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Uniform or no uniform, that is the question…

Various Uniforms

In the private sector, branding is everything. A recognisable logo and brand colours, perhaps, in the hope that potential customers will be able to identify and differentiate the business in question against their rivals.

Would these consideration make the same difference within a charity? After all, kitting out a whole workforce wouldn’t be cheap—would those donating money to the cause think this a good way to spend their money? Would there be a return on the investment, i.e. does a fundraiser in uniform collect more than someone dressed in their own clothes?

That’s just the paid workers. What about all the people who volunteer their time—do you kit them out, too? 91% of people working for charities in the UK are volunteers…providing uniform for all these people would cost a lot.

Some of the return charities would see from a uniformed staff-force may not be financial nor tangible. Volunteers giving their time for free may feel more involved with, and connected to, the charity they’re working for if they wore a uniform. They may even feel more protected in some situations…more official, for example, with the clear backing of a whole organisation behind them and the work they do; they’re not perceived as some random do-gooder out on their own, under no obligations, open to abuse. Providing uniform shows your volunteers that you appreciate them, and that you view them as a vital part of the organisation. This, in turn, may see them donating even more of their time for free. We’re a team, let’s do this! A win/win.

There’s also the thought that a uniform is part of the equipment they need to carry out their volunteer role. Perhaps the charity sits amid the healthcare sector…volunteers would therefore need PPE. Maybe they’re outside a lot of the time, mixing with the public, fundraising—which a fleece/warm clothing would enable them to do so more effectively. Though a charity is unlikely to pay their volunteers for the work they do, they still have an obligation when it comes a volunteer’s health and safety.

security uniform

Visually, having a uniform evokes trust. As is the same in business, seeing people in uniform or branded clothing adds weight to the public’s perception of the organisation. They’re deemed more professional, more likely to deliver the promises they make, and to take good care of/not waste the donations they attract. At large events where many people may be attending, having a uniform will also help the public spot the charity’s representative in the crowd.

It’s natural for any charity to want to keep a lid on spending. Small charities in particular will understand that, to pay for a uniform, monies may need to be taken from elsewhere—maybe even from a frontline service. Every penny in expenditure has to be thought about and justified.

The same argument could come down to marketing spend. Again, you have to speculate to accumulate when engaging almost every marketing/promotional activity—if not in money, in time. Raising awareness about your cause could lead to more donations and sponsors, however; it will likely also lead to more beneficiaries finding out about the lifeline you provide…which would require even more money in the pot. It’s a fine balance that many smaller organisations worry about. On the flipside, if you don’t tell anyone about what you do, you won’t attract any donations and no one would benefit from the help you have to offer…if this was the case, what’s the point of your charity even existing?

Having a professional image and a joined-up approach are requisite for charities of all sizes, and having a uniform, logo and certain other elements of branding would support this. It may not be something you can measure, but you may notice the difference if you didn’t have these things.

It’s a good idea to run your charity as a business; most good causes are not the only charitable organisation trying to tackle their chosen problem. Charities can have competitors, just as much as private companies can, and having a business mind can help when it comes to spending within the charity, its long-term plans, and ensuring the organisation exists on a professional footing. It may not be possible, at the outset, to think of uniform, when trying to get the organisation off the ground, but it’s a good idea to think about it sooner rather than later, along with similar decisions about how your charity is perceived by different groups in society and how you plan to get your message out into the ether.

If a new charity, with its first round of donations, vinyl wrapped their staff/volunteers’ cars with the organisation’s branding, took on the lease of large, city centre offices, and created a television advert about their cause, they would (quite rightly) be accused of wastefulness. Thankfully, few, if any, new charities do this.

It’s a pertinent question, however…whether uniform is an unnecessary spend during a charity’s early days, considering the prestige, inclusivity and awareness it would bring and the extra revenue it could generate.


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