the further up you climb, the further you have to fall.

By Ronan Hegarty

Ronan has always had a passion for the charity sector and joined Morar HPI after his masters, where he conducted ethnographic research into the social reality of poverty. Since then he has developed a deep understanding of how the ‘role of brand’ underpins our collective conscious and influences our habits.