The Third Sector: re-branding or re-imagining?

Emma speaking at CharityComms lunch - rebranding the third sector

After an energising time with many brilliant marketing and communications folk from the third sector, courtesy of a wonderful CharityComms networking lunch, I thought I would share the talk I gave before we got stuck in to discussion and food.

When I started to think about what I would say today I realised it felt important to do the thing that we all, I imagine, aim to do with the brands we look after – to look inside, to start with why and to tell that story.

Wanting to integrate was what was interesting me more and more, in life, into my work moved me into the not for profit arena – particularly around environmental challenges but more fundamentally around wanting to do good stuff in, with and for the world.

And I discovered that working for the third sector is hard – charity people graft – mind, body and soul. I’ve seen it. And done it. I’ve met talented, courageous, creative, eclectic, wonderful human beings – human beings who, at an individual level, have authentic, compelling stories to tell about why they do what they do – not what they do, not how they do it (they have those stories as well), but why they do it: what purpose they serve.

It is these individual purposes that energise us, drive us to do what we do – and crucially what connects us. I think this is what the charity sector is at its core. People with purpose wanting to change the world. In amongst all the media noise, the changing rules and regulations, is you – all of you. There is a danger that this noise will drown out your voices, your inner voices – the voice that connects you to your purpose, that connects you to your work. Without this, the sector is truly lost.

I don’t think the world sees, hears or feels all of you – people with purpose trying to change the world for the better, one day at a time. They see amorphous entities, big organisations and job titles. And that’s hard to connect with. They hear what charities do and what they want from others. They probably understand a bit about its cause – the problem it is trying to solve; but do they have sense of its purpose, its essence – why it exists and why that matters?  And does this come through authentically in the how – in an organisation’s way of being. And I wonder, does the world still want to fight for a cause – or rather lean in to its purpose?

Perhaps this is where the opportunity is.

Perhaps one way forward would be to find a way to bring together our whys, pool our wisdom, our positive intent and shift the charity sector on – create Third Sector 2.0… one that leads the way in doing business well, from the inside out. Could we find and articulate the common purpose relevant to all of you – one that might help guide a collective rebuilding of trust and develop a more transparent, understandable identity?

I think it is eminently possible – but it requires trust to begin inside; trust in the people in the organisation, all of them. They need to be able to align their whys with the organisational why – they need to be able to tell their stories; stories of why they do what they do.  And from here we can begin to build a more connected sector.

This is why I was drawn to Neo – we work with some wonderful organisations who want to change the world for the better; we help find the thing that really matters to them and then we help them make it matter more. Inspired by thinkers like Simon Sinek, Brené Brown and Frederic Laloux, we are excited about the growth of organisations putting purpose at the heart of what they do – and letting that be the thing that leads them. And these organisations aren’t just in the charity sector, in fact many of them aren’t.

Our rapidly changing world is throwing up many challenges, but out of breaking systems, corruption and outdated processes new ways of working are emerging…. more mindful organisations – organisations putting purpose before profit, organisations organising themselves differently – seeking ways to support collaboration, co-creation, wholeness, autonomy and, ultimately, happiness. Organisations moving away from pouring energy into battling with the ‘competition’ but rather being wholly focused on what serves their purpose. Where do these kinds of organisations sit in relation to charities and visa versa?

I wonder…. do we need to rebrand the third sector or reimagine a totally new sector – one that welcomes and unites purposeful organisations, one that allows the whole to be greater than the sum of its parts, one that knows what matters and works together to make it matter more?