Adeela Warley: The lessons of Thomas Cook's demise

The travel company was a victim of an unchanging model: charities should learn the lesson of reinventing the way they engage and empower audiences

Adeela Warley
Adeela Warley

The causes of the demise of Thomas Cook, the global travel business and trusted high-street brand, are still being debated. But there can be little doubt that the company’s failure to respond to changes in tech, digital and society played their part. Low-cost airlines and online travel agents have enabled holidaymakers to curate and book their own travel experiences. In the words of Tim Jeans, former boss of the defunct airline Monarch, it left Thomas Cook looking like "an analogue business model in a digital world".

These same disruptive forces affect the charity sector. Whether shopping ethically, raising money or campaigning for change, we can now realise our ambitions to do good without a charity intermediary.

Perhaps an unlikely place to look for reinvention of old models is the charity shop, but a revolution is under way. No longer just places to donate or buy clothes and bric-a-brac for good causes, these spaces are being reimagined as gateways to activism. Save the Children invited customers into 14 of its shops to talk about the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. The many hours of conversation saw thousands of hand-written messages delivered to local MPs and the Foreign Office. It pointed to a new role for the charity as facilitator and convener and the potential to build a national network for community action. As it said itself: "Arrive a shopper, leave an activist."

Testing new ways to engage and empower audiences and sharing the story of your experimentation is an essential part of the communications toolkit in our rapidly changing world, so let’s not forget it.

Adeela Warley is chief executive of CharityComms

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