Charities have been using simple promotional merchandise for many years. But an increasingly competitive environment is placing new demands on the humble widget, writes Stuart Derrick

Established in 1991 with the aim of raising £15 million to build Britain's first breast cancer research centre, Breakthrough launched the Fashion Targets Breast Cancer campaign in 1996, licensing an idea introduced in the US by clothes designer Ralph Lauren.

The main aims of the campaign are to raise funds but also to generate awareness of breast cancer among a wider audience, especially younger women. Running every two years, the campaign uses key figures from the fashion industry to raise the profile of breast cancer, and sells a Fashion Targets Breast Cancer T-shirt through major high-street clothing retailers.

Peter Reynolds, director of fundraising, says the campaign works because of its strong fashion credentials. "As well as being a charity campaign, it is also a fashion campaign. We produce T-shirts and merchandise that people really want,

he says. "Part of the objective is to widen the appeal of the charity and get different people involved, so we have to do it in a way that's relevant to them."

Starting from the simple T-shirt promotion, the programme has grown each time it has run and this year's campaign, which started in April, is the biggest and most involved yet. Breakthrough has enlisted retailers including Oasis, Accessorize, Marks %26 Spencer, Harrods and Pilot.

The T-shirt carries the campaign's distinctive target symbol and the colours change every time it runs.

This year the garments are in "must have

citrus colours - two shades of vibrant orange. The range has been extended to take in more items including vests, hooded sweat tops, long-sleeve T-shirts, and bags. Long-time sponsor, cosmetic company Avon has produced its own products, including dog tags and lipstick holders.

Items are priced at between £9.99 and £24.99 and around £6 from each purchase goes to the charity. The last time the campaign ran in 2000, it raised £1.5 million, but Reynolds hopes to beat that with this year's campaign, which launched in April and runs for three months.

Breakthrough works closely with retailers to get their input on the clothing itself. "It is for charity, but it has to stand as a fashion item in its own right, so we have to know what next season's colours are going to be, for example."

The campaign is backed by a heavyweight poster advertising push featuring supermodel Helena Christensen wearing the T-shirt. Many other celebrities have endorsed the campaign, including Emma Bunton, Twiggy and Patsy Kensit.

Further corporate backing comes from Ford, which will donate an extra £1 for every T-shirt bought, appliance manufacturer Miele, which is running a series of roadshows, and MBNA bank, which is launching a branded credit card.

For the past three years, the National Canine Defence League has linked up with Andrex in a series of collector promotions where consumers send off tokens for a range of Andrex puppy-shaped soft toys. The arrangement has so far raised £260,000 and the money is being used to renovate the league's Bridgend site, home to the largest number of abandoned puppies in the UK.

The Andrex link-up is just one example of the increasing sophistication with which charities are starting to use promotional items. Flag days and collections have long been associated with pins and stickers, to reward and identify donors. Balloons, badges, T-shirts and pens have all been used to attract attention and provide low-cost rewards for donors, supporters and clients.

But what used to be simply throw-away widgets now have to work much harder.

As charities become more conscious of the value of building their own brands, promotional items are increasingly being used to keep the name of the organisation at the front of mind with supporters. The widgets themselves, and the strategies that employ them, have become far more sophisticated.

Steve Ellis, managing director of Furrytails, which supplied the Andrex soft toys, says items such as these have become more popular with charities.

"As well as the Andrex puppies, we have developed Luke Bear for the Leukaemia Society and we created a range of puppies for Cancer Research UK which have been phenomenally successful,

he says. "Soft toys never get thrown away, so even if they end up in a jumble sale they are still branded and the message keeps going down the line."

The same trend has seen stickers and pins being overtaken by more upmarket and permanent badges, such as enamel pins. Because they have a higher perceived value, they can command a higher donation, typically a minimum of £1. With high volume orders, prices for organisations can be under 20p. In design terms, they are more discreet and tend to remain on supporters' lapels for longer.

This move to more upmarket items has been accompanied by a move away from "tin rattling

to sophisticated retail tie-ups. As retailers such as Tesco, Sainsbury's and WH Smith have adopted cause-related marketing techniques, the door has been opened to charities to sell merchandise and raise awareness in store. As well as grabbing a space at the till, charities obtain a visibility that goes beyond the traditional annual fundraising day or week.

Tesco runs three badge promotions a year. In January and February, it backed the National Autistic Society in its 600- plus stores, and it will run point-of-sale campaigns for the Queen's Golden Jubilee fund as well as supporting its charity of the year, the Cystic Fibrosis Trust.

Grant Morgan, managing director of Louis Kennedy Partnership, a marketing agency that works with charities such as ChildLine, Save the Children, the National Asthma Campaign and Comic Relief, says: "Tin rattling is an archaic form of fundraising. Over the past three or four years, charities have realised that they need to act more professionally, like brands, and need to be more commercial. Business is no longer a dirty word for charities."

Louis Kennedy won an Institute of Sales Promotion award this year for a campaign linking the Foundation for Children with Leukaemia with the 30th anniversary of Roger Hargreaves' Mr Men characters. Six of the characters ran the London Marathon in 2001 to kick off the link, which was then used for a fundraising push through schools. For every £3 raised, children won a 3-D sticker badge featuring one of the characters. The campaign raised £150,000 and became one of the two nominated charities of this year's Flora London Marathon.

Although fundraising is the main use of merchandise, it also plays a role in awareness building. Even something as simple as a branded pen can provide a desk-top reminder of an organisation and its work. When Mencap launched its learning disability helpline in January, it enlisted the aid of pens, balloons, stickers, posters and credit-card sized information cards to familiarise the public with the phone number and web site address.

The Canine Defence League used car stickers to warn dog owners about locking their dogs in the car on hot days. The "No Hot Dogs in Cars

stickers allowed dog lovers to show support for the campaign as well as bringing the message to others.

The importance of rewarding supporters is being recognised by organisations such as Mencap. It raises £1.2 million a year through its Challenge Expeditions, which involve supporters undertaking tasks such as cycling along the Great Wall of China or trekking in the Himalayas.

Gemma Peters, business development manager, says merchandise helps people share the experience. "Each trip has a separate identity that includes the Mencap brand and each participant will get about 10 T-shirts to wear during the event, so they can wear them for the whole trip. People become attached to them because they are unique to each trip. It's an amazing sight to see 100 people wearing them cycling into Tiananmen Square."

Mencap uses a licensed link with Dennis the Menace for its London Marathon runners and Peters says the distinctive red-and-black running vests are a great incentive for people to sign up. Runners are also given sets of Dennis badges to sell to help them reach their targets.

Peters says merchandise works well for events, through which the charity raises £4 million a year. It provides massive free publicity for the charity.

For example, Mencap gives balloons, hats and banners to supporters at the London Marathon to gain presence. But it also makes people more aware of Mencap and serves as a reminder of the charity after the event. "We bring people on board at the event but the aim is to make them as Mencap aware as possible by the end of it."

Promotional clothing is also moving upmarket. For a Mencap corporate regatta in September, the sponsored crews on each boat will get a classy fleece and baseball cap.

Tim Salthouse, director of Tradewinds, a promotional clothing supplier, says charities are now focusing on quality rather than quantity. "Any clothing item represents your credo and your brand, so charities are asking for better-quality items and a broader range of items."

For a recent campaign for Gay Men Fighting Aids, Tradewinds dyed a T-shirt to a specific Pantone reference to match the charity's logo. "It cost a bit more but that's what they knew their supporters would buy. Supporters are often very proud to wear the brand but they want something of quality."

Tradewinds also produced T-shirts for World Aids Day that were worn by the charity's celebrity supporters such as Eva Herzegova, Tamara Beckwith and Denise Van Outen.

But although the occasional wacky item crops up, such as the Comic Relief red nose and its associated spin offs, most charities opt for tried-and-tested solutions. The Royal National Lifeboat Institution attracts young supporters through a Storm Force member's pack, which includes stickers, puzzles and water safety information. Youth education officer Gill Beaumont says: "It's making people aware of the RNLI's existence as well as promoting water safety. The pack is particularly popular with grandparents."

Members also get a badge each year that promotes them through the lifeboat ranks from "Crew Member

to "Coxswain

and then through the various types of boat.

However, you don't need to stick to badges and T-shirts. Any item that can be branded can be used for a promotion.

Mike Cussell, sales director of balloon advertising company B-Loony, says: "We've probably printed balloons for just about everybody you could think of from local charities to Cancer Research, Muscular Dystrophy, Multiple Sclerosis, British Red Cross and British Heart Foundation."

Although balloons might seem old hat, you can still make a bang with them, through a balloon release, for example. Just remember to give the National Air Traffic Services 28 days' notice.


- Identify your audience and work out what you are trying to communicate.

- Make sure your choice of item is appropriate to the audience. Don't choose skinny fit T-shirts for women over 50.

- What's your budget? Remember that as well as buying any promotional items themselves, you will have to factor in extra costs such as packaging and handling.

- Choose a reputable supplier. Members of the British Promotional Merchandise Association ( uphold a code of conduct.

- Write out a timetable and tie a person's name to a particular job to make sure the campaign runs to time.

- Look at a number of potential suppliers and ask for samples of any goods you are considering buying. The cheapest supplier is not necessarily the best value in the long run.

- If goods are sourced from overseas (and many are) you will have to build in sufficient lead times. If you are creating a bespoke item this could be substantial.

- Ask if the supplier will offer special terms to charities - some do and it doesn't hurt to ask.

- Keep a paper trail. If anything changes from what was initially agreed, make sure it is written down.

- Remember that the quality of the items will reflect on your brand. Consider having your products tested for quality.

- Try and evaluate the success of the campaign. If it didn't work, find out why. If it did, you may be able to repeat it next year.


Breakthrough Breast Cancer is a minnow among cancer charities. Yet for more than five years it has been running one of the most high profile and acclaimed fundraising campaigns of all, and it started with the humble T-shirt.

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