What can the charity sector learn from the marketing world?

This content is produced by a member of The Drum Network, a paid-for membership club for CEOs and their agencies who want to share their expertise and grow their business.

Civil society has never played a more important role in the political and social life of our nation. The pressure on charities around the provision of services – ranging from arts, probation, family and child support to refugees or health services – is larger than ever before. Clearly 2018 is going to be a transformative year for charities in the United Kingdom. What are the challenges facing the sector, and what can we, in the marketing, advertising and media industry, do to help?


Mergers and acquisitions activity is commonplace in our industry, and 2017 was no exception. Large holding groups striving to acquire entrepreneurial startups create a dynamic ecosystem which delivers economic value for all stakeholders. As the marketing world continues to change, deal activity will not diminish in 2018 and I believe that it drives innovation in client services.

Conversely, consolidation in the charitable sector is practically unheard of. A chief executive of a mid-sized charity wrote this (anonymously) in the Guardian last year: “Increasingly over the past few years I’ve found myself competing against other local (excellent) charities that are working on the same cause, for the same pot of money. You might think the solution is to work closer together or merge. Think again… Mergers are very rare, and they are becoming even rarer.”

The only one I can recall in my time working in corporate social responsibility is the merger of Bowel Cancer UK and Beating Bowel Cancer. A growing number of charities are fighting for the same (or diminishing) slice of funding to do their work. These are all worthy – and I would be the last one to argue against healthy competition – but the lack of consolidation highlights a lack of willingness to bundle forces to achieve shared goals. When founders sell their agency to a holding group, it can often be a tough transition to learn to ‘work for a boss again’. But charity execs should consider whether there is strength in numbers, as this ongoing fragmented competition does not deliver better outcomes for social challenges.


OK, if a merger is unlikely. But what about collaboration? Just this month Prince William said: “Instead of setting up more individual charities working in the same fields, I wonder if we could do more to explore ways of combining forces, working and innovating together? Could the compassion which leads people to set up or maintain charities not be equally well directed at first finding opportunities to work with existing charities?”

The Duke of Cambridge cleverly mentions the “compassion” that drives a lot of great work in the charitable sector. Can this sometimes get in the way of real progress? The sector needs a healthy dose of realism as it is playing an increasingly important role in the delivery of key services in the country.

Even our hyper competitive industry launched a grand collaboration initiative called Common Ground: a UN initiative bringing together the six biggest advertising holding groups (Dentsu, Havas, IPG, Omnicom, Publicis Groupe and WPP), allowing them to suspend competition and collaborate to tackle the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. Together we have worked to support and promote global issues.

From my own experience on working on this unique collaboration since 2016, I can tell you that it is no easy feat to achieve. But surely, if some of the most competitive businesses in the world can set aside competition for a common goal, charities focusing on the same outcomes can too. That it can be done is proven by the charities supporting the survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire and the Disaster Emergency Committee.


Every agency will affirm that, in 2018, content is king. The good news is that creating great content is not necessarily something that requires huge budgets. An example of content that was planned in advance is Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital‘s incredible story telling with #OneDayAtGOSH. With beautiful shots and snippets from its own hospital, it shared fantastic stories on the hour, every hour, and created some fantastically engaging content.


We are seeing the younger generations looking increasingly more critically at how the money going to charities is collected. Crowdfunding and digital market places like GlobalGiving play a large role in creating a new donor culture among younger people.

Our industry sees boundless opportunity for innovation in the new, digital-native Generation Z that is soon to enter the workforce, begin earning and donating to good causes. Yes, this may be disruptive, but using digital technology this generation will transform how we work, shop and live. The charitable sector should not fear this change, but instead evolve to speak to them in their own language and approach them on the platforms where they spend their time.

Overall it remains important that the money they give ends up in the right place. There is every reason to be confident about the future for the charitable sector in 2018.

Frank Krikhaar is global CSR director at Dentsu Aegis Network.

This article was originally published in the charity issue of The Drum Network magazine series. You can purchase your copy here.