Monday, 18 March 2013

Scant Relief From Red Nose Day

Friday's edition of Comic Relief was yet again, a resounding success. Over £65 million in pledges and donations make it, for the charity sector, the success story to emulate. But in a lot of ways it's an outlier, the point on the curve that doesn't make sense.
On the whole, the news for charities is grim. They are being asked to do far, far more with much, much less. Meanwhile, the amount given to charity each year by the public and other benefactors is dropping. As their funding is slashed, their remit from the government is ever urgent; find a way to do your job more efficiently.
So are there ways in which charities can use the Comic Relief model to help their funding efforts? Well, yes, in a way. As long as we bear in mind just what an unusual example Comic Relief actually is.
A survey published last week in The Guardian showed that people are more likely to give if they have a better idea of where their money is going. Transparency is vital. If people feel that a charity can clearly explain how their donation is used, and that the money they give does actually make a difference, then there's a much better chance that they'll put their hands in their pockets. Comc Relief have always been good at this, regularly devoting hours of TV programming to show where the money they raise is going, and what it's doing, from Tanzania to Tyneside.
There's also more chance of a donation being made if you're persuasive and make it easy to pay. Again, Comic Relief is great at this. There's a solid push towards the final night's events for months beforehand, with massive cross-platform promotion in print, TV and online. You can donate online, through any bank, via street collection, and most importantly for the 18-34 year old demographic, via text message. If you make donation a process that can be done in seconds without moving from your sofa, then you're much more likely to get money.
There's a flip side to this, of course. Comic Relief has a reach that no other charity can match. It has easy access to celebrity endorsement, and to prime time telly. It's fun and glamourous, making us feel good about giving. It shouldn't feel like a chore, which is vital as, according to the Ipsos Mori survey, people feel less and less that giving to charity is an obligation. If they don't feel they should donate, then the trick is to make them want to pull out their wallet.
There's also the incredibly strong branding. Red Nose Day is instantly recognisable, and people get what Comic Relief is and what it stands for in an instant. Meanwhile, there are 23 charities in England and Wales with autism in their name, eight of those in London. Who do you choose to give your hard-earned cash to? Why should you bother?
Depressing as it seems, market forces are making a big impact on the Third Sector, and charities need to respond in order to survive. Comic Relief offers some lessons, but at the same time it's a brand and a business model apart, with resources and connections that most charities can't even dream of. In an age when the Third Sector is feeling the squeeze from every direction at once, the success of Comic Relief only brings their own problems into ever starker focus. And that, frankly, is no laughing matter.

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