Third Sector Comms & Charitywash

Direct mail, radio ads, posters, newsletters, TV commercials etc... We are constantly exposed to and targeted by the communications strategies from third sector organisations. Charities, social enterprises, voluntary organisations, not-for profit organisations and NGO’s have long been pioneers in producing groundbreaking and engaging campaigns that raise awareness around environmental and social issues.

They often use hard-hitting marketing techniques and tricks to reach their audience. Some of them have enormous marketing budgets comparable to that of a large company.  So what does distinguish an NGO campaign from commercial solicitation?

The primary objective of an NGO’s communication campaign is always to raise awareness amongst the public about the causes they defend; as such their first mission is informative and differs from the commercial mission of private companies’ communications. At the same time, it is ultimately to give the public the desire to support the association (by giving money, or boycotting an organisation for instance).

Are these two objectives compatible?

Can you accurately communicate an issue and ask for the support at the same time?

We’ve all witnessed examples of what one could call “Charitywash*”. It can be described as: “the deceptive use of charity marketing in order to promote a misleading perception of the issue a charity wants to address (in order to get a greater support than what it would get without)”. When spotted, this ‘Charitywash’ has a detrimental effect on the image of the charity and its chances to receive any support. And, also, it’s a godsend for their detractors (think, for instance, about climate change).

Ever since the third sector entered the same ‘stamping ground’ of the communications industry, it has embraced the best (creativity – efficiency) and the worst (Charity washing) of the industry. The global GREEN AWARDS’ Best Green Third Sector category was established to detect and celebrate the best campaign made by or on behalf of NGOs, charities etc…This year for the 5th time we are looking for the ‘Best Green Third Sector’ campaigns that communicate sustainability issues with engaging and positive executions relying on honest and genuine claims.

The deadline for the global GREEN AWARDS 2010 has been extended until Friday 22nd October 2010.

*”Charitywash” can also be used to describe a company sponsoring or associating with a third sector organisation whose goals and mission conflict with the company activity (in order to get positive PR), think for instance of a Tobacco producer sponsoring a cancer charity.

Posted by Caroline Martinot

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