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Charity Marketing

As charities suffer the cost of living crisis, your brand could make the difference


By Harry Lang, CMO

December 12, 2023 | 9 min read

Charities are feeling the pinch of the cost of living crisis more than most — and those they support will have to pay. Kwalee’s Harry Lang explains how brands can help.

Charity at Christmas

Regular readers know what they’re in for. I usually hone in on a campaign or brand that’s done something particularly bad and stick the boot in with all the subtlety of a Tesla Cybertruck. Sometimes, a smattering of cynicism can creep into my copy. And yes, on occasion, it evolved into downright indignation. I’m old enough to own my frailties and admit that professional jealousy has occasionally crept in, too. Perhaps even a smidgen of verboseness when I’ve tried to come across as smarter than I actually am (I went to Harrow alongside Lawrence Fox, which means I’m also as thick as pig shit and have the academic credentials of Little Mix).

But now it’s Christmas - our household is a place of merriment and anticipation. We have five chocolate calendars, two more than actual family members. Gluhwein is back on the menu. I’ve been to four Christmas markets already.

So, I decided to write about something more wholesome, uplifting and hopeful - the charity sector. At least that’s what I’d planned to do, except I can’t because non-profits worldwide are warming up to the kind of Christmas that would send Mother Teresa on a three-day bender and give Tiny Tim cholera.

Giving in

In its 2022 report, the Centre for Charitable Giving and Philanthropy (CGAP) found that 50.1% of UK households used to make a donation to charity in any given month, increasing to 52.6% in December - up 5% year on year.

At the same time, UK Fundraising found that nearly half (48%) of people said they were more likely to give at Christmas than the rest of the year, rising to 69% for Gen Z folks.

The problem is that we’re now strolling through a post-pandemic economic slump, and charities seem to be among the first victims of belt-tightening.

Poll data compiled by fundraising platform Big Give this November suggested that 25% of the public will give less to charity this Christmas due to the cost of living crisis. Charity Today News reported that if the trend spread throughout the year, it would mean a drop of £3.2bn. That’s a lot of missing food parcels.

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Nick Streeter works at Special Effect, a wonderful UK charity that helps physically disabled people, specifically children, to play video games. His response to a potential reduction in charitable giving this Christmas is telling: “As a charity that’s fully reliant on fundraising for its existence, we welcome increased awareness across the general public about the hugely positive impact of our work, but it is contributions from both businesses and the public that really allow us to support more disabled people so they can enjoy themselves through games.”

I’ve spoken about the benefits of ‘cause marketing’ partnerships for brands in these pages before, but when they say ‘charity begins at home,’ they really mean with you, the individual. Whether you do the legwork to partner your brand with a non-profit or put your hand in your pocket, the common denominator is your good self.

Occasionally, we need a jolt to remember it and then share some of that good fortune. It’s easy to close ranks and focus inwardly when times get tough, but issues are at stake that warrant the attention of both you and the brands you represent.

How charity makes people feel

The propensity for you, the individual, to give to a charity hinges on numerous drivers, but it’s not all one-way traffic. Humans are like puppies in that a pat on the head for good behavior can tickle our pleasure centers and leave us with a warm afterglow of self-satisfied contentment. Weinstein & Ryan’s 2010 paper explored the science of generosity more deeply: “According to self-determination theory, humans depend on satisfying three basic needs for optimal psychological well-being: - relatedness, competence and autonomy.”

Summer Allen’s 2018 thesis explains this thinking further: “People are happiest when their giving is coupled with a social connection (relatedness)... “...when they are given explicit information about how their donation will be used (competence) and when they are free to choose how much to give (autonomy)”.

Psychologist Lara Aknin phrased this payoff more eloquently: “Engaging in generous behavior might produce consistent, positive feelings across diverse cultural contexts, akin to the pleasurable feelings associated with other adaptive behaviors such as eating and sexual intercourse.”

Receiving sexual healings when you give to charities is just the start. A paper by Arnocky, Piche, Albert, Ouellette, & Barclay in 2016 claimed “...more altruistic people actually have higher mating success - more partners and more frequent sex within relationships” - so giving generously might help you get laid, too. It certainly puts ‘O come all ye faithful’ in a new light when the collection basket gets passed around this Christmas. We get when we give - and the payoffs can be life-restoring, both mentally and physically. It’s akin to achieving nirvana - human perfection. And it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to imagine a similar benefit for your brand if you were involved.

As do-gooding gets harder, we must double down

One morning last week, I was basking in my own less erotic version of utopia. A crackling frost in the air, mist cascading over Cotswold hills as I drove the school run. Stick Season by Noah Kahan was on the playlist, and I had a giggling daughter in the rearview mirror. She had a melting Christmas calendar chocolate in one mitt a mashed honey sandwich in the other - a face smeared, satisfied and smiling. I am, I realized at that moment, extraordinarily lucky - and as you’re reading this, presumably working in marketing in the western hemisphere, then you are, too.

The world is imperfect - always has been, always will be - but organizations like the ones I’ve mentioned and many others constantly strive to redress the balance. Their missions have become incrementally harder, so rather than buying that extra stocking filler or the ‘tip over the edge’ pint at the end of the office party, click on the links below and enjoy the orgasmic feeling that this Christmas, you’re a small part of the solution.

And if you can partner with a non-profit as part of your longer-term brand strategy, then those feelings will be magnified a million times over.

To learn more about Special Effect and donate, click here. Harry Lang is VP of marketing at game developer and publisher Kwalee. You can find him at @MrHarryLang and connect with him on LinkedIn.

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