Its positive that more charities are accentuating the positive, says Celina Ribeiro.
Has Pollyanna been doing the rounds of the offices of UK’s dearest charities? Amid the regular run of charity ads around at the moment, there is an undercurrent of change.
There is just a whiff of a movement among some charities away from messaging based primarily on need to messages which emphasise hope and progress already made. The Canal and River Trust’s Ruth Ruderham spoke to us this month about developing a proposition for her new charity which is based on the things which make being alive great. But others are also testing these warm-hearted waters. Cancer Research UK’s brand campaign which stares down on crowded tube carriages tells us how many people in that carriage have been saved by research. Oxfam’s ‘lift' campaign explains how lifting one woman will lift a whole community.
The balance between being truthful, being impactful and being sensitive is a delicate one to hit. All three are essential to any fundraising, but they rarely align. When fundraisers talk about these priorities they often imply they are dichotomous. That one cannot be both truthful and impactful and sensitive at once.
Fundraisers have a moral obligation not to sugar-coat reality for the privileged public. But the realities that charities deal with can also be uplifting and inspiring. Cancer research has saved millions of lives. International development agencies have raised entire communities out of desperate poverty. The question is: can the happy truths be as effective in fundraising as the sadder truths?
Commercial brands often play on these warm, positive emotions because that’s all they’ve even tenuously got. Look at the John Lewis Christmas campaigns and Channel 4’s revolutionarily positive promotion of the Paralympics. But few charities have committed – really committed – to running campaigns, or propositions, based on optimism and feelgood factor.
These positive campaigns can empower donors in a way that campaigns based on need, fear, anger and sadness cannot. It’s a different breed of campaign, and could yield a different sort of response and indeed a different sort of donor. Is it brave to abandon what is tried and tested? Maybe. But it’s also important in a world which is increasingly saturated with messages from fundraisers and commercial marketers alike. Regardless, those charities which are trialling this kind of message should be watched – and closely.