Low-carbon fundraising is the new mantra

The fundraising world is often quick to adopt best practice from the commercial sector when there's an extra buck to be made; but when it comes to minimising the impact of fundraising activities on the environment, charities have been surprisingly slow to take action.

There are four main incentives for businesses to become more environmentally friendly: internal ethics; minimising loss; staying within the law; and maximising profits.

Many charities are acting for the same reasons, but somewhat cautiously. That's no surprise, because there is no law to drive down charity carbon emissions. For charities, the real pressure for change comes internally, from ethics, and externally, from supporters.

The first non-profits to practise environmentally-friendly fundraising were those with green ethics enshrined in their missions and brands: organisations such as Friends of the Earth had no choice but to live the change they wished to see. FoE pioneered the use of recycled paper, even though it faced quality issues and extra costs.

Other charity brands are now also under ethical and supporter pressure to raise funds in a low-carbon way. For example, development charities can see climate change affecting those they are helping. These charities cannot afford knowingly to contribute to the climate problem when they want to be part of the solution.

Luckily, the quality, availability and cost of recycled paper are no longer big issues. It's also easier than ever for consumers to recycle direct mail. In fact, recipient recycling is the most crucial factor in reducing the impact of paper-based fundraising on the environment.

This startling fact emerged when our company measured the carbon output of a fundraising

campaign through its full life cycle, from raw material harvesting to manufacture, distribution, consumer use and end-of-life disposal.

Get used to these terms, for they are quickly becoming part of the essential vocabulary of
fundraising, alongside terms such as ROI and lifetime value. Mark my words, the new catchphrase for the coming decade will be ‘optimising fundraising while progressing towards carbon reduction targets'.

The first step along the path to redemption is - as always - admission of liability. Then you need a benchmark - an objective measurement of your carbon emissions, campaign by campaign. Make changes, then measure again. Eco-friendly fundraising is already here. The question is: when will you be joining the revolution?

Neil Henderson is campaign development director at print management company Brightsource

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