For the second year running, PRWeek and sister Haymarket title Third Sector have teamed up with research agency Harris Interactive to produce the Charity Brand Index, the only ranking of UK charities by public perception.
One way or another, the third sector is gearing up for a bumpy ride. Wide-ranging public sector cuts will take their toll as charities either lose funding from local authorities and health services, or find themselves expected to bridge divides as public services close their doors.
Added to this, David Cameron's 'Big Society' vision has seen the PM suggest that charitable bodies could have a greater role to play in public services under the plans. But charities remain confused about the role they are expected to play, and this has prompted comms heads from ten UK charities to meet to discuss the lack of guidance and to plan a course of action (prweek.com/uk, 28 September).
As if this were not enough, charities still have to face real fears of a double-dip recession and a public that has had to tighten its purse strings, to the detriment of third sector organisations reliant on donations.
'The impact is being felt within charitable organisations. The Charities Aid Foundation and the National Council for Voluntary Organisations report a decline of about 11 per cent in real terms in individual giving between 2007-08 and 2008-09,' says Ian Barrow, head of research for charities and public sector at Harris Interactive.
'It is well documented in consumer markets that those who invest in their brands are better able to ride out a recession and are more likely to grow once the recession is over,' he adds.
So what this report does tell us is that the case for continued investment in marketing and PR activity is clear. Cancer Research UK has taken the number one slot from last year's incumbent Macmillan Cancer Support, backed by a strong PR and advertising campaign built around case studies and the message 'together we will beat cancer' (see overleaf).
The brand index shows that organisations that invest in their comms strategies can reap rewards. Of those charities that have climbed up the brand index, many have seen the number of people who recalled seeing advertising, press or TV coverage of the charity increase. Many of those that slipped down the rankings have seen these numbers decrease.
But it would be foolish to argue that simply advertising more, or generating more media coverage, is sufficient to raise a charity's profile in the eyes of the public.
The Charity Brand Index therefore ranks charities by public perception, including awareness of charities, how much the public trusts each charity, how positive an impression the public has of each charity, how familiar and distinctive that charity is, and how relevant the public believes each charity to be.
'In general, there has been a good level of consistency in the rankings compared with 2009 and of the top ten this year, eight were in the top ten last year,' says Barrow (see table).
A number of interesting patterns have emerged, some of which were also evident last year. The top 50 charities tend to be dominated by those working in sectors such as health, cancer, animals and environment, and with children and young people. Military charities such as Help for Heroes, the Royal British Legion and the Royal Air Forces Association also tend to score well. But despite often having large voluntary incomes, international aid charities tend to underperform in the brand index compared with their incomes.
Religious charities and arts, culture and heritage charities also tend to rank lower.
Another notable finding is that charities with 'Royal' in the title, or charities that support the armed forces, tend to score very highly on trust.
'Trust is usually built through experience or heritage, and in some cases that sense of heritage can be built through association,' explains Barrow.
It is also significant that BBC Children in Need has climbed up the rankings to take the number two slot this year, showing the power of association with the UK's leading broadcaster.
BRAND INDEX TOP TEN CHARITIES
Rank Charity Sector Income
2010 2009 rank
1 2 Cancer Research UK Cancer 1
2 5 BBC Children in Need Children & young people 61
3 4 RSPCA Animals & environment 14
4 1 Macmillan Cancer
Support Cancer 13
5 12 Great Ormond Street
Hospital CC* Health 45
6 8 Marie Curie Cancer Care Cancer 12
=7 6 British Heart
Foundation Health 22
19 Royal British Legion/
Poppy Appeal Social affairs 26
9 3 NSPCC Children & young people 10
10 9 British Red Cross International aid 4
* Children's Charity
BRAND INDEX BOTTOM TEN CHARITIES
Rank Charity Sector Income
2010 2009 rank
116 NE The Freemansons Grand
Charity Social affairs 128
117 NE Kids Company Children & young people 116
118 NE Rethink Health 42
=119 NE Methodist Homes
for the Aged Religious/Social affairs 17
NE MERLIN* International aid 56
=121 NE World Villages
for Children International aid 147
NE Hft/Home Farm Trust Disability 60
123 NE Islamic Relief Religious/International aid 50
124 NE Muslim Aid Religious/International aid 123
125 100 Jehova's Witnesses** Religious 76
*Medical Emergency Relief International Charitable Trust
**Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Great Britain
TOP RATED CANCER RESEARCH UK
Cancer Research UK is the largest charity in the UK by income and is now also the top charity by public perception, having taken the top slot in the 2010 index.
High levels of recognition, familiarity, relevance and trust all helped propel the charity to the top of the table this year.
Cancer charities tend to fare well in the index, as the cause is one to which nearly everyone can relate. Macmillan Cancer Support, which was number one last year, came fourth this year, with Marie Curie Cancer Care in sixth place.
'It is great to see cancer charities taking top positions,' says Carolan Davidge, brand and PR director at Cancer Research UK.
'It shows the great importance the public places on tackling this devastating disease. More than one in three of us will get cancer at some point in our lives, but thanks to the work of Cancer Research UK the changes of beating it are better than ever. Survival rates have doubled in the past 40 years.'
But in this crowded sector, there is a need for charities to stand out to keep the donations coming in, whether through straightforward giving or through initiatives such as the hugely successful Race for Life, a series of fundraising runs for women held around the country.
'We've worked hard over the past couple of years to really understand what the public thinks and feels about us,' says Davidge. 'We have undertaken market research, listened to what the public and supporters have to say, and evolved our comms strategy accordingly.'
From the charity's research, it discovered while people admired Cancer Research UK's work, they found it difficult to make a link between research in laboratories and an increase in cancer survival rates. 'We needed to "humanise" our brand by showing the impact of our research; the real people who are alive today because of new and better cancer treatments,' says Davidge.
The charity has also put cancer doctors on centre stage, to show how research translates into successful treatments.
For example, the charity made a 'hero' of Professor David Neal, a surgeon specialising in prostate cancer, who has appeared across the media as well as on the front cover of the charity's annual report. 'It was "new news" to people that we fund doctors to carry out research on treatments such as surgery, and I believe it's really helped us feel more relevant to people's everyday lives,' explains Davidge.
The charity has also embraced social media and produces video content to accompany online news and feature stories. 'As a brand, we often work best in moving images. Film offers us the greatest opportunity to get across the complexity of cancer and our work,' adds Davidge.
Looking ahead, Davidge says the challenge is balancing communicating the progress the charity is making, with demonstrating the need for continued funding from the public.
HOW TO GET IT
The Charity Brand Index 2010 is published by Haymarket and available to purchase from Thursday, 7 October. Individual breakdowns for each charity in the top 125 are also available to purchase. For more information or to order a copy, go to www.charitybrandindex.com