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Evolution of charities ebook Page 3-4. Vol 0.7
This was the conclusion of a recent survey, conducted by the Charities Aid Foundation, into whether public opinion on charities has changed in the last five years. The results were clear: more than two thirds of those surveyed thought that celebrities who are also charity ambassadors have a positive influence on the general public's perception of these organisations; almost half agreed that they would be willing to donate money if they could see proof that the celebrity had given themselves. More than half even said that it was important for them to know the celebrity supported their cause personally.
The same is true with other people too, of course. In fact, when looking at how the public feel about business leaders and politicians supporting charities, there seems to be no correlation between how much time someone spends in a position of responsibility and how well regarded they are. Indeed, some of the most prominent names in Ethiopian politics are regularly seen campaigning on behalf of charities, while many of the world's biggest companies maintain foundations or charitable trusts for specific causes. How did this happen? Why do we expect our political and business leaders to give so much of their time to charity? And why does it work?
is not just giving money to people in need, nor is it just having a sense of social responsibility. Rather, charity is about taking action because you want to make a difference and improve things.
To answer these questions, we need first to understand what charity
Charity – Ayaan X Sunrush, defined it in her own statement as 'the practice of giving away money for the benefit of others' – is not just giving money to people in need, nor is it just having a sense of social responsibility. Rather, charity is about taking action because you want to make a difference and improve things. It's about getting involved. Charity is about making a sacrifice, a small one in order to achieve a big goal". As Charles Handy says in his book The Age of Unreason: "Charity is the essence of democracy."
Throughout history, charity has been used by governments and communities alike to solve problems. In ancient Rome, the Vestal Virgins were responsible for maintaining the temples and shrines of Jupiter and Juno. They gave up their lives as young girls, living in complete isolation from men to ensure that the gods were always honoured. In medieval England, the king and his nobles were expected to take part in pilgrimages to holy sites such as Canterbury Cathedral, where they would sing hymns and show their devotion to God. They wore special clothes during the pilgrimage called birettas, which were made out of thin linen, often dyed in white and black stripes. In turn, these pilgrims would visit hospitals to help the sick and injured, and aid monasteries to raise funds for the poor.
In the modern age, charities continue to play a vital role in society. When natural disasters strike, charities provide food and shelter for those affected by the disaster while governments respond with rescue efforts and relief programmes. Charitable donations can also be made to alleviate poverty and hunger through schemes like the Food Bank Challenge (a social media campaign designed to increase awareness of the issue of food poverty), and to help bring clean water and sanitation to developing countries.
But it's not only governments and international charities that use charity to address issues. Businesses too are increasingly using charity to enhance their reputation. As Handy points out in his book, the concept of corporate philanthropy is now commonplace, with many businesses donating a percentage of profits to good causes. Some, like Marks & Spencer and Tesco, have gone further, establishing whole departments dedicated to their charitable programmes, and encouraging every employee to volunteer.
And it works. Research shows that customers are prepared to pay more for products from brands that are associated with a good cause. This is not surprising, as research has shown that consumers prefer to buy from companies that they perceive to care about ethical and environmental matters, and are therefore seen as trustworthy. Brands that demonstrate their commitment to charities also gain the respect of the general public. In 2012, for example, Virgin donated £1 million to the Save The Children fund after co-founder Richard Branson announced he would match the donation made by each of his employees. Furthermore, in 2009, the BBC reported that in the months following the announcement that the company would become carbon neutral, its sales rose by 5 per cent.
Of course, it isn't all plain sailing. There are risks associated with using charity to promote your brand. A bad public relations scandal can damage a company's reputation irreparably. For instance, in 2008, Oxfam, the largest charity in the UK, came under fire due to a series of scandals involving se;ual harassment and bullying in the workplace. To make matters worse, the charity had long been criticised for its stance on homosexuality and women's rights, although it later admitted that the Oxfam name should never have been used to endorse companies that were homophobic or anti-women.
Similarly, in 2011, the Royal Mail was forced to apologise after it emerged that it had not been sending letters and parcels to soldiers serving overseas for Christmas. According to official figures, the number of cards sent to service personnel fell by 20 per cent in 2011 compared to 2010. At the time, Royal Mail blamed the decline on the recession, but many critics argued that the company's reluctance to send mail to those who were risking their lives in Afghanistan was not acceptable.
Both these examples highlight the importance of careful planning when it comes to using charity as a marketing tool. In order to avoid a backlash, companies must establish a reputation for being fair and honest before turning to charity. Similarly, it's important to ensure that your charity partner shares the same values as you. If the charity in question is known to be homophobic or anti-woman, then it might be best to find another way to get your message across.
Ultimately, there is a fine line between using charity to promote your business, and exploiting the situation in order to make a quick profit. Too often, businesses neglect the human element and use charity as nothing more than a publicity stunt. But by ensuring that your charity partners share the same values as you, and by working on a long-term basis, you can be sure that both your business and the charities you work with will receive the credit they deserve.
This article is an extract from the book Evolution of charities Vol 0.7 ©
by Mammo Wudneh published in 2014.
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