One of my favourite authors, Dan Pallotta, makes the case that charities should put more resources into advertising, and even that charity supporters can get more bang for their buck by bankrolling advertising and fundraising costs, instead of direct program costs.
It’s unconventional, but there’s something to be said for Dan’s logic. He points out that charities aren’t competing with each other for donor dollars, they’re competing with everybody who wants to get their hands on people’s discretionary dollars. That includes big retail chains, restaurants, consumer brands – players who spend fortunes on marketing and advertising. It’s not fair, he points out, to expect charities to compete on a shoestring.
Fair enough. But on the other hand, marketing and advertising have, at this point, reached a level that many of us aren’t very comfortable with. Advertisers can be pretty sneaky, and even unethical. We even have advertising campaigns targeted at making us more suspicious of advertisers now. There are several people crying foul over advertisers’ deliberate use of psychology to manipulate children into wanting things that are bad for them.
Is this something we want our charitable dollars invested in? Do we want them engaging in the cutting edge of promotions to raise money, if that means underhanded tactics and manipulation? Is there a middle ground of high-quality advertising that doesn’t wallow in the mud? If so, how do we ensure that charities stay there, and don’t slip over to the dark side?
If they don’t, will they be left behind? Will their ham-handed and underfunded attempts to get the resources they need become increasingly annoying, ineffective, and wasteful as the rest of the economy moves on without them?
Lot of questions today, friends, and no answers. I’m of two minds on this one: what do you think?