Viewpoint: Clarity and consistency can help you flourish

What you say about your charity's work, and how you say it, can affect your popularity with the public and change your fortunes.

A couple of months ago, I spoke at the Charities and Associations Exhibition in London on the subject of fundraising for unpopular causes. An interesting topic for a small group of people, I thought.

I was astonished to walk into a room packed with more than 150 delegates. All of them were convinced their cause was unpopular. Most were fundraising single-handedly and were passionate about the work of their charities, yet they were struggling to convince the general public to donate.

They're a tricky bunch, the public. They've usually heard it all before. Even when you actually manage to stir their hearts, if they are unfamiliar with your cause they tend to be wary about donating. That's the norm anyway, though why mail packs from charities that send out coins stuck to letters should produce the high response rates they do completely confounds me. That, I fear, is the triumph of guilt-saturated marketing techniques over good old British reason.

So how do you convince supporters to donate if your cause is unpopular?

One of the most successful newspaper advertisements of all time featured a heavily-laden old woman, under the tag line "75 is no age to be leaving home". It was for the unknown and oddly named Rukba, now mercifully renamed Independent Age, a charity that helps older people in need to remain independent. It worked well because it had my four 'be's in spades: be clear, be bold, be local and be personal.

Having recently returned from an Italian conference on charity brands, I realise how few UK charities are clear about what they do, let alone what they stand for. With Macmillan Cancer Support's kind permission, I used its recent and very successful 'We are Macmillan' re-branding exercise as a case study. Thanks to its new clarity of purpose, Macmillan will undoubtedly thrive.

Clarity and consistency in what you say about your charity's work will transform your fortunes for the better. And if you say it with passion and boldness, your supporters, who will usually match or exceed your own passion, will repay you with their long-term support.

It is so often the reticence of UK fundraisers that prevents charities from enjoying their support to the full. There is still too much political correctness, still too much wielding of red pens just in case anyone is actually moved by what is written.

I came across yet another charity yesterday that doesn't even make the effort to thank people who give their time and money. By expressing gratitude, charities can build the personal relationships that most supporters actually want.

Being personal is a vital ingredient in the heady mix that is fundraising.

Stephen Pidgeon is chairman of marketing company Target Direct

5 more things...

Of the top 500 fundraising organisations, international aid charities were the most popular with the British public in 2005/06, receiving £708m between them. Cancer charities were not far behind, receiving £631m, according to the Charities Aid Foundation's Charity Trends 2006 report.

However, there were several humanitarian disasters in 2005/06, including an earthquake in the Kashmir region of Pakistan that killed 20,000 people and prompted the third Disasters Emergency Committee appeal in 10 months.

Deafness, HIV/Aids and youth charities were among the least popular causes in 2005/06, according to Charity Trends.

Medical research is the most popular fundraising cause across all charities in the UK, according to joint research by the NCVO and CAF. Medical research charities received 19 per cent of the total £8.9bn voluntary income that was donated during 2005/06.

The gap between big and small charities is reflected in their ability to raise money. The 10 biggest charities receive 23 per cent of all public donations, according to CAF.

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