According to a new survey conducted by ICM on behalf of the Media Trust, 70% of the public believe "there are too many charities doing similar work and competing with each other".
The research, based on a poll of 1000 adults aged over 18 across the UK, has prompted a key debate about charity branding, duplication and accountability. It has also led to discussion about the role of the Charity Commission and whether it should have more powers to prevent duplication and encourage amalgamation.
There are currently over 185,000 charities in the UK, many of which compete for the same donations. The Charity Commission lists over 620 cancer charities, and more than 200 charities working for homeless people in London.
And while the sheer number of organisations is having a negative effect on the charity sector by leaving potential donors confused, the sector continues to grow: the Charity Commission registers up to 6500 new charities every year.
As the potential for confusion grows and the rivalry between charities increases, more aggressive marketing strategies are also emerging.
Recent provocative ads for children's charity Barnado's, showing children as grown-ups in harrowing situations, is a case in point. The Committee of Advertising Practice even urged media owners not to run one of the ads, showing a baby shooting up with heroin, as it was likely to cause offence, before recanting after the ASA decided the ad's serious message meant the shock factor of the execution was reasonable.
Andrew Nebel, director of marketing and communications at Barnado's, has said he hopes the recent campaign "will pave the way for more challenging ads".
Yet the Media Trust's report says the danger in following the commercial sector's lead of competitive advertising is that the voluntary sector may come to be seen as even more divided in the public's eyes. So should charities build strong, differentiated brands on their own, or is co-operation the way forward for the sector? For small charities, collaboration may the way to go, but the report shows few are keen on permanent mergers. According to the report: "The consumer is loyal to brands. It may well be the brand name, rather than the cause, which attracts donations in many cases. It is by no means a foregone conclusion that the donations will keep rolling in once the charity's name has been swallowed up by a merger."
One group that has found a way around this conundrum is the cancer charities. …