Babes in Alms

Children’s charities face a far from rosy future. Advertising may have raised awareness, but it has also led to misconceptions about ‘cash-rich’ causes. Corporate aid has never been so in need.

Charities face a constant struggle to get both corporations and the general public to support their cause, which many say has grown worse since the launch of the National Lottery.

Generally, individual giving in this country has ground to a halt. Levels of giving are not falling, but we are not getting any more generous. But it’s not all bad news. Corporate Britain is becoming increasingly generous.

The nature of corporate giving has changed, however. Corporate donations used to be made on a purely philanthropic basis. Today, that philanthropy has been finely tuned to ensure the giver is able to bask in the glow of its own generosity – it’s called cause-related marketing.

But, says Barnardo’s director of marketing and communications Andrew Nebel, this is no bad thing.

“It used to be that the target of a company’s philanthropy was the choice of the chairman’s wife. Now the selection of a charity is analysed carefully, which means the links, when they are made, are much stronger.

“It also enables charities to get access to larger budgets from, for example, companies’ marketing departments or staff incentive schemes,” says Nebel.

The Children’s Society marketing communications director Shuna Kennedy says charities can gain enormous benefits from cause-related marketing. The longer-term nature of the relationship means charities can plan better and, says Kennedy, in areas like technology, corporates often provide invaluable input that allows charities to update and maintain their systems.

The Marks & Spencer-inspired Children’s Promise, which brings together seven children’s charities and encourages people to donate their last hour’s earnings of the century, is an example of cause-related marketing at its best.

Given that individual donors are becoming more difficult to squeeze, more generous corporations, no matter what their motivation, can only be a good thing.

Most people accept that it is not easy being a charity, but it would be a mistake to presume that some sectors are easier to raise funds for than others.

Children’s charities are often perceived as being easy targets. But the fact is, they are having as hard a time as any of the other charities.

Nebel says: “With children’s charities, you don’t have to overcome the negative associations that some causes may have to. Children are universally seen as a good thing. But we are not a soft touch; it is still a tough world and raising money for anyone is hard.”

Despite the success of the NSPCC Full Stop campaign, the charity’s head of marketing Marion Rose says: “More and more children’s charities are being registered every year and we are all competing for the same level of funds. Even though children are an issue that everyone feels strongly about.”

The Children’s Society’s Kennedy says there are other pressures. “Cancer charities provide strong competition. One in three people in the UK get cancer – people give to cancer charities almost as if it is an insurance policy. Children’s causes are popular, but if you have survived childhood and you are doing a good job with your own children, it is usually not something that has an impact on you directly.”

Kennedy says we also suffer from what is called the “little angels, little devils” syndrome.

“When children are small – everything is fine. As they get older, we have a completely different attitude to them. The UK imprisons more of its children than any other country in Europe; we also expel more children from school than any other country in Europe,” Kennedy says.

Two campaigns during the past year have probably raised the stakes in children’s charity marketing. The first was the NSPCC &£3m Full Stop campaign launched in March this year. The hard hitting and high profile campaign set itself the very high aim of ending sexual, physical and emotional cruelty towards children.

Certainly on the record, other children’s charities have only praise for the campaign, saying that any efforts to increase the awareness of children in need is good. However, the campaign also attracted criticism from child care workers, who said the campaign was naive.

Nevertheless, the impact of the campaign was unquestionable and Rose says the campaign has meant “a huge increase in levels of awareness for the NSPCC”.

The second campaign that has achieved a high profile is the Barnardo’s press campaign that depicts adults in distressing situations, like prison, being homeless or about to commit suicide – as children.

But apart from raising awareness of the work that it does do, Barnardo’s has had to work hard to communicate what it doesn’t do – run residential children’s homes. The 130-year-old charity started closing its children’s homes in the 1960s and, since then, has increasingly worked with children at home or in schools.

Nebel says: “We are working at the forefront of many challenging issues like child prostitution and bullying in schools, but the public does not know us for that. We are repositioning ourselves – but we don’t have a rebranding budget available of the sort that a company of our size and stature would normally have.”

The issue of perception and reality affects other agencies as well.

ChildLine is certainly one of the most high profile children’s charities in the country – but in reality suffers from a severe lack of funds.

Small charities

ChildLine director of fundraising Jane Miles says: “We are a little charity with a big profile.” In an unusual take on the successful marketing, ChildLine’s ability to market itself has not necessarily translated into increased funds.

Miles says: “Research we did three years ago showed we had an extremely high profile, but of all the people that knew about us, only about eight per cent had actually given money. I think people believe we are a rich charity because of our high profile.”

Again, ChildLine relies on corporate giving and does receive long-term support from BT – but it still has a long way to go. Miles says, during the current financial year, ChildLine is aiming to raise &£8m, and expects more than &£1m to come from companies.

ChildLine has just launched a nationwide cinema ad to raise money to train more volunteer counsellors and install more phonelines. The ad, through Delaney Lund Knox Warren, depicts counsellors expressing a desire to, for example, “see more sexually abused children” – the point being they would like to be able to speak to more of them. The campaign has drawn a mixed response and highlights an important dilemma when it comes to charity advertising.

Marketing challenges

Head of marketing and NCH Action for Children, Miriam Solly, says, “The marketing and advertising challenge for charities is much greater than normal. Our view is that we don’t want to shock people or make them feel guilty about giving us money. At the moment, the thinking is you can’t raise money unless you shock people.

“We could never run a campaign that showed children as victims or disempowered. We would want to show what the outcome of our work is.”

But Solly admits this is more difficult, especially with an advertising community that makes its mark, very often, from causing a stir.

“I’ve had a few agencies offer us their services. One very blatantly said ‘we’d love a children’s charity on our books – here’s a proposal, let’s do it’. The proposal centred on abuse in a household – this is something that we just could not do.”

It is often too easy when advertising agencies, and other suppliers, offer their services free, or for a nominal fee, for charities to be brow-beaten into accepting a particular proposal which may look great on the creative director’s reel but not necessarily hit the mark for the charity in question.

It is for this reason, says Barnardo’s Nebel, that the charity works with its agencies “on a proper commercial basis”.

All the charities agree that the biggest challenge facing them over the next few years is increased competition – from themselves and other charity sectors.

Nebel says: “Obviously charities are competitive. We don’t seek to compete, but we are all fighting for the same share of wallet.”

This competition is coupled with the fact that, as more children’s charities are registered, the public will find it increasingly difficult to tell them apart.

The Children’s Society’s Kennedy says: “There will be pressure for charities to merge. But, in fact, the way we work is very different. Also, if you put all the money together that all the major children’s charities receive – it is still not enough to do the work we have to.

“The UK has a very bad record in the way it treats children. The public also has little compassion for those from poorer families, and I don’t think people realise just how horrific their existence can be.”

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