For the Charity Sector, This Pandemic Is a Revolution
For charities, it’s a cruel truth that the times at which they are most needed tend to be the times at which their funds are most stretched.
With an impending recession on the horizon, it’s understandable that many in the sector will be fearful as resources get stretched whilst funding dries up in the wake of the devastating coronavirus. In such conditions, charities (and indeed their donors) could be forgiven for seeing brand-building, and the subsequent campaigns that go along with it, as an unnecessary cost. But that would be a mistake.
There’s no question that we are heading into an extremely challenging period. For charities, the long-term weather warnings are looking severe. Every effort will be made in order to avoid a return to the 2008 crash, which saw (in the UK at least), charitable giving fall by around 11% compared to the previous year. The upcoming period in human history is likely to necessitate the presence of generously-spirited organisations, and so it’s beholden upon all of us to find ways to help the non-profit sector thrive despite the adverse conditions.
As Peter Field pointed out in his recent guide to advertising in a recession, long-term thinking is essential during a crisis. That might seem counterintuitive, given the human brain is hardwired to switch to a survival instinct when threatened. All the evidence shows us, however, that short-term activations during a recession lead to vastly diminishing results. The smart marketer, therefore, will think creatively about ways in which to promote long-term brand building with a more limited set of resources. We wouldn’t think twice about making the case for long-termism to a corporate brand looking to safeguard themselves, so why should we treat charities any differently? That may sound slightly utopian, but in a rapidly changing world, solutions could be closer to hand than we think.
If it’s true that adversity changes people, the world is going to be a fundamentally different place after the Covid-19 threat has been adequately managed. You don’t have to look very hard to see the ways in which a new way of living is being built all around us. 98% of our employees have told us they’d be interested in keeping remote working in some capacity in their lives, and I’m sure there are similar conversations happening at workplaces across the planet right now.
But the changes to our lives are going to run so much deeper than that. Any true revolution, and there’s little doubt we are headed for one of those, begins with revolution in our values. The cultural story of this century so far has been one of walls and borders being enforced and built, often bafflingly literally. It would be hard to design a more perfect repudiation of that insular mindset than a global pandemic. The coronavirus has swept across borders with scant regard, and those countries which have been more successful in containing the disease have tended to be those with more internationalist leadership, such as Germany and New Zealand.
The point I’m driving at is that I don’t believe it unreasonable to anticipate that we might see a lot more people thinking as ‘we’ instead of ‘me’. For charities who have spent many years stressing the value of interconnectedness, they may be about to find themselves speaking to a vastly more receptive audience than before the pandemic.
Thinking Outside The Donation Box
As more and more people rewire their perceptions of the world around them, it’s imperative that charities do the same. One piece of good news for the nonprofit sector is that the difficulties on the horizon are coming at a time when brands are also beginning to take the argument around ‘purpose’ seriously.
Simply put, there’s an enormous opportunity here for charities. Brands looking to redefine and communicate their purpose in a new and uncertain world will make for perfect partners for charities and nonprofits. A bit of creative thinking can help us re-imagine the relationship between corporate brand and charity, where the success of one lends strength to the other.
Few people will ever willingly volunteer to change. It’s uncomfortable, uncertain and fraught with risk. That’s why change so often needs to be forced on us, and it’s only in those instances when we discover how truly adaptable and resilient we are. That’s what’s going to be facing us over the coming months, and the successful organisations of the future, be they brands, charities, or countries, will be the ones setting out their vision for that future today.