Monthly Archives: March 2011

Marketing your marketing – the challenge for charities

Almost 60% of donors are concerned that charities are spending donations on administration and fundraising. The figures, from research carried out for the Fundraising Standards Board, demonstrate one of the continuing challenges faced by fundraising and marketing teams in charity organisations – justifying their own existence to the people who pay for them.

The reason is obvious – a donor wants to feel their money is “directly” helping the cause they care about. If I give £100 to help homeless people, I’m going to feel more of a sense of having done something if I can “see” that £100 paying for warm clothing and a meal than if it goes into the pocket of a marketing manager or chief exec.

The messages charities give out in their marketing are all about that – creating an emotional bond between the donor and the individual(s) they are helping, and making the donor feel their money has made a direct difference.

But the problem arises when the reality of running a charity – you need to employ people who aren’t on the front line – clashes with the ideal that is being marketed.

Concerned Donors

Sixty percent is a big proportion to be concerned. Donors concerned about their donations don’t stay donors for long.

But the reality is that charities spend money on administration and marketing because it helps them help more people. We are working with a charity which has suffered hugely because it has concentrated its resources exclusively on paying for front line services rather than administration and marketing. The result is, it’s income has suffered massively and it is now considerably less able to directly help the cause it was set up to tackle.

I make the rather obvious point that if marketing didn’t work, no-one would do it. Coca Cola spends $1.5bn a year directly on marketing – because it makes considerably more than that as a result.

The challenge is, getting this across to donors – that if we spend £1 of your money on marketing it is because we will get £1.50 back as a result. That by marketing our charity, we are able to help even more people you care about than if we didn’t. That if we don’t market ourselves, we won’t be able to do our job of helping your favourite cause. That if the right people aren’t in charge your money won’t be spent as wisely and effectively as it could be.

The irony is that by selling so strongly the idea of donor income going directly the front-line, charities’ marketing teams are potentially undermining their own work in the eyes of donors, and leading to donors questioning the funding of an area that is not only essential but which actually directly helps the provision of front-line services.

Trust and Confidence

It’s an enormous challenge, but as FRSB chief executive Alistair McLean said in response to the report: “If we are to alleviate donors’ concerns and build trust and confidence, we need to educate the public, conveying just how committed charities are to best practice, professionalism and accountability”.

More than education – we need to start marketing this aspect too, rather than hiding it behind claims of “every penny you give goes directly to help X” which can be misunderstood and lead to resentment, and donor disengagement.