Pin your colours to the charity mast very very carefully

5 April 2022 | 4 min read | Crisis Comms
Paul MacKenzie-Cummins
Paul MacKenzie-Cummins

We Brits are an incredibly giving nation. Each year from 2017 to 2019, more than £10.1 billion was given to charity. In 2020, that number rose to £11.3 billion despite it being the most depressed year in a generation.

We are also a nation of animal lovers. Animal welfare charities rank highest in the nation’s list of priorities, accounting for more than a quarter of all donations (27 per cent). Completing the top four concerns for Brits are those that support children (24 per cent), medical research (22 per cent), and the homeless (19 per cent).

Businesses and brands love to align themselves with good causes. It is part of their CSR (corporate social responsibility) programme that enables them to show their support for issues they care deeply about.

Through fundraising activities, businesses and brands not only help raise invaluable funds for worthy causes they also benefit from them too. They bring teams together by doing something fun and rewarding, which in turn boosts employee morale. It enables the business to make a positive difference to those who need their help most. And it enhances the perception and standing of the business within the local community and among other stakeholders as one that cares.

However, it can also backfire on them in spectacular fashion if they get it wrong.

We have all seen – and been affected by – the shocking images of Russian atrocities in Ukraine. The outpouring of emotion has been more than matched by the fervour to raise critically important funds for the hundreds and thousands of displaced women, children, and men.

But some businesses have used this as an opportunity to boost their own profile and bottom line. Take the case of SocialHire.

Two weeks ago, we received the following DM to Clearly’s Twitter account:

We then saw this pinned at the top of their feed:

This riled me something chronic. So, I called them out:

The company was positioning itself as one that wishes to support the Red Cross Ukraine Appeal, which is commendable. But, that support was wholly conditional of other people buying their services first from which a donation of those additional revenues would then be given to the appeal.

Put another way, they used the appeal as a way of profiteering from a tragic situation.

They were not raising money for a good cause at all, they simply wanted to boost their own revenues and enhance their profile at the same as a ‘good’ and ‘caring’ company because this is the tide of change that has been taking place of late.

Over the last two years, we have seen customer and consumer purchasing decisions increasingly favour those product and service providers with a purpose.

Indeed, in late 2020, Clearly undertook a research project into brand purpose that saw over 500 business leaders take part. It revealed that 61 per cent of decision makers would choose a supplier with a clear social purpose over one that has none, and 80 per cent would do so even if said supplier was more costly than a non-purpose-led business (read more here).

Pinning your colours to a mast (cause), or several masts for that matter, is great. But it must – and I mean ‘must’ as there is no compromise here – be done in the right way.

If you wish to support a cause, then do so without placing conditions on that support. ‘If you give us $5 we will match-fund it for XYZ charity/appeal‘ works.

But ‘If you pay us $5 as part of our new promotional drive, we’ll give $1 to XYZ cause/appeal‘ does not because it is opportunistic.

It’s akin to all those companies banging the drum and taking to social media to share with the world how many trees they planted where the volume is based purely on the revenue they received and linked to an incentive they are running.

If you want to plant a tree, an orchard, or even a forest, then plant the feckin’ tree, orchard or forest using the CSR pot you have or through fund-raising initiatives.

Don’t whatever you do ask customers to line your pockets and expect them to think ‘Ahhh, aren’t you nice for running that sales promotion which boosts your profits and allows you to give a piss-poor gesture to that charity.’ That will kill your brand and turn your customers against you.