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Mind’s commitment to its values lies behind CEO award and brand language success

Congratulations to Paul Farmer at Mind, named Britain’s most admired charity chief executive last night in Third Sector’s peer-voted annual awards.

The citation highlights Farmer’s ‘strong and effective’ leadership in mental health policy and in particular his decision last year to resign from the panel that scrutinises work capability assessments, which decide eligibility for Employment Support Allowance.

Explaining his decision, Farmer has spoken of the importance of charities staying true to their values, and this is clearly something he has embedded in Mind’s organisational culture since arriving in 2006.

Mind’s investment in its use of language is a perfect example of how a charity can reflect its values through everything it says as well as everything it does, and a lesson for us all in how to create and reinforce a compelling charity brand that embraces the diversity of your stakeholder mix.

I adore Mind’s straight-forward brand values, enshrined in just four words: real, personal, compassionate and courageous, and the designed-in flexibility that allows them, for example, to ‘dial up’ their compassion for fundraising audiences, and their courage when campaigning.

Most of all, I love the way they use language to address and remove the barriers that can keep people with mental health problems distanced from the systems and organisations there to help them. Language is powerful. It is capable, especially in the hands of some state-provided services, of creating distance, avoiding responsibility and turning people away, even as it purports to be explaining, informing and guiding.

This is one way Mind describes itself:

We’re Mind, the mental health charity for England and Wales. We believe no one should have to face a mental health problem alone. We’re here for you. Today. Now. Whether you’re stressed, depressed or in crisis. We’ll listen, give support and advice, and fight your corner.

How great is that? From their government policy consultation responses to their thank you letters, Mind speaks with a consistent and distinctive tone of voice that absolutely reflects their values and in particular their relationship to their most important stakeholders – people with mental health problems.

People assume (wrongly) that it must be pretty easy for a charity to sum up any part of its strategy in just four words – and that an organisation that’s taken this road has maybe avoided engaging with the messy, complicated reality of delivering its mission in a complex world. That its approach appears suspiciously one-dimensional.

I can’t claim to know the journey that Mind has been on. But my experience is that charities that are able to express themselves and deliver services with the help of such simple, memorable guidance have usually tackled the messy, chaotic nature of their situation and environment head-on. And having grappled with it, they’ve found a way through to the other side. In the process, leadership and comms teams have had to gather reams of data, conduct detailed and lengthy analysis, and fight and win arguments – often with their own people – about the importance of bringing clarity. And, eventually, and sometimes at some cost, they’ve discovered the simplicity that lies the other side of all that detail and messiness.

And that is true leadership. Congratulations again to Farmer and the whole team at Mind.