Authenticity and incentivising donors are among the benefits of aligning content with charities’ values and ethics
Charities ignoring the ethics of their content could be missing out on effectively engaging with donors, services users and supporters.
A key benefit of ethical content is that it gives a charity’s communications and marketing a greater authenticity. This in turn drives engagement and creates an incentive for giving among supporters.
Here we will explain further what ethical marketing is and how it can impact the charity sector when emphasised alongside your organisational values.
Ethical marketing is where organisations’ promotional activity focuses on how donations, products, services or campaigns can benefit wider society. For charities, this is a vital enterprise, as all your activities are united by the common goal of delivering on your mission and providing the best possible experience for your service users.
Being socially responsible is enshrined in charities strategy and values – it makes sense to ensure that your content reflects that.
But what practical ways can charities ensure their content aligns with their values and is ethical? A key way is through promoting diversity, inclusion and equity.
A good example of this has been this year’s Show The Salary campaign. This has been set up to encourage charities and charity recruiters to reveal the salaries of roles being advertised, rather than promoting roles as having a “competitive salary”.
The group says that “salary secrecy” can fuel wage gaps and discrimination, particularly against women and black and ethnic minority (BAME) candidates.
Backing this campaign in recruitment, marketing and communications content has been an effective way for many charities to show they are committed to ethical values around diversity and equity. So far more than 50 charities have signed the campaign’s pledges, including Save the Children, Anthony Nolan and Teenage Cancer Trust.
Teenage Cancer Trust’s messaging on the issue is a good example of ethical content in action.
“Teenage Cancer Trust are proud to sign up to the Show the Salary (#ShowTheSalary) pledge,” says the charity on the campaign’s website.
“We recognise the significance of showing salaries for all recruitment, whether internal or external, to support a culture of transparency, equality and inclusion. We want to attract skilled and experienced people because of their abilities and potential, not because of their background, ethnicity, gender or other irrelevant factors.”
This ethos around equity should go even further by making sure all content is inclusive and that there are no barriers to the charity and its work based on disability, ethnicity or gender.
Primarily, inclusive marketing ensures the diversity of supporters is covered, that content is respectful and connects with all backgrounds.
Among resources for charities looking to ensure their content is inclusive is guidance from Becky Slack, Managing Director of Slack Communications, for voluntary sector communications body Charity Comms.
Advice includes widening the reach of content “for instance you can use BAME and LGBT outlets to widen your reach”.
Using inclusive language throughout is another important piece of advice from Slack.
“Inclusive language is free from words, phrases or tones that reflect prejudiced, stereotyped or discriminatory views of particular people or groups, she says.
“These include gender-specific terms or bias like regularly describing women as nurturing and men as strong.”
She recommends carrying out a “content audit” that includes asking people from different backgrounds to review it. “They may pick up on words and phrases that you miss,” adds Slack.
Other pieces of advice she gives are to review imagery to ensure it reflects wider society and uses a diverse set of voices throughout your content.
Ethical fundraising takes this ethical approach into specific fundraising content.
Avoiding ‘white saviour’ narratives is among the approaches to take. This is where a charity is positioned as the hero saving disadvantaged victims, often in developing countries. Could the narrative instead focus on communities taking the lead on projects?
Among charities to fall foul of this in 2020 has been Medicins Sans Frontieres in Canada. The charity broadcast a TV fundraising campaign despite warnings from staff that it reinforced “white saviour” stereotypes and breached the charity’s own ethical guidelines.
Using emotive content also needs to be kept in check, as emotional stimuli can dehumanise communities and be seen as ‘emotional blackmail’ by some potential donors.
Ethical fundraising also needs to be clear about how donations and support can support communities. If the campaign message is too broad, such as reversing climate change or solving child poverty globally, it can seem like an impossible problem for potential donors.
Environmental charities are particularly susceptible to ensuring their ethical fundraising is focused and clear, rather than vague and impossible.
A survey by funder Garfield Weston Foundation this month found that environmental charities are “struggling to communicate” the value of their work and attract donations from the public and funders alike.
Half of those surveyed said there was a lack of public understanding about the urgency to act on green issues. To address this the Foundation is linking up with the Media Trust next year on a project to help environmental charities improve their messaging.
“We know that if we are too hard-hitting and the news is too bleak, then people switch off. What we haven’t done enough of yet is highlighting the positive solutions as well as the dangers. We need to get that balance right.”
- Beccy Speight – Chief Executive, RSPB