The ‘No Frills’ Campaigning Experiment – weighing up the benefits

Is cutting back on marketing costs worth the risk?

Charity mailshots rarely catch my eye. However, a letter from a well-known homeless charity recently grabbed my attention – sadly for the wrong reasons.

“This is a bit of an experiment.”

The letter looked much like any other – a page of plain text, no headings and no images. It began, ‘This is a bit of an experiment,’ followed by two paragraphs explaining how they ‘normally’ send visual appeals and why. However, the fund-raising manager goes on to say that ‘some’ supporters have recently raised concerns about marketing expenditure. So, this time they have chosen ‘no extras and no glossy leaflets.’

It was more than halfway down the page before he finally mentioned the charity and the work they do and only gets to the point of asking for donations on the second page.

Having donated to the NSPCC for the last fifteen years, I receive regular mail from them in the form of letters, A5 postcards or leaflets. They are easily recognisable with the Green logo, often accompanied by a quote. Although, the correspondence is usually in conjunction with an appeal for more money (an extremely controversial issue of late) they are eye-catching, engaging and provide valuable information on how my contribution is helping vulnerable children.

Although shocking at times, the images used in the NSPCC campaigns are designed to evoke an emotional reaction. One appeal may send a glossy photo of a neglected child with a story on the back, another may be a leaflet with a beautiful beaming face with a simple ‘thank you.’

Whether negative or positive, the images do what they are supposed to do – touch me in a way that resonates with me long after. They also serve as a reminder that I am giving to a worthy cause. Without these visual aids, the mailshots would likely remain unopened.

…it is still vital that we listen to our supporters concerns.

As a national charity for single homeless people, they have decided on this different approach based on the comments of ‘some’ of their supporters, but this raises questions. How many supporters do they have and what percentage are worried about the marketing expenditure?

Although it makes good business sense to listen to customer views and act accordingly, are the opinions of the few worth the risk they have taken?

Thinking about it from a marketing perspective, I appreciate the ‘outside of the box’ approach, but how successful will this strategy be moving forward? Where can it go from here?

What is this charity up against?

With 166,081 registered charities in the UK, the competition is fierce.
A 2013 survey by Pilotflight revealed that over 60% of respondents felt the information on the impact of the charities work was the deciding factor in their decision to donate.
A personal connection to a charity is the second highest deciding factor.

Negative public image

Recent reports of extra bonuses and overpaid directors have increased the negative image surrounding charities. This has, no doubt, been exemplified further by the death of pensioner Olive Cooke. Olive’s neighbours have criticised charities for inundating the 93-year-old with aggressive calls to increase donations, they believe the pressure contributed to her death.

Public demand to know how much money is being used for charitable activities has also placed enormous pressure on charities to become more transparent about how they are spending their money.

The stigma attached to homelessness means they are often perceived as alcoholics or drug users, resulting in people feeling reluctant to help.

What does this mean?
  • They have to compete with thousands of registered charities
  • Convince the public to give to a cause that does not affect them personally
  • Battle against the negative image of homelessness

Unfortunately, their recent campaign is not ticking these boxes. Instead of standing out they have scaled down, instead of defending their use of marketing, they have taken a back step in a bid to please the minority of supporters.

Admittedly, the campaign attracted my attention enough to open the envelope, and I am sure I am not the only one. However, this approach is limited. They can only use, ‘This is a bit of an experiment,’ once, then what? How many supporters would have disregarded the letter altogether, how many people would have been affected enough by the content to donate?

What can be done?

Charities must educate the public about the value of spending donated money on overheads such as advertising.

Speaking at the International Fundraising Congress, Dan Pallota, the president of the US consultancy Advertising for Humanity states:

People do not like to see their donations being used for marketing or advertising campaigns… Charities must educate the public about the value of spending donated money on overheads such as advertising.

Marketing is a necessity. Whether the company is big or small, effective marketing can raise awareness, strengthen the value of their brand and help to generate extra funds. In 2014, the NSPCC spent 78.2% of its annual income on charitable activities and the remaining 19.8% on governance and marketing. Although they increased their marketing and advertising activities, this contributed to raising an additional £1.6 million in generated funds.

The public don’t know any better because charities don’t speak to them.

Without marketing, the support charities receive would suffer. They have a right to defend their expenditure and doing so in the right way poses far less of a risk to their income.

Supporting marketing expenditure does not have to be all about the facts and figures. Speak TO people, not AT them. Bombarding them with jargon and unnecessary information will make them feel overwhelmed and eventually disinterested.

Three ways to help alleviate the concerns about marketing costs

  1. Sharing critical information about how campaigns generate extra funds can help your supporters understand the value of marketing.
  2. Using positive images and success stories will make supporters feel their contribution is helping and also show the importance of positive marketing.
  3. Minimise your marketing costs by using smaller companies and make sure you share this information. This will reassure your supporters that you are keeping costs low.

Brevity Marketing have successfully delivered cost-effective marketing campaigns for well-known charities. 

If you would like to know how we can help your charity please get in touch via or call 01256 830310.