Sometimes a nonprofit’s campaign can include a fine idea that, alas, doesn’t quite get it right. Like a long fly ball to the 385-foot alley of a ball park that falls in to be caught at 382 feet, the charity can be excited at what seems to be about to happen, only to trudge back to the dugout (or in our cases today ‘back to the glitzy communications agencies’) lamenting about what could have been.
Let’s return this Monday to a theme we Showcase of Fundraising Innovation and Inspiration (SOFII) provide us all with food-for-thought when it comes to campaigns that might have looked good in the pristine world of the conference room, but came up just short in the real world. And ‘just short’ can mean real human tragedy where the fight against hunger is concerned.that did not quite live up to expectations. The good folks at the
The first example that we drew from the collection this week comes from across the pond. The Oxfam charity launched a campaign last year that was to target women’s efforts and support to end hunger. They drew on the oft-repeated story about teaching a man to fish so he eats for a lifetime as opposed to giving a man a fish to eat for a day. The story is often used by skeptics of charity giving, and I can’t help but think the folks at Oxfam wanted to tweak it just a bit to turn the story into one of social networking and community development. What they ended up doing was tweaking the story into a battle of the sexes.
Apart from the fact that I believe that it is a dereliction of duty to run a hearts-and-minds advert like this without including a powerful ask for support (a web address asking viewers to ‘celebrate with us’ doesn’t count), the message in this ad is sheer divisive, sententious garbage which risks setting back the cause of women’s rights by at least half a century.
Andrew Papworth, who commented on the campaign for SOFII, notes a major blunder we discussed last week (the lack of a specific call-to-action) and stress the (surely) unintended divisiveness of the campaign.
Back state-side, the Rhode Island Community Food Bank launched its own campaign to end hunger with a seemingly clever pun on the concept of ‘nothing.’ Unfortunately, resolving the problems of hunger requires more than wordplay. The website initially explained the campaign thusly: “Each day, thousands of hungry Rhode Islanders eat nothing. By turning nothing into a product you can buy, we’re going to change that.” (Taken from Jeff Brooks’s commentary on this campaign at SOFII). The campaign seemed much more abut ‘we’ and ‘us’ than about anything contributors could do to help
The website has been tweaked to put greater emphasis on the contributors, though. And kudos for the RI Community Food Bank for pointing the call-to-action back to its donors and supporters:
Each day thousands of hungry Rhode Islanders eat nothing. But now there is something you can do about it. Cans of Nothing are available at retailers all over the state. Or visit our Nothing Store in downtown Providence. We have even launched a “virtual store” where you can. Each can you buy—digital or actual—will put ten pounds of healthy and much-needed food on a neighbor’s plate.
Even the concept of buying a can of ‘nothing’ to support those who have nothing to eat helps make concrete a problem that can seem quite nebulous (vis, the Oxfam campaign above). Unfortunately, the campaign presumes a good deal of buy-in from the audience even before they read on or consider buying ‘cans’ to support the hungry. I mean, what would prompt you to continue into a website that presents the fatalistic banner you see above right?
What is striking about these particular campaigns is that they are so close to ‘working.’ One need not stretch the imagination far to see what the two charities wanted to achieve with their drives to end hunger. But the slogans and tag lines seemed written by corporate pitchmen who were pitch deaf about their audiences or who the charities were trying to help.
Nothing is gained by slagging off ideas that don’t really work. The point is to learn from them and to stay sensitive to the entire outreach program of a campaign to avoid similar mistakes. Have you encountered a nonprofit or charity appeal that didn’t quite reach the target? We’d love to hear from you with your example!