Cause Related Marketing: Where size doesn't have to matter

Cause-related marketing can benefit low-profile charities says Richard Cook
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Not all good causes are equal. Some, it seems, are more equal than others. But then that is, perhaps, only to be expected - the voluntary sector does cover a considerable amount of ground.

According to the most recent Office of National Statistics (ONS) survey, there are around 120,000 registered charities in the UK. And that excludes the universities, trade unions, clubs, societies and churches that enjoy charitable status. The ONS survey dates from 1994-5.

The Charity Commission Register, which keeps more up-to-the-minute information, thinks the number is now nearer 160,000 - and it has had to add nearly 10,000 charities to its register in the last 12 months. The total annual income of all these registered charities stands at around pounds 18.3 billion.

The problem, as far as the development of cause-related marketing is concerned, is that this pounds 18.3 billion is slanted in favour of the biggest causes. Around 70 per cent of all charities have an income of pounds 10,000 or less each year, representing less than two per cent of the total annual income, while five per cent of charities receive over 85 per cent of the total annual income recorded.

"We're well within the top 500 companies in terms of fund-raising but the fact is that there is such a huge difference between those few household name charities at the top of the fund-raising pile and all the rest," says Catherine Arkley, chief executive of the Children's Liver Disease Foundation.

"Corporates tend to want to align themselves with the largest charities, the best-known ones. There does seem to be a lack of understanding about what, if anything, other charities can contribute."

But that doesn't mean that cause-related marketing is always going to remain the preserve of the bigger or more fashionable charities. It just means that charities have both to be aware of what they really can contribute to the marketing mix, and then be more creative and pro-active in the way that they sell this benefit to the corporate sector.

"Some charities do start with an in-built advantage by virtue of their size and profile and they have better bargaining tools," says Gavin Coopey, newly installed as director of fund-raising at The Mental Health Foundation from a similar position at Comic Relief.

"They can dangle the size of their supporter base or the level of public interest they command whenever they open discussions with business. But that doesn't mean that smaller charities or those with less fashionable causes are always going to miss out."

"Smaller charities just have to be more creative about the way they match up with corporations. You might not have more supporters than another charity, or your rival might have access to a bigger database, but smaller charities can compete precisely because all the best cause-related marketing starts with the validity of the connection," he says.

"At Comic Relief, companies were desperate to be involved because of the potential that overnight they would receive a huge awareness enhancement, but at its best, when the connection is right, cause-related marketing is about so much more than that."

One option for smaller charities is to band together for marketing warmth, recognising that alone they are unlikely to get invited to put their case to the most progressive corporations.

Plenty of small and medium-sized charities already manage to punch above their weight. With a turnover in excess of pounds 5 million, the Muscular Dystrophy Group could hardly be described as small and yet it consistently manages to outperform its size as far as business tie-ups are concerned. It was the Tesco charity of the year in 1996 and raised around pounds 327,000 through cause-related marketing last year.

"Smaller charities often find it difficult to forge cause-related marketing ventures," says head of corporate development and special events Victoria Bowman, "simply because the public does not know as much about their cause as other large charities. The key, I'm sure, is to build partnerships with organisations of a relatively similar size."