Charities cutting costs at the expense of quality marketing are doomed to fail

Despite the seemingly infinite fundraising possibilities charity telethons provide, the majority of brands in the third sector are struggling to maintain their share of the public’s diminishing disposable income.  

Russell Parsons

The most recent published data from the Charities Aid Foundation found donations fell 20 per cent to £9.3bn in fiscal year 2011/12.

Couple this with a reduction in income from central and local government sources and it is inevitable that costs and corners will be cut.

Released today (10 June) a Fundraising Standards Board report provides evidence of the consequences of the drop in funding and income.

The figures make for worrying reading. Complaints against charities soliciting donations on the door step increased by a whopping 93 per cent to 5,555. Of those, of particular ire was the behaviour of fundraisers and the “general dislike” of the method.

Elsewhere, the report found complaints about telephone fundraising increased by an almost as steep 64 per cent and the volume of telephone activity increased 15 per cent.

Damningly, the report slammed widespread “poor data management” by charities, with those logging data protection objections saying they number one tenth of their total. 

There is nothing fundamentally wrong about telemarketing and It is arguable that if handled sensitively door step selling should be allowed to continue. Charities in particular will be given considerable slack by the public if both are used with proper respect for those who wish not to be communicated with by either method.

What the report suggests, however, is that respect is not always forthcoming and that the data management necessary to ensure that prospects and donors are correctly targeted is not being conducted.

Whether this is due to a lack of training or under investment in analytics is difficult to say. What is clear is that the problem needs addressing and it can only be addressed if there is sufficient investment.

Marketing budgets are often the first thing to be trimmed when times are tight. When the budgetary constraints are as grave as those besetting charities even more likely.

It is counter-productive, however, to sacrifice marketing fundamentals in the quest to cut costs. For charities, It can only lead to more complaints, bad feeling and ultimately less money.

There is an absolute need for charities to achieve more with less. But cost-cutting shouldn’t be confused with efficiency.   

The FRSB says charities must “listen carefully to consumer concerns, address the issues and, where relevant, adapt accordingly”. It adds organisations are encouraged to “introduce consumer touch points” and “complaint monitoring”. Valid suggestions, all of which need investment.  

Latest from Marketing Week


Access Marketing Week’s wealth of insight, analysis and opinion that will help you do your job better.

Register and receive the best content from the only UK title 100% dedicated to serving marketers' needs.

We’ll ask you just a few questions about what you do and where you work. The more we know about our visitors, the better and more relevant content we can provide for them. And, yes, knowing our audience better helps us find commercial partners too. Don't worry, we won't share your information with other parties, unless you give us permission to do so.

Register now


Our award winning editorial team (PPA Digital Brand of the Year) ask the big questions about the biggest issues on everything from strategy through to execution to help you navigate the fast moving modern marketing landscape.


From the opportunities and challenges of emerging technology to the need for greater effectiveness, from the challenge of measurement to building a marketing team fit for the future, we are your guide.


Information, inspiration and advice from the marketing world and beyond that will help you develop as a marketer and as a leader.

Having problems?

Contact us on +44 (0)20 7292 3703 or email

If you are looking for our Jobs site, please click here