Building a legendary brand: lessons for business from the Ricky Stuart Foundation


Establishing your small business as a quality brand is a delicate balance between maximising your profile and earning trust. While there are plenty of start-up success stories to inspire, small businesses can also learn a lot about the art of building a brand from the not-for-profit (NFP) sector.

Canberra Raiders rugby league coach and NRL premiership-winning player, Ricky Stuart, started the Ricky Stuart Foundation in 2011 to raise awareness for autism after his daughter, Emma, was diagnosed with the developmental condition. Since then, the Foundation has raised almost $10 million, opened two state-of-the-art respite centres and secured a $4 million NSW Government grant to build an independent living home for young people with autism.

Stuart says it’s a “big vision” that’s succeeded so far thanks to the generosity of supporters and he has plans to further build the Foundation’s profile this year. As many small-business owners have identified, doing so in a digital-first world requires a strong online presence. “The bigger profile we get, the more we can go out there and ask government or other people who help us financially to help other people,” the NRL Hall of Fame inductee says.

Building trust

There are more than 60,000 registered charities in Australia managing billions of dollars in donations each year. Central to their appeal to donors is a belief they can be trusted. As for small businesses, the importance of trust increases as more not-for-profits connect and transact using digital platforms.

The Ricky Stuart Foundation recently rebuilt its website as a key step in its refreshed brand strategy. Foundation CEO Miranda Garnett said its original website had clear limitations, particularly when trying to secure valuable corporate partnerships. “When people looked at our old website, it was outdated, it didn’t tell our story, it wasn’t professional,” she says. “It didn’t capture who we were and why you should invest with us. It didn’t provide them the assurance that we were a quality brand.” 

Telling your story

For any NFP or small business, an effective website is not only a platform to take donations, promote services and products and showcase corporate partners, it’s a central asset for brand building, telling a story and standing out.

Using the website and its social media platforms better, the Foundation is telling the story of its achievements to demonstrate its potential to partners and donors. “We never told the story of what they did do, but also what we could do more of,” Garnett says. “If we wanted to do more, we needed to tell the story of who we are and where we are going.”

Building connections

Stuart sees the digital assets as a tool to build connections in an increasingly online world, connecting families with autism experts and supporting plans to create a school education program. “People will be able to connect and have a feeling of connection with us through the website,” Stuart says. “It’s a line of communication and a way for us to create a stronger profile. I feel the greater profile we can create, it’s a better tool then to help others.”

The Foundation hopes the new alignment of its digital assets will present opportunities to connect with a broader market to fuel growth through new partnerships and fundraising.

The brand strategy might be tailored for a not-for-profit, but there are plenty of synergies between its focus and tactics for small businesses building an established brand. Charities like the Ricky Stuart Foundation can present great case studies for small businesses like yours, whether it’s through studying how not-for-profits build trust, create a strong narrative or connect with their communities.