Odd as it might sound, there is nothing new about companies diversifying beyond their core business, so there shouldn’t be anything too surprising about the RSPCA putting its brand on a mobile network – think about how odd the idea of Tesco Mobile would have seemed 10 years ago.
RSPCA Mobile launched last week as a way for consumers to donate to the charity while also gaining access to a cheap pay-as-you-go mobile service. It will actually be run by Shebang Technologies Group, which offers independent tariffs and contracts over the main mobile networks Orange, T-Mobile, Vodafone, Three and O2. The RSPCA brand is used under licence.
Going into what is normally a cut-throat commercial industry sounds like a dangerous and unusual step for a charity, but if the numbers add up it looks like there are benefits both to the RSPCA and to Shebang.
The charity sector has been in dire trouble ever since the current government announced its public spending cuts in 2010. No longer able to rely on the state to fund their work, and with potential donors among the general public finding their own finances squeezed, charities are finding they have no choice but to explore new revenue sources.
RSPCA Mobile means consumers can “incorporate giving into their everyday expenditure”, as corporate account manager Andrew Lyons puts it. Up to 15% of each top-up of mobile credit goes to the RSPCA.
The fact that the RSPCA is actually branding the service is likely to give consumers more confidence that their money is going to the right places than if it had just formed a strategic partnership with Shebang. That’s great for Shebang, because for the company this is really just good business.
Therein lies potential danger, though. Going into a consumer business like this will only fully make sense for the RSPCA if it has a direct relationship with the customers. The fundraising power of this business will lie not just in how much money the charity makes from top-ups, but also in communicating what it stands for and securing long-term, loyal donors.
If more charities decide to license their brands in this way, they need to take a hands-on approach to the customer data the business generates, learning who has chosen to them as a provider and why. And they also need to ensure the licensee’s customer service is up to scratch, because otherwise the relationship could do the brand more harm than good.