Oh Save Me – Charities and Campaigns

I’m at a swanky restaurant that has featured on TV and has a weird name, like 16 or 14 or something. I’m actually wearing a jacket, cause I was asked to very politely by the people organizing the function.

It’s a weeknight and there’s a huge table with about 25 people on it, set in a dark corner. I gaze around, feeling like a Taipan hunting frogs in the dark by smell alone.

My eyes get used to the candle light. I’m the only person who looks like they can’t afford to eat here, and I suspect the only one actually paying to attend, cause I felt guilty and got them to send me an invoice first. Sucker. The much younger than their husband skinny (second wife) blondes are hanging off chubby balding men in expensive suits. They stretch their backs, flick at their nails, toss their hair around, preening, advertising. This is juicy hunting ground for hubby number two or three. There’s also some fast money here – dressed to kill in black and three day growth for ultimate metrosexual effect.

The food is designed not offend any particular religion or eating disorder – they serve chicken or fish (no religion except perhaps Buddism that doesn’t eat them) and a good range of vegetarian dishes for the oh, so politically correct to pick at. The wine flows (no short cuts here either). The chatter rises. People are getting on well together – they have a lot in common it seems. Chosen for similar values, aspirations, possibly ethnic backgrounds.

As the chockies are handed out (none eaten) and the coffee poured, the host stands up. He tinkles on a glass for attention, and the table falls silent. He’s in Hugo Boss, understated tie, salt and pepper grey hair, polished finger-nails, tanned. Could be a successful merchant banker or a mafia don, but he’s instead the head of the charity who’s spent thousands on a night. I’m expecting ‘We want you to give us this much tonight or you’ll be washing dishes for a month’ to roll out from between his perfect, bright-white capped teeth.

But it’s not quite like that. He talks about knowing yourself. About deciding who you are. About how it’s the little things in life that make up the person, the experiences, the people who helped you along the way. About making a change, giving a bit back to society, about knowing how you want life to be. Making those little adjustments that turn a city into a metropolis, a society into a culture, a system into a way of life etc.

He’s a very good speaker. I’m starting to get drawn in. (I feel like a sheep in a stock yard, watching all the other sheep going up the gang plank, to certain death, but feeling to myself – hey I’m a good looking sheep – Why have I been ignored?)

He goes on to explain how they are not looking for big donations or small donations. They have a cause that is so critical for XYZ reason, and all he wants us to do is take his call in the next few weeks. Just have a coffee with him. No commitment, just remain friends, be open to conversation. He concludes by saying that people think the phone is dead. That meeting up with people is old hat. But he believes in people, he feels we all do too. So take my phone call, please.

It’s fabulous, pulpy, mushy ‘mother hood’ logic (a brilliant McKinsey consultant explained to me once how to use ‘motherhood’ concepts to sell. You use a statement that no-one can argue with – because every-one was born, so no-one can hate the idea of ‘mother hood’ itself) – everyone feels comfortable. They all nod they’ll see him for a coffee.

This is a very slick way to go, the soft, polite, we-can-connect –you-to-others sell. But also an expensive gamble. What if no-one at the table ends up giving a few thousand to the charity? They’ve pissed up against the wall a lot of their precious budget in one evening. But I think it’s working. He ends with another plea for an open ear and I guess, dare I say it, an open wallet.

On the basis that his cause deserves our money more than the next one. Just another brand really, isn’t it?

Causes and attaching your brand to causes, is a topical issue in marketing land. People use them for brand credibility, brand profile lifting, and many a good marketer’s got a few years at a NFP (Not For Profit) proudly on their CV.

Definition of Causes

I’m saying anything that lifts your lid. Footy Clubs are as legitimate in my eyes as Sailing clubs. Kids on the Street type causes as important as anti-depression, anti smoking and anti anything else you feel like tossing your money and time at. I’m big on ignoring the smelly human race and focusing on those poor things we are trying to kill off. The rain forests, the little birdy’s, the fluffy kritters, even insects, rare plants.

I’m especially interested in saving the oceans – letting the creatures of the deep the right to swim free, untroubled by hooks, nets, poisons and pollution. If we don’t stop commercial fishing of international waters there will soon be no viable fish stocks. Whole species, whole links in the chain of life, will cease to be. (Any moment the rare Blue Fin Tuna will be no more. I implore you; give up tuna.) There will be major gaps, major over-supply, plagues, of species. Worst of all, the algae, often single-celled creatures that in their millions of species can live in any environment on the planet, including happily munching through oils, metals and living in 500 centigrade temperatures on the walls of under sea mountains thousands of metres and hundreds of atmospheric pressures below. It’s the building blocks of life, the humble, most basic, algae that will be our downfall.  If we let the algae have their head, by not having millions of fish and krill to consume them, it will make all the fuss about global warming seem very long term. Algae can double in number in a few minutes. Think about a dam with blue green algae – jelly – oceans of it. What sort of weather would we have if the oceans aren’t evaporating – set together like thousands of square kilometers of blancmange? Yep, I care about that.

Who runs the show, keeps the dough

But I don’t care about many causes. (If you did, you’d be so depressed you’d never get out of bed.) Many of the bigger ones seem more like money-making machines and fortresses for people’s egos than genuine attempts to improve our lot. Charities, the hard-edged corner of the cause bucket, are often especially messy.

I don’t hate charity. I hate bullshit.

I can only bring myself to give to charities that I think are well run and working on a cause that can actually be fixed. Hopeless causes are just that, not worthy of addressing. I don’t think I’m the lone ranger. Many people give to very specific charities. With hundreds of thousands of NFP’s in OZ, you don’t have a choice but to focus. If you supported everything, you’d be broke in ten seconds.

Don’t get me wrong. (Like many marketers, I am forced to live a life of constant, often embarrassing, blatant hypocrisy.) I believe Causes are vital. They are a motivator – the life-blood of our society. If we didn’t care about things we’d be a race of sociopaths, mowing down all for the sake of a quid. (Now I think about it, I could list a few company directors who by any definition are sociopaths….) We need people to care and we need volunteers to help those in society, whether animal, human or mineral for that matter, that can’t defend themselves. I volunteer for a number of causes; local kinder, tennis club, residents action group, and big international ones for environment, politics etc. And Starship does pro-bono work (which I’m paying for) with several.

It’s about personal tastes

Like me with the oceans, people choose charities due to emotional connections. (There are a few who do it for tax and networking reasons, but emotions are king.) If they don’t believe in the cause, you’re gone – cause the tax deal will just go to the one they do feel a little bit for.

Logic is not an issue. Logic would have you supporting operations to kill off people as quickly as possible – we are a virus on this planet and issues like air, sea, water pollution, endangered species etc, would be much better off if we just got rid of most of the world’s population. I live in hope of the flu doing the job. The only debate I ever have about this is, what if it gets my kin or me?

The vast majority of charities are about helping people survive for healthier, happier, longer lives. This is plain stupid for the long-term survival of our planet. But try telling a group like Care (who run those ads with the starving little black kids mournfully looking up at the camera) or the Red Cross, that they’d be better to shoot the people they are trying to help. There’s actually laws against killing humans, too, for pity’s sake. They are probably quite tasty, roasted with sage and garlic…a crisp pinot gris….

Often little effect on the root causes

But money does not mean impact. According to Simon Chapman, professor in Public Health at University of Sydney, and ex-deputy chair of NSW Cancer Council, there has been not much progress in cancer survival since 1990. The research has achieved bugger all so far. He thinks we’d be better off to give money for palliative care, when people are dying, or prevention via anti-smoking campaigns etc. And he decries the focus on ‘fashionable‘ cancers like breast or prostrate, and the lack of funding for equally debilitating, but sadly less flavor-of-the-month cancers like colorectal, pancreatic etc.

Oh, fuck it, we’re Marketers and we’re here to do the gig. What to do to make your job easier as Marketing head of a NFP?

Understand your segments

The Breast Cancer people used to collect not much but were aiming at those who got breast cancer, mainly women in their 50’s and 60’s. When they lowered their guns and started firing at 20-30’s, who might get breast cancer one day, with a campaign spearheaded by Sarah Murdoch, they shot up to $5 mil a year. Lesson? It may not be the actual beneficiaries who are the best people to hit on.

Daughters might be the best people to target for men’s prostrate research – they care about their dads a lot more than their dads do. Their dads think they are never going to get sick, let alone die.

Align those targets with your charity

Breast Cancer uses pink as its theme and has an obvious target market – women. They are also main grocery buyers, main finance decision-makers, the list goes on. Because it’s a pretty clear target market, it’s easy to get big brands behind it and fill the MCG with women dressed in pink, then corral them into the brand’s ‘shape’ for a lovely aerial photograph that makes for a good outdoor poster.

Assume you need to broaden

The long tail is a very powerful thing. Don’t always think that the traditional reading of market segments, which leads to a narrow focus on say two key segments, is the best way to go. Instead of a demographic focus, I believe strongly that because this is such a highly emotionally charged decision, psychographic profiling is much more important. What kind of person are we aiming at here? How do they think? What do they have in common? Should we look for clusters, rather than slices?

Bolt onto other businesses

You must get into people’s faces; better into their hands. FMCG is always a nice vehicle, unless the brand itself is a very bad fit and that’s also really important with retail. Often very productive aligning with big chains like Shell Shops or Australia Post stores etc., except if you don’t want people to drive cars or use paper…

Enlist big players

Breast Cancer has pink Tim Tams. Pink borders around Real estate signs. Pink footy teams. (Melbourne – quite appropriate really) The list is as long as an Orang-utan’s arm. Do the same – get a bunch of big operations on your side to carry the load and extend your reach. Best to find someone on their board or marketing team who has a relly with the disease.

Celebs love lending a hand

As they get to promote their own brand in a positive light, most real household-known celebs will have a few causes hanging on their trophy wall. And it’s also quite effective to create your own celebrity – if you find someone dying, track their progress down hill and call the charity after them, like Alannah Hill or Jane McGrath, the cricketer’s wife.

Create a day

There  is no actual body which controls the naming of days, weeks, months, years. It’s the wild west. You could even name a season….

Choose a colour

Most of the snappier ones have gone, but there’s still, I think, salmon, some purples, darker greens may-be. Get everyone in it. Even your cleaners should have that color knickers and sox.

Multi-media it

Work out how you can involve lots of media, many segments. Making it newsworthy and interactive is frankly, just the standard today. And be aware that successful causes use social media automatically. The ‘we have this in common, connected to others, doing the right thing’ stuff that social media wallows in, is nirvana for a charity. People send on all sorts of bull-shitty guff about ‘save one puppy, you’ll save all of humanity’, ‘just say one good thing to another and we can prevent tongue cancer’. If you’re not milking the social media space, you are mad.

DM still works

Yes, it wastes paper and is bad for the environment. Yes, it’s old-fashioned. Yes, it still works.

TV works

If you pay for the spots. If you do a TV ad and hope the stations will run it, you’ll be lucky to get two showings in Newcastle on a dull night and no money in the door. The TV stations get hit on every day of the week by some bleating charity who thinks their cause is so bloody important. So they say they’ll help and basically don’t, because they can’t dedicate a profit making operation to serving non-profit causes all day long. It don’t happen. Grow up and pay for space. All the big guys do.

Hire good PR people

The cousin of a friend who CARES is not the best professional you could find, is he?

Commit to a budget

Assume a multiple of your hoped-for income needs to be spent to garner that income. With thousands of NFP’s competing for the public’s purse, it’s no place for a marketer without a budget. (Would you send a platoon into the jungle without guns?) Get the best team you can buy around you. The best production tools, the best media buy too.

Is it bad to fix it?

Many charities become a machine in their own right, with heaps of staff and regular events like balls and runs and fun things that people don’t want to pull apart. The cynic in me says it’s best if the NFP cannot ever find a cure.

An example of this business model is World Vision, where the stated goal is to end poverty. One could argue you will never stamp out poverty. Just the moment you’ve made everyone in Bangladesh a millionaire, you find that the Papuan’s are on the bread line, or worse, you discover that being a millionaire in Bangladesh Taka means jack shit cause a million Taka will only buy you a bowl of rice and half a chopped dried lizard for flavoring. Lesson? If you want to keep your job, go to a charity that has no hope of fixing the problem.

But if you want to actually achieve something before you leave this dirty globe, help a cause that makes sense and does stuff. Donate here: www.seashepherd.org.

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