Charities In The Firing Line -- Time For More Engagement, Less Harassing?

It's a familiar scene. You're trying to walk down a shopping street and young people with a pile of forms are trying to stop you in your tracks, quite literally. The smiles of hello are a ruse. We know all they're really after is our bank account details and a lifelong commitment to send a fixed amount to solve whatever problem it is their agency has got them working on that week. As such, these clipboard-holding beggars end up as another piece of street furniture to navigate around as we stride on to the next appointment. 

Charities really do have a lot to answer for, and they really do only have themselves to blame. It's not just on the street. Every channel you can be reached on is open prey for the charity or partners to target you on. Heaven forbid you end up old and vulnerable and caring, because the result will be a pile of begging letters and a phone ringing off the hook asking for donations.

If brands brought in customers in the same way, they'd have been banned many years ago. Actually, if they stopped people in the street and bombarded them with letters and calls, then they wouldn't be brands any more -- people would simply vote with their feet. More importantly, anyone who did sign up would almost certainly walk away the first moment they could, cancelling that direct debit signed outside the tube station when a student's smile stopped them in their tracks and convinced them that a few pounds a month to whatever charity they were collected for that week could make a difference.

I've never been a fan of how charities get people on their books, but what's even worse is how supporters are sent regular guilt letters. Anyone who has subscribed to any charity will know the ones -- they're the equivalent of a gangster threatening to shoot a cuddly bear unless you fill out a form and give them more money. They might as well say that the x pounds you've already given allowed us to save Snuggles the teddy bear, but unless we get another x pounds before Easter, then poor old Mr Cuddles the squishy tiger is for the chop.

It begs the question -- are charities really this stupid? Do they really think annoying the people who support them is a good strategy? I've tried to politely point out that I want to be taken off all communication lists other than email with several charities and the result is always the same -- a promise this will happen, followed by more and more begging letters on the doormat.

One also only has to work around charities a few times to realise that many have major questions to answer around how much the guys at the top get paid and whether they really do need to fly business class around the world. And please don't get me started on how many charities have to exist to raise awareness about the same condition. All that happens here is they start in-fighting for the same funds and donations and appear to the untrained observer to be more interested in what the other is doing than coming together to achieve a common, noble aim. I have written about many charities, particularly in health care, and all I will say is that I'm left remembering the line out of Monty Python's "Life of Brian" movie -- "Judean People's Front? Eff off. We're the People's Front of Judeah!"

So, the Charity Commission is today tell the sector that it really is in what an insider revealed to The Sunday Times really is the "last chance saloon."

There are many areas where they need to improve, but if I could think one it would be simply this. At the moment charities are like a teenager constantly interrupting what you're in the middle of to ask for more money for the latest pair of running shoes. Instead of this constant begging culture, why not engage us a little more? That teenager, for example, might get more attention if they were doing well at their running club and had a reason for needing the latest shoes. If charities could engage with us and just stop the begging, I truly think this would put them in a better place for keeping loyal donors and preventing churn.

Perhaps more importantly, it just might give them the right mindset in how to approach the market in a more responsible way that consumers don't mind and regulators don't have to start issuing "last chance" warnings.

1 comment about "Charities In The Firing Line -- Time For More Engagement, Less Harassing?".
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  1. Kevin Lee from Didit, March 1, 2016 at 10:15 p.m.

    This in not only a UK centric problem.  Nonprofit marketers for the larger causes test lots of methods of solicitation of donations and the ones that work at a reasonable ROI they do more of, be it direct mail, canvassing, or TV spots.
    My personal hope is that cause marketing will become more commonplace and substitute for direct donations.  That's why I launched (mostly US) and which we hope gains interest outside the US.

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