Debate: Should charities use strong language in their advertising and campaigning?

A seminar at this year's International Fundraising Congress was told that even swearing can sometimes be effective. Three experts give their views

ActionAid Bollocks to Poverty campaign
ActionAid Bollocks to Poverty campaign

TONY ELISCHER Managing director, Think Consulting Solutions

When it comes to communicating with your donors, you should speak their language. Bad language can be offensive - but equally, if used appropriately, it can convey passion, anger and simple honesty.

We all remember Live Aid, but what we remember might not be the great music but Bob Geldof getting so angry and passionate that he looked into the camera and said "just give us your ****ing money!" At that moment the response on the phones doubled.

Like it or loathe it, swearing is now a part of many people's everyday language, so it is important for fundraisers to open their minds and break out of their comfort zones when deciding on the style of communication needed to connect.

Sometimes we play things far too safe and believe we know what is right for the donor. When ActionAid launched its Bollocks to Poverty campaign, it knew who it was talking to. It wanted to express the passion of the charity's vision in a gritty, 'real' way to a younger audience.


STEPHEN PIDGEON Founder, Tangible Response

It's right that charities should be more outspoken in their communications.

They should be very angry sometimes. For years, I've cursed fundraisers who pick up their red pen of bland conformity and take out any emotion my copywriting colleagues have driven into the message.

ActionAid's Bollocks to Poverty campaign is an example. My more youthful colleagues discovered it in the spring and there was admiration, but it wasn't seen as bad language. People in the target generation use that language all the time.

It had attitude. And supporters of all ages want charities to have attitude. They want them to stand up for what is right and what is wrong. The NSPCC now stands for something, whereas 10 years ago it did not.

A corporate entity such as a charity inevitably generates bland conformity. Fight back - but that doesn't mean you have to use language that your audience would consider to be rude or offensive.


ROSIE CHINCHEN Head of marketing and fundraising, World Society for the Protection of Animals

The World Society for the Protection of Animals was experiencing declining appeal response rates and income, so we held a full review to see what we needed to do differently.

We realised that our appeals were rational and informative - and not emotional. We decided that we should go back to the core emotion that makes people want to stop cruelty to animals: anger at their abuse.

Our appeals are now full of anger and I know we've got it right when I feel the rush of anger when I read the copy. We focus on the worst instances of cruelty and leave out the rest.

We don't want to lose the raw emotional response by putting in too many facts because that would just make people turn their rational heads on and they might not support us.

Appeal income has doubled. But WSPA would not swear in appeals to convey anger. I'd like to think we have a better command of language than to need to.

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