Have charities been hijacked by commercialism?

In recent weeks, I have seen a lot of comments about the relationship between large corporations and the charity world, which have confirmed some of my ongoing personal thoughts. Like most things in life, it goes in cycles. Years ago, charities struggled for publicity, to initially tell people about what they were doing,thus making it difficult to raise funds.

However, over the years,being involved in good causes, has become more ‘trendy’. It was realised that to raise the profile of your organisation, you needed the help of someone in the public eye.So, very slowly, public figures engaged with their favourite good cause.It was no coincidence, that those organisations began to grow, and realised that this is the way forward financially.As the money started to trickle in, it became obvious, that you needed to spread the word further, and get more people on board, to hopefully turn the trickle into a flood.

It is fantastic, that celebs are getting more involved in the charity sector, however, some of the more cynical amongst us, may also notice, that as their good work increases, so does their personal exposure, leading to, in most cases, a vast increase in sales of books, films, cds,dvds etc.

 The closing ceremony at the 2012 Olympics, was a perfect example. It was a wonderful show, and I enjoyed it thoroughly, until I read the amount of cynical plugging that had happened throughout the evening. The worst example being George Michael and his new single!

The marketing teams, that most organisations seem to have these days, soon spotted an opportunity, to ‘shoe horn’ their products into awareness weeks, with probably the most over hyped, ‘Pink Month’ being the prime example. Interestingly, this year, I have heard so many ladies mentioning how upset they were that this month has been taken over by organisations trying to sell anything in pink!

To bring this post right up to date, it wouldn’t be right if I didn’t mention Lance Armstrong.His case has been well documented, and involves massive sponsorship from companies like Nike, and Oakley.His charity, and fund raising, was a phenomenal worldwide machine.It is fantastic to raise so much money to help people affected by cancer, but I can’t help thinking about the various agendas involved there.So many conflicts of interest.

Just this week we had some ground breaking tv, with ‘Stand Up 2 Cancer’ A brilliant idea! Putting the subject of cancer in the public domain in such a way, and on main stream television. I thought it was incredible, how far, we as a society have come, where we can now accept, and talk more openly about the subject. I only caught snips of the show, to be fair, and I have heard about the many inspirational stories. But the bits I saw, looked like an extension of the Alan Carr show, but raised a lot of money, I’m sure.

With the introduction of social media, meaning we can now share things in an instant around the world, we have very powerful tools, to help us raise awareness and funds. However I can’t help thinking that we are going too far too fast. From very little information about our favourite good causes, we are now under a constant barrage, to donate money, and the ways that we can do it, have also become easier.Credit cards, texting, donating online, directly from our salary, the ever popular clothing recycle bags, door to door campaigning, even leaving money in our wills, is becoming easier. Wherever I go, I am constantly having a bucket waved under my nose, for causes I have never even heard of.
My personal feeling is that, if we are not careful, people will feel less willing to donate to causes that are too ‘In your face’. In the tough economic times that we are encountering, obviously, people are less likely to want to give money to charity. Thus without the income, there will be less good work happening. Of course, none of us want to see that happening. But currently we have an open battleground, where all good causes are competing for our cash. Each, trying to gain market share.

Does this mean a scenario where the largest organisations with the biggest marketing and media teams clean up, and local organisations go to the wall? I guess, the choice is ours really.It is up to us to choose to give where we feel our donation can make a difference. Good cause giving, is a very personal thing, and we all choose to support what is close to our heart. I would like to think, that our giving wasn’t dictated by celebs and marketing campaigns, but I’m sure it must be, or those factors wouldn’t be increasing.

What do you think? Will you feel differently, when you next donate money?


  1. Thanks Chris. All very good points and I agree.

    I would also like to add that the general public are also becoming far more savvy. People are beginning to check how much of a purchase price of a (for example) ‘pink product’ is ACTUALLY going to the charity.

    Unless you REALLY want that product, please choose to put the whole donation in to the charity’s coffers directly. Then they get 100%.

    I’d also like to see some transparency of how my donated £ is actually being spent. Ie 30p on research, 17p on patient/carer support & information, 53p on administration & salaries. I can then look at the different charities and make an informed choice about where my £ is best invested…. after all, isn’t the reason people donate to improve the quality of lives for those affected by the illness together with making scientific advancements in medicine?

  2. Hi Anna
    Many thanks, for your brilliantly made points. Things are moving very quickly in todays society, and the days of people blindly giving money to good causes, is coming to an end. As you are aware, there are now many professional, very costly, marketing campaigns around, to try another way of persuading us to part with our hard earned cash. However as you recognise, there is little transparency, as to what the money is spent on.

    As we might imagine, I suggest that the lack of transparency, is totally deliberate, and I’m sure that the man in the street would be shocked, if he realised how much of his £1 was going to what he thought it was!

    Market forces, normally dictate direction, and if there are enough of us asking the right questions, and being more selective with our donations things will have to change.There is a lot more to ‘Awareness Raising’ than just talking about the disease. There are so many other issues involved, including how our money is spent.

    Your comments and experience are much appreciated, and I look forward to welcoming you back to the blog soon

    • Chris Great points raised about this. Companies and some larger charities employ PR agencies and market research, which do not come cheap, in order to raise their profiles and generate more funds. People need to push for more transparency from these companies and charities, then they would have to rethink how they spend the money. having worked for a large charity it was frightening how much money was spent on things other than the people etc in need.
      Eileen B

    • Hi Eileen

      Many thanks for taking the time to write your comments. My main concern is that a lot of organisations have become too wrapped up in their ‘brand’ and they have forgotten what they are really there to do.

      In this day and age of commercialism, I understand why they use the media in the way they do, it has almost become necessary, but many have lost their focus. Also there seems to be a lack of collaboration due to issues around fundraising.

      I feel that more decisions are made because of brand image, rather than for the best of the patients. This is becoming a very consistent theme now!

      Many thanks, Chris


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