Non-profit branding: building trust through integrity and consistency

The most trustworthy non-profit brands are those that consistently demonstrate their tangible impact, and maintain their integrity above all.

Image matters

The photography that a non-profit organisation selects for its collateral (i.e. the articles, mail-outs, website, and advertisements that it releases) arguably makes the largest contribution to the overall perception of the organisation’s brand.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Many charities use images like the one above, of poverty-stricken children staring sadly at the photographer. While images like this are somewhat effective at pulling at people’s heart-strings, they are quite ineffective at building a brand with integrity that people trust.


Images like the above are problematic for a couple of reasons.

  1. The non-profit is nowhere to be seen, so there’s no visual cue as to how the non-profit is helping this child.
  2. The child is being portrayed as a passive victim, with no visual cues as to how the community is taking an active role in meeting its own daily needs. Images like these are disempowering and lack dignity.
  3. When you use photographs like this one, seen so frequently by many charities, the public finds it difficult to distinguish what makes your organisation unique from all the others.

So what is a better example?

Photo by Sean Brokenshire © Sean Brokenshire/MSF.

The above photograph clearly shows a beneficiary that has actively sought medical attention, and is being seen to by a physician. The organisation’s logo is visible, and it is immediately obvious that the NGO provides medical services with the face mask and stethoscope in frame.

Integrity in everything you do

People form their opinion of a brand over time. Trust is something that is earned over many years of consistent positive impressions.

It’s not enough to run an advertisement campaign espousing the values of your organisation, if you don’t live up to those values consistently in your day-to-day activities.

People will make judgements on the integrity of your brand every time they come in contact with it. That means every time you release an email, a web article, a social media post, a YouTube video. It’s also every time your spokespeople appear on the news, write an op-ed, speak at a public event.

It only takes being inconsistent once for people to start questioning their assumptions about your brand. If you erode trust in your brand people will start looking at everything you do through a critical lens.

What are the most trustworthy non-profit brands in Australia?

According to the global Reputation Institute (RI), the most reputable charities in Australia are:

  1. CareFlight
  2. Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia
  3. Guide Dogs
  4. CanTeen
  5. Fred Hollows Foundation
  6. St John Ambulance
  7. Ronald McDonald House Charities
  8. Camp Quality
  9. Surf Life-Saving Foundation
  10. National Breast-Cancer Foundation

When you read through this list and close your eyes when you think about each of these brands, what do you see?

My guess is you have an image in your mind of professionals with integrity directly helping people.

It’s not an accident.

Author: Sean Brokenshire

If you want to collaborate with an expert in this field, contact Sean Brokenshire below to talk about your organisation's needs.

Hi, I'm Sean Brokenshire.

I have been working professionally in the fields of digital marketing and multimedia production since 2004. For the past ten years, until recently, I've worked for Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) Australia playing a key role in their digital marketing and communications. Now I'm freelancing - let's do something great together!

Let's do something great together!

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