Charities take a fresh look at marketing

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Charities face a huge challenge to secure their financial security in the coming years – how to build the necessary long-term engagement in austere times. Many are taking a fresh look at how they market themselves to meet the challenge.

At the end of last year the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) released “Funding the Future”, a report on how charities might better secure their funding for the future.

It addresses the third sector’s concerns and uncertainty about funding over the next 10 years and set a new long-term funding agenda.

The report says that individual giving must increase to £20bn a year by 2020 to ensure charities’ financial sustainability over the next ten years. It currently stands at £10.6bn.

According to the NCVO, donations made by the UK public to charities rose by £400m last year to a total of £10.6bn.

Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of NCVO, says that while donations are on the rise charities should not be “complacent” because funding is still down on pre-recessionary levels. In 2007/8 charitable donations peaked at £11.3bn.

He says: “In the unpredictable times ahead, charities will need to think carefully about who their donors are and how to encourage additional giving, particularly among high net worth individuals and groups that are currently underrepresented.”

ActionAid believes that the sector’s traditional style of marketing communications doesn’t work anymore and has decided to change its strategy.

The international development organisation has launched a campaign to recruit new donors focusing on the benefits for supporters rather than the need for money after concluding that supporters want to get something in return for their involvement.

Richard Turner, director of Fundraising at ActionAid, says: “We sensed that the old approach doesn’t work any more. Charities have used the guilt message far too much. It might get an initial donation but not long-term engagement.”

Instead, the charity is looking to show supporters how they can gain from getting involved with the charity, using their experiences as an asset for building ActionAid’s brand recognition.

The charity sector is likely to get a boost from Prime Minister David Cameron’s Big Society philosophy, which aims to empower individuals and get the public more involved with local communities.

Turner believes that ActionAid’s strategy to leverage people’s involvement with the charity will fuel and be fuelled by the growing appetite for the Big Society.

ActionAid believes that the sector’s traditional style of marketing communications doesn’t work anymore and has decided to turn its strategy around

He also points out that while ActionAid is moving into “unchartered territory” to secure success while other charities have taken a step backwards, reverting to tried and tested marketing methods to ensure income.

The Ovarian Cancer Action charity, which is open about its relatively low awareness when compared to charities such as Cancer Research, is also looking to overhaul its marketing direction. The organisation is currently looking for a new CEO with a background in marketing to lead a “step-change” in the organisation’s strategy.

Ovarian Cancer Action wants to use marketing and the power of branding to build engagement and boost its funding.

Emma Scott, trustee of the charity and also managing director for digital TV provider Freesat, says: “Marketing is not a word that is used in the charity sector enough, and our new CEO needs to understand the power of brands to transform the organisation. My feeling is that charities need to use exactly the same tools as a marketer would for a consumer product.”

She points to the success of charities such as Breakthrough Breast Cancer as an example of a how a charity can transform its fundraising power by harnessing marketing and becoming a “cool and pioneering” brand.

Online charity YouthNet has also given marketing more prominence by appointing former MTV vice-president of marketing James Scroggs to its board of trustees.

It’s clear that the charity sector has a tough challenge ahead of it to almost double the funding it generates from the public in the next decade. What charities must do is use the power of brand marketing and tread the balance between “unchartered territory” and safe, well-trodden tactics.

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