'Simple, clear, straightforward'

Compelling campaigns may look simple, but many charities forget the basics, says Ben Jackson

Ben Jackson, associate director, Forster agency
Ben Jackson, associate director, Forster agency

Some studies have estimated that we are hit by 3,000 advertising messages a day. And that's without mentioning texts, emails and all the other joys of modern civilisation - no wonder getting campaign messages through to people gets tougher and tougher.

If you want to grab your audience, you have to communicate a compelling, consistent message. What people hear is too often fuzzy, anodyne or confusing.

Far too many charities take a disparate approach to campaign messaging. The campaigns department might be brewing up the next new sign-up mechanism while, next door, the development team is trying out an entirely separate new strategy for engaging with the public. Meanwhile, fundraisers are ploughing on with tried-and-tested methods in an attempt to bring in the cash. The result of all these mixed messages is that decision-makers and the public are left wondering what the central 'ask' of the campaign really is.

Stereotypes? A bit. But my 20 years working in and with the voluntary sector have taught me that it is not so far from the truth. People are often subjected to a confusing babble of messages about a campaign, and struggle to understand how they fit in and what they think and feel about the charity's brand.

Save the Children is one of a growing number of charities embracing a more joined-up approach to campaigning. Its We Save The Children. Will You? campaign, launched in February 2008, used a single entry point across all its audiences to bind together its communications.

It began with a simple statement of the problem and why action was needed: "Over nine million children die every year before their fifth birthday. But we know, together, it's possible to stop this injustice. We just have to act." It then offered people a choice of ways to show their support: donating to help the charity's work on the ground; signing up to the campaign; or learning more about the charity's policy and information work. Simple, clear and straightforward - but something many charities fail to achieve.

Barnardo's is another example. Its Believe In Children proposition covered all aspects of its work, seeking to change people's attitudes to excluded children, invite them to take action and challenge policymakers as well as donate.

Charities need to get everyone involved on the table at the outset. This may involve changes in policy and practice. But by sending out a clear message about your charity's brand, your communications can punch above their weight to deliver results across the board.

- Ben Jackson is an associate director of communications agency Forster

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