9 things charity CEOs should do in 2015.

The road ahead in 2015
  1. Go mobile. Most people access online content via a mobile or tablet device and online giving, especially mobile giving is growing exponentially. If your web content isn’t responsive you’ll lose visibility and a valuable route to donations.
  2. Embrace SMS donations. Yes you lose out on customer data for your CRM and the opportunity for repeat donations but here’s the thing. The donor journey to making a donation is more important than your need for data. Asking someone to fill in twenty fields of information, as most charities do, is not good.
  3. Lose the fear of reputation. Your epitaph shouldn’t be, “We kept the charity’s overheads low.” It should be, “We took risks because the need is great. When we lost we lost small but when we won we won big and made a real difference.”
  4. Plan for a changing demographic. Your donor right now will be different from the donor five years from now. If you still want to be around and relevant to your audience ensure your customer proposition reflects the changing nature of giving and givers.
  5. Invest heavily in the next generation of charity professionals. You don’t need to know what they know; you just need to know they’ve got the changing landscape of digital engagement covered for your organisation. And let them make decisions.
  6. Create diversity in teams. Partner with for-profit companies and people from widely different sectors. Their view of a problem or opportunity will create solutions you’d never arrive at on your own.
  7. Loosen the reigns of content curation. A polished sanitised message, even when it’s spoken by a well known actor, isn’t as powerful as real human narrative. All conversations are human, not corporate.
  8. Shake the tree. Delivering the same activity you delivered last year will hopefully bring you marginal gains or acceptable marginal loses. Is that really how you change the world?
  9. Break the ‘us and them’. People working in the field, volunteering or fundraising know more than you do. Get out of the room and go find out what’s going on, what’s working and what’s not working. Everything you need to learn is at the point where the service meets the service user.

2015, the year personal narrative changes charity comms.

Most advertising does not work

Over the festive break I wasn’t alone in feeling that charity campaigning reached new lows of creative differentiation. Not because their cause wasn’t worthy, far from it. The work charities do in the UK and abroad are vitally important. It felt like this year charity campaigning had slipped into a seasonal schedule that us ordinary folk grew quickly familiar with and therefore apathetic about.  Every ad break on TV was littered with charity appeals and I felt myself rolling my eyes and thinking, not another one!

Apathy kills engagement; it attacks relevance and blinds us from awareness.

Too much of anything is bad for you, as the ads for gym membership have been telling us since Boxing Day! December is a time for grateful reflection and family and so it is right that those less emotionally, physically and financially well off than us are in our minds and thoughts too. It started to feel however those charities, like high street retailers, used a creeping barrage of ads on TV, radio and in print that ratcheted up in intensity as every day of December passed, to the point of saturation. I can’t help but think that this would have the polar opposite effect on us that the charities desired. That their marketing, like that of the retailers selling summer holidays the week before Christmas and the shops filling up with Valentine’s Day gifts on Boxing Day had become something to roll our eyes at!

Also, the narrative of the ads, with the exception of The Red Cross appeals from the Ebola affected countries, felt too emotionally distant to be personally relevant and therefore motivating to me. I wrote recently about the impact of Lucy’s Story . That very human story at the heart of Centre Point’s homelessness campaign was unapologetically and painfully personal. It put the people the charity supports front and centre and demanded that we look at what can happen when a human being slips beyond our ability to help.

I feel 2015 must be the year charities embrace personal narrative and importantly make stories locally relevant. Centralised charity marketing functions need to reconnect with the local communities they supports in ways that are more meaningful than curated content. Charities have always been fantastic storytellers, but for too many charities – as the festive ad campaigns revealed – the narrative has become sterile of personal stories and moved towards big shocking statements of statistics. As powerful as those statistics are, they are too big to be relevant to people personally so the power is lost almost immediately. A disconnect exists between communication strategy and the desire for personal localised content.  What a charity wants to say and what we want to hear is clearly disparate in many cases.

It is in the community where the rich seam of personal narrative runs deepest. Collecting and sharing locally relevant content has always been technically and qualitatively difficult and for a long time communications leaders have been wary about relaxing the reins of content creation but relax it they must. Gathering local content is now much easier thanks to mobile technologies and cloud based content management systems and that means more people generating content that the marketing department can put to good use mobilising local communities around messages that resonate with them.

If you want to tell better stories let the people delivering and receiving support tell them.

80,000 homeless young people and Lucy’s story.

Centre Point Cold Christmas Campaign

Consider these two messages. 80,000 young people experience homelessness every year, fact. The graphic and stark image of now deceased previously homeless Lucy’s feet, toes bound on a mortuary table with the message, “Lucy’s not homeless any more!”

Is one more powerfully than the other? They’re both equally relevant, both crushingly affective but we’re human and people not numbers affect us more.

The un-ashamedly stark campaign by Centre point strikes a balance between the size of the problem and the personal story of one young person who didn’t survive homelessness. And whilst the number, 80,000 is shockingly high for any society to be anything but ashamed of, I found myself thinking about Lucy’s story and wondering who she was and how she came to have her toe’s tied together on that stainless steel table.

Looking at the soles of her feet, feet that were swollen and showed the wear-and-tear of living a scratch existence where caring for your feet is hard to impossible. I found myself thinking about when Lucy was a baby, those same feet were once tiny and adorable and would have been played with and tickled and kissed by adoring parents. At least I hope that Lucy had that start to her life and had not been born into a life of abuse and cruelty. I don’t know the answer, I don’t know her life. But it shows that an image and a simple truth touches our hearts and imaginations.

Centre Point gives us enough of a story to grab our attention but leaves room for us to fill in the blank spaces of her life and in doing so make us feel powerfully connected to Lucy. And when that person is dead, as Lucy is, and beyond help we know we can’t make a difference to her life anymore. That’s the point though; Lucy’s story with its tragic ending is beyond us, but we can help those who still could escape homelessness.

Facts are important but the size of a problem, its breadth and depth isn’t real to us. Facts are proof a problem exists and needs a solution. People are real to us, and as in the case of homelessness, it is something we are all just three or four problems in life away from experiencing ourselves.

The real power is always in the people and their story.