Charities Go Corporate; Marketing Campaigns, Mergers, High Salaries for the Bosses, Image Rebranding: These Days, Even Those Who Want to Help Birds or Old Folk Must Copy the Ways of Big Business. (Christmas Features)

By Burrows, Gideon | New Statesman (1996), December 16, 2002 | Go to article overview

Charities Go Corporate; Marketing Campaigns, Mergers, High Salaries for the Bosses, Image Rebranding: These Days, Even Those Who Want to Help Birds or Old Folk Must Copy the Ways of Big Business. (Christmas Features)


Burrows, Gideon, New Statesman (1996)


My first Christmas card came extra early this year, dropping through the letter box sometime in the first week of November. Like any card from a close friend, it came in a personally addressed envelope, accompanied by an intimate handwritten letter carrying news of what someone would be up to during the festive season.

Only this card wasn't from a personal friend. It was a fundraising appeal from Help the Aged. The news was not about someone I knew personally, but of Maud Wilson, a 78-year-old woman who will be completely alone this Christmas -- again.

"For me, Christmas is the loneliest time of the year," writes Maud. "I try to keep my spirits up by singing along to the carols on the television and putting up some holly and tinsel, but it's really hard when there's no one to share it with."

Saddening, isn't it? Help the Aged's unsolicited appeal stirred my emotions and had me reaching for my chequebook -- "your [pounds sterling]14 could help stop this tragedy" -- as well as a stamp, which was "not required but using one saves our funds".

Anyone familiar with the pile of leaflets that tumbles out of an y worthy magazine at this time of year will know Maud isn't the only one appealing for us to dig deep this Christmas. This is the giving season and the spending season. Hundreds of large charities spend thousands to persuade us to give.

The weekly magazine Third Sector -- "working for a better world" -- has for months carried news of Christmas campaigns launched by the biggest charities. The Salvation Army has invested" [pounds sterling]2.5m this year, hoping to bring in 240,000 new supporters and up to [pounds sterling]12m in Christmas funds. Other charities have launched integrated TV, magazine and mail-shot campaigns with marketing firms such as WWAV Rapp Collins, which also helps Toyota to flog cars and Pfizer to market drugs. A new TV advert promoting membership of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds sets out to "emotionally involve the viewer in the theme of loss", to show what the world would be like without birds.

Third Sector also carries the latest news about the world of charity branding. Did you know the Samaritans have lust relaunched their image? "A phone line is never going to change society," says David Richards, director of marketing. Through a series of new posters and press adverts, none of which display the helpline number or the traditional orange logo, the charity wants to show that it is an organisation which provides support for all aspects of emotional distress, not just the suicidal.

The International Spinal Research Trust has spent weeks in focus groups this year, emerging to rebrand itself as Spinal Research, complete with a modern logo. "Spinal Research has a striking new look. It marks the dawn of a new era as medical science develops ways to repair spinal cords to reverse paralysis," the revamped website says.

"Every aspect of what an organisation does must communicate the right image to those audiences that matter," says a new report on charity branding, Polishing the Diamond, by the think-tank NFP Synergy. "It is no longer enough to do good work."

Image matters. Research for the report revealed nearly two out of three people can't name a charity that works in overseas development, while even more can't name a disability charity. Marketing tricks to promote charity brands are common practice now.

Few charities would want consciously to associate their brand with smelly, grotty pub toilets, but that's exactly what the Prostate Cancer Charity has just done. Instead of chasing around that rogue cigarette butt in the pub urinal, men are being urged to buy a gobstopper-sized powder "pee ball" from the bar, and chase that around instead. A yukky subject? Perhaps. But the charity reckons it could make [pounds sterling]1m out of this smart marketing trick, while raising awareness about the UK'S fastest-growing cancer. …

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