Whatever you think of the evidently significant marketing spend injected (and it’s unclear how much of this has been donated or subsidised) Cancer Research UK’s high visibility, multi platform campaign – essentially saying ‘we’re in trouble’ – is a brave and transparent move for a charity of its stature and a series of races that equate to the UK’s largest women-only fundraising event.
Perhaps sensing there could be difficulty in this economically strained climate as early as February, sponsor of 10 years Tesco ran its first high profile TV ad campaign for Race for Life; pledging to help recruit 1 million women – including 20,000 of its own staff – to the flagship fundraiser.
But a few weeks ago, the nations largest cancer charity unleashed a set of adverts – most notably on TV featuring Gloria Hunniford (who lost her daughter Caron Keating to cancer in 2004) – into the public sphere; declaring; “this year there’s a problem. We’re really down on women.”
Ignoring the awkward grammar of the call to action, the campaign message is the unspoken concern that rarely makes it into external communications; the admission of struggle – of ‘failure’.
Of course, no one could accuse Cancer Research UK of ‘failure’ (I have previously accused them of iconography theft, but that’s another subject); but rather they are experiencing public charity fatigue on a very large scale because of the organisational enormity (but twinned localism) of Race for Life.
We are witnessing the blown up, exposed, struggle for participation that smaller charities are suffering on a macro-level. And that appears to be (who knew?) that it’s incredibly difficult to fundraise in a climate of economic uncertainty, and political confusion.
While it’s vital to keep telling our stories in vivid and emotive ways to garner public support (for example I love Missing People’s new blog of heart-wrenching family accounts), it’s frightening to see Race for Life in trouble; simply because it is so iconic and because cancer unquestionably touches so many of our lives.
I wish Cancer Research UK good luck, and hope that they don’t have to merge or cancel many individual events. If their path of transparent ‘desperation’ or ’emergency’ – ordinarily the narrative of emergency disaster appeals – works, it could change the way many charities market and fundraise.
It is up to us as individuals, potential sponsors, fundraisers, volunteers (and let’s face it, users) whether we rise to this call for help. This time, next time, or ever.
Update: there is one sticking caveat which readers of this post have pointed out on Twitter, which is only in April did CRUK announce a record annual income of £500m for the previous financial year.
I understand that different events and activity are budgeted against, and one income stream over here doesn’t mean it can be used over there…But it does become part of the narrative of communicating emergency, and how canny members of the public interpret Appeals in wider context.