Let people know the price of camels

Helen Verney on how finance directors can help sell virtual gifts at Christmas

Helen Verney, finance director, Jewish Care
Helen Verney, finance director, Jewish Care

Having completed all of my Christmas shopping, wrapping and delivery (much to the annoyance of almost everyone I tell), I now have time to reflect on it.

In these times of tighter purse strings, I, like many others, have delighted in finding good quality bargain bucket presents to rival sometimes lavishly priced alternatives. A luxury pine and eucalyptus candle from Jo Malone will set you back £260, but across the road from my office at Asda there is a very fetching Christmas scented candle for £2.50 - just 1 per cent of the price. The Asda version could easily pass as at least Marks & Spencer (I just hope my next-door neighbour isn't reading this).

Reflecting on whether the charity sector could learn something from this, I wondered what we have on offer this yuletide. How do we compare in the pricing war? Where do we sit in the scheme of things? It's clear we are not at the Jo Malone end - but are we really bargain bucket?

For £95, you can give someone transport, food, dung fuel and fertiliser in the form of a camel from Oxfam; for £30 you can adopt a scarlet ibis for someone (care of London Zoo); for £16 you can buy an elderly person an hour of home care with Jewish Care; and for 50p a day - or £182 a year - you can give a child an education and help their community access clean water, food and opportunities, courtesy of ActionAid.

That's cheaper than the pound shop in Peckham. In fact, with a little more than the sum of nearly £300 I could have spent on a candle from Jo Malone, I have actually purchased all of the above for my family and friends, and it's the best value shop I have ever done.

Charities even do the wrapping - and it certainly takes quite a few metres to wrap a camel.

Finance directors should be making sure their marketing people have the figures they need to advertise the best bargains to their target customers.

What do your products cost? How can they be differentiated? Where is your charity providing really excellent value?

This is an area where the facts and figures finance departments have at their fingertips are not only for internal use; they can make a practical difference and contribute to raising new funds if we use them in the right way.

So let's not wallow in gloom and doom. An age of thrift could soon be upon the nation, but don't undersell the wealth of gifts that we have on sale for the public. After all, everyone loves a bargain.

- Helen Verney is finance director of Jewish Care

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