Despite the Age UK affair, affinity marketing can work

The charity's problems over its energy deals should not put others off, it is claimed

Advice from the Lullaby Trust
Advice from the Lullaby Trust

Charity affinity marketing made the headlines in February when The Sun claimed that Age UK was earning £6m a year from selling a promotional E.ON tariff to older people that cost £245 more than the energy firm's cheapest annual rate.

No laws had been broken, but a Charity Commission report, published in April, called on the trustees to review the deal, highlighting the "significant risks" in dealing with the energy sector.

Jacquie Irving, director of the corporate social responsibility consultancy Good Values, says that despite the problems Age UK experienced, charities should not be put off from affinity marketing deals. "I wouldn't want trustees to read about Age UK and decide not do anything with corporate," she says. "Most of them are very ethical. These deals can provide donations and other benefits for the charity. But it has to work for everyone - and I think it definitely can."

The Royal British Legion is one charity that has entered into affinity marketing deals. Since 2008, Coventry Building Society has been selling poppy-branded savings products in agreement with the charity. Charles Byrne, director general of the legion, says it is important to ensure the values of the commercial organisation and the charity are aligned before agreeing a deal. "You need to know who the corporate is and that its practices are sound," he says. "Like us, Coventry Building Society is member-focused."

The commission's report on Age UK highlighted the need for trustees to monitor commercial arrangements closely.

Byrne acknowledges that is a difficult task for trustees, but says the executive team should help by providing as much detail about the deal as possible before any agreements are sanctioned. He says: "It's unfair to expect the trustees to second-guess a deal without all the information."

The sudden infant death charity the Lullaby Trust has also made a success of affinity marketing. The charity first partnered with GroCompany, a baby sleeping bag manufacturer, in 2000 when it helped the company to design baby sleeping bags that would reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome.

The packaging featured the charity's official safety advice and, in 2011, the firm agreed to fund the print and supply costs of the charity's free guide to safe sleep for babies. At first, the firm made a donation to the charity based on sales, but now makes a fixed annual donation.

Francine Bates, the trust's chief executive, says the deal was scrutinised by the charity's panel of medical professionals, who also advised on the sleeping bag's production. She says the process was slow, but "better safe than sorry".

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