Thursday, October 13, 2011

Cancer Fundraising and Advocacy: Audience Matters

Yesterday, Philadelphia Flyers' fans booed a public service advertisement sponsored by NHL's Hockey Fights Cancer.  The advertisement aired during the game was to solicit donations for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
Some say that the fans were not booing the cancer charity or Hockey Fights Cancer's mission, instead they were booing the "hated" players from rival teams featured in the video (none were from Canucks who were facing Flyers on the arena!)  Read the news at Yahoo Sports or Huffington Post.  Still, this behavior goes too far.  It is legitimate to ask: was this the failure of the fans or a bad placement of an ad.  I think, it was a failure of both: the fans who booed and behaved as drunken idiots and the Hockey Fights Cancer team who failed to include at least one Philadelphia Flyers player in the ad.  So, what are the rules of successful fundraising and advocacy.

What does it take to raise funds and increase awareness?  What make a successful charity tick?

First and foremost, brand recognition is the key.  Branding helps people understand what does the charity stands for.  A brand for a charity is not the same as a commercial entity's brand.  Joe Saxton writes: Beliefs are at the heart of why charities exist and they are one of the most accessible parts of a charity's brand... a belief-based brand allows, even suggests, that the road to success will be paved with the rollercoaster of success and failure...Vision is the synthesis of a set of organisation beliefs, woven into a statement of how the world should be.[1]

Everybody recognizes the brand Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and it is quite obvious from the name what they stand for.  The Society knows how to get the word out on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media forums.  And, yet their message was booed by the Flyers. 
Is it because the audience at that moment were far removed from the cause!  Eva Jonas and her colleagues published a research article 10 years ago where she called such behavior the Scrooge Effect—In her survey of people living close or few blocks away from a funeral home, she found that people close to the funeral home were more compassionate and receptive to the calls of giving to a charitable cause compared to those who lived further away.[2]
Know your audience.  This is where the Hockey Fights Cancer failed.  They did not do their homework.  The fans' inner beast cried: I'm a Flyer, talk to me in a Flyer-speak!  Appeals made at a spectator sporting event are better suited for building a brand; are effective in raising funds for a disaster that occurred in the immediate pasta hurricane or a tsunami—but poorly suited for general fund raising.  Karen Prater in her research found that charities are actually most successful in participatory sports, such as, runs, walks and marathons.[3]  Think about 3-day walk, race for the cure, and so on.

A good place to understand what motivates people into giving is to read Tina Brand's thesis, "The joy of giving: an investigation of positive fundraising techniques."[4]

Also know your customers.  One charity where I'm involved, International Cancer Advocacy Network, gets most of the referrals through the word of mouth.  That remains the most effective way for patients to seek help.  Local chapters are also important and so are the local fundraising and outreach activities.

Flyer fans failed on this one, and surely must be feeling embarrassed, but to be fair they do organize several cancer fundraisers all year.  Still, its OK to whack Flyers' piñata for now (since it looks like Barney) and have some fun.

Cited Refs:
  1. A strong charity brand comes from strong beliefs and values. Joe Saxton. | Free PDF | Google Scholar |
  2. The Scrooge Effect: Evidence that Mortality Salience Increases Prosocial Attitudes and Behavior. Eva Jonas, et al. Pers Soc Psychol Bull. Oct. 2002;28(10):1342-1353 | Abstract | DOI | Google Scholar |
  3. Participatory Sporting Events as Fundraising Vehicles. Karen Prater. Mar. 2009.  Thesis: University of Oregon | FullText | URI | Google Scholar |
  4. The joy of giving: an investigation of positive fundraising techniques. Tina M Brand. May 2010. Thesis: Rutgers. | Abstract | Free PDF at Rutgers Lib | Google Scholar | Jonas, E., Schimel, J., Greenberg, J., & Pyszczynski, T. (2002). The Scrooge Effect: Evidence that Mortality Salience Increases Prosocial Attitudes and Behavior Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 28 (10), 1342-1353 DOI: 10.1177/014616702236834


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