Charities have 'burned and slashed' media channels over the past 30 years, says MC&C director

Mike Colling tells delegates at the International Fundraising Congress in the Netherlands that the sector has 'gone through media channel after media channel and just burnt them out'

Mike Colling
Mike Colling

Charities have done the equivalent of "burning and slashing the Amazon rainforest" in their use of media channels over the past 30 years, the managing director of media planning agency MC&C has said.

Speaking at the International Fundraising Congress in the Netherlands on Friday, Mike Colling said the way charities used media to fundraise was unsustainable but that social media, particularly Facebook, represented a "garden of Eden" which would enable charities to achieve high response rates from donors for low amounts of investment.

"We are no better than the guys who are burning and slashing the Amazon rainforest," Colling said. "We have gone through media channel after media channel after media channel and just burnt them out."

Colling said that the way charities could avoid "polluting" social media in the same way as other channels was by not asking people for money the first time they interacted with them there, he said.

Charities were previously forced to ask donors for money every time they advertised, Colling said, because either the channels they used - such as direct mail and telephone - were too expensive to justify not asking, or the response rates were too low, as in the case of television and radio.

"The reason we can add value this time is because the economics are fundamentally different," he said.

The low cost of advertising on social media was comparable with television and radio advertising, said Colling, but the medium-high response rates were more akin to those generated by direct mail or telephone fundraising.

"We’ve completely changed the maths and because of that you can afford to build up a relationship in a way that the maths have not permitted in all the 30 years that I’ve been working in media," he said. "This time we don’t have an excuse."

Collings said another advantage of social media was that people typically viewed it as a form of "public media", in which organisations did not need permission to interact with them, unlike "more intrusive" phone, direct mail and email communications.

He said people were also even more relaxed when using social media than they were while watching television, making them more susceptible to advertising, and that were often alone and focused on what they were consuming, even more so than when reading direct mail. 

"I’m not saying do everything in social media," said Colling. "Social media is not a silver bullet. Sixty-six per cent of media consumption is still offline."

He said MC&C had found the best donor journeys began in the offline world, often on television, but then drove people to social media for a conversation before asking for money via an offline channel. "Have your conversations in social media but you’ll get much better results if you do your asking in the offline world," he said.

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