Trust is fragile. Belief is power.
It’s not new news that trust in charities is the lowest recorded since 2005. But charities aren’t alone. Public trust has fallen in all major institutions since 2005. The church, the Government and business – all have been rocked by scandals that have left the public in a heightened state of scepticism.
It’s also not news to say that charities and business will have to work to regain trust. The public expects both to be honest, transparent, ethical and accountable. These are basic ‘hygiene factors’ for any organisation, and no-one’s exempt.
To repurpose an old adage about money, trust is not a motivator – but it can be a significant de-motivator. If people don’t trust you, they won’t engage with you.
But similarly, trusting an organisation won’t, on its own, make someone engage, support or commit.
That takes something much more powerful. It takes belief.
When we believe in something we form an emotional connection to it because it resonates with our values and how we feel about the world.
Unlike trust, which is fragile, belief is inspiring, resilient and enduring. When we believe in something, we want it to succeed – even if it’s not perfect.
So how do you build belief? Two factors rise to the top. What you stand for – the human values you share with people. And what you do – how you enrich people’s lives.
It’s no wonder that we see commercial brands and charities converging in this ‘shared values / shared value’ space. There are three levers that are influencing a shift in people’s relationship with brands;
1) In an increasingly connected and transparent world, how people feel about a brand has taken on a new level of significance. People are choosing to engage with brands that share their values – and help to build their own social capital.
2) People expect brands to enrich their lives beyond basic transaction and function. This goes as much for charities as it does for commercial brands. Even for causes they care deeply about, they increasingly expect to get as well as give.
3) People increasingly believe that business can, and should, have a positive impact on society. This has levelled the playing field between sectors. Now people’s expectations of charity behaviour match what they expect from ‘good’ businesses – including fundraising, marketing and service.
So. Brands that reflect our values. Brands that enrich our lives. Brands that do good, and act that way too. Three new consumer needs that have led many commercial brands to add a ‘social good’ pillar to their model. A move that’s positive for society, and may be a threat to charity. Put simply, if people can do good by engaging with a commercial brand, why should they do it through a one-way transaction with a charity?
Brands like Ben & Jerry’s have been at the vanguard of this movement since 1978, along with Patagonia and Body Shop, and latterly joined by pioneers like Paul Polman of Unilever and Mike Barry at M&S, Nike and a host of other enlightened brands, helping make ‘social good’ the ‘commercially good’ approach.
Building belief is not the same as rebuilding trust. Trust is a mandatory – but not a motivator to engage. That means both commercial brands and charities need to consider how they can enrich people’s lives and have far greater focus on developing relationships based on shared values.
A specific challenge charities face is how to replace the ‘high pressure’ volume channels (DM, telephone, door to door) with a model that generates volume but offers audiences enrichment and reflects shared values.
The challenge commercial brands face is how to create enriching experiences beyond transaction or function, that reflects their audience’s values, that’s as true for customers as it is for employees. The approach has to be strategic, integrated and reflective the sector or category the brand operates in.
Belief, based on enrichment and shared values, is the power behind new, resilient and mutually beneficial relationships for both brand, employees and customer/supporters. Believe me, we’ve been building belief for the last 22 years.