3 outstanding examples of charities & nonprofits doing innovative things

A woman with a handful of coins and a note reading ‘make a change’.
Type ‘charities are…’ into Google and take a look at the suggested ways to end that sentence.

Some of the autofilled statements include:

- Charities are corrupt
- Charities are a con
- Charities are big business
- Charities are immoral
- Charities are scams

You get the picture.

Now that’s pretty scary stuff and indicates to us a few things.

Firstly, it’s clear that the general public does not hold the faith in the charity sector it once did. Why? We could theorise for days. Oversaturation of the market, tired marketing practices, recent scandals involving some of the sector’s larger players and a general sense of charities “wasting money” are a few factors that come to mind. Of course, these are just potential triggers and by no means a definitive answer to this question.

Secondly, it suggests that charities certainly need to be working even harder to regain individuals’ trust and, to be blunt, donations. Every aspect of a charity’s operations – from how effectively head office is run to the methods used to market its offering – need to be scrutinised with a fine-tooth comb. To do that, you may need to enlist the help of a professional consultant who can make some objective suggestions.

Thirdly, it goes to show the importance of innovation in the charity sector. A ‘but we’ve always done it this way’ approach simply won’t cut it anymore. Customers are savvier than ever. Competition is rife. If you want to raise the funds necessary to make a real difference as per your mission no doubt, you’re going to need to shake things up and get a little innovative.

As such, we’ve compiled a few examples of charities across the globe doing really great things. Let’s take a look…

1. Age UK and Cadbury: Donate Your Words campaign

It’s really inspiring to see examples of the private and public sectors working impactfully together and the recent Cadbury and Age UK campaign is one such instance.

The campaign

In September 2019, the two joined forces in response to Age UK stats indicating that 1.4 million older people in the UK struggle with loneliness and as many as 225,000 aged individuals often go an entire week without speaking to anyone. The resulting campaign was a really beautiful one, including a very “we-must-have-something-in-our-eyes” film created by brand agency VCCP and directed by Frederic Planchon, raising awareness of the loneliness crisis facing individuals in later life. Check out the Cadbury x Age UK film here.

In addition to this outstanding advertising work and the ensuing social campaign, Cadbury released a limited edition Dairy Milk chocolate bar, on which all usual wording was blanked out, to impactfully allude to this awful issue currently facing the country’s older generations. Thirty pence from every limited edition bar sold was donated to Age UK – the idea being that the words were ‘donated’ to the charity. Proceeds went towards Age UK initiatives such as its national advice line and telephone friendship service.

The underlying campaign message was: Donate Your Words. Consumers were reminded just how significant an action as small as calling a loved one for a chat or checking in on an older neighbour (perhaps with a little sweet treat) could be. That’s social change right there!

The (tangible) results

As a result of the Donate Your Words campaign, YouGov found that:

  • There was a boost in national awareness for both Age UK and Cadbury
  • Cadbury’s buzz scores increased significantly among those aged over 65
  • Cadbury’s brand attention scores rose by 3.7 points to 20.4 and word of mouth exposure was up two points to 17.8
  • The likelihood of consumers purchasing a Cadbury product increased by 4.6 points
  • Age UK presumably raised a significant amount of funds (exact data isn’t currently available at the time of writing this article) that will go towards very valuable community services.

The (less tangible) results

  • Social change! This is a fantastic example of how consumerism and charity efforts can be combined to ultimately raise awareness of a crucial social issue – such as the wellbeing of our older citizens. As Cadbury is an extremely well-loved brand (with the purse power to create truly powerful marketing campaigns), it has the potential to reach a large portion of the population and influence their behaviours.
  • A productive partnership. There is no reason to view third and public sector organisations and private consumer companies as being in opposition to one another – the effective partnership between Age UK and Cadbury exemplifies this. Indeed, Age UK has a history of partnering with brands in this manner. Annually, the charity teams with Innocent Juice, for example, to promote The Big Knit and in doing so, has raised over £2 million for national and local services that combat loneliness.
  • Reaching the right people. As mentioned, the Donate Your Words campaign was successful in reaching those aged over-65. On a commercial level, this group was no doubt a target in mind, so is indeed a result. Perhaps more importantly however, this campaign – given its vast reach on social media channels – saw Age UK’s message resonate with the younger generations – a group now more difficult to reach than ever; they are already saturated with marketing messages and as a result, more cynical than before. If charities want to thrive going forward, support from younger people will be key.

2. Charity: water and the Dollars to Projects programme.

charity: water is a nonprofit on a mission to bring safe, clean drinking water to everyone, globally. The charity is known for its energetic approach to fundraising, given its founder and CEO Scott Harrison has a background in marketing and events promotion and is thereby by no means afraid to innovate.

Through its Dollars to Projects project, each and every individual who donates to the organisation, once that donation has been dedicated to a charity effort of some kind, receives a ‘completion report’ via email. The report outlines in detail exactly how the donor’s funds were utilised, including pictures, the results of the project, and even GPS coordinates so they can take a look on Google Maps and see the efforts in ‘real life’. Check out an example of a charity: water completion report here.

The results

  • Trust is built. As demonstrated at the beginning of this article, public trust in charities is not exactly at an all-time high. As such, it’s more important than ever to show individuals where their money is going in a tangible, engaging and tech-savvy way. charity: water nails that.
  • So are relationships. Furthermore, the report it provides is personal (it features the donors’ names, the amount that was donated and even the campaign it was part of e.g. ‘Jeff’s 27th Birthday Fundraiser’) so it is likely to help build a strong, lasting relationship with that donor. Those of us working in the third sector know that that relationship is absolutely crucial to survival.
  • A two-way relationship. Why does anybody offer a third-party their hard-earned money? Usually it’s because we are going to get a good (e.g. a new t-shirt) or service (a haircut, a concert performance…) we desire in return. Smart charities know that and roll with it. Through its Dollars to Project programme, charity: water is doing just that – giving the donor something ‘physical’ in exchange for their donation. Charity donors are motivated by the sense of wellbeing they are awarded in exchange for their monetary contribution. This is just icing on the cake and a win-win for everybody involved.

3. Help Refugees - Social media call-outs, pop-up shops and more

All charities, no matter how established, could benefit from examining the strategies being used by the current wave of ‘start-up nonprofits’. These newer charities are fantastic at appealing to millennials and the younger generations through the exploitation of ‘trends’ to communicate their causes. They also win points for their low overheads (a lot of online activity, remote and flexible ways of working, etc.) and big results.

Help Refugees a UK-based non-governmental organisation which provides humanitarian aid and advocacy to refugees around the world. It is the largest grassroots distributor of aid in Europe, a pretty impressive feat considering the charity was born out of a hashtag just five years ago. In August, 2015, a group of friends wanted to raise £1000 to fund a trip to Calais to transport donations they’d collected. A week later, they’d raised almost £60k and were soon receiving 7,000 items every day. What is the secret to Help Refugees’ amazing success?

  • They’re social-savvy. There’s no denying it social media is the most powerful tool in the planet for communicating a cause and Help Refugees proves it. A simple, impactful hashtag – #HelpCalais – and clear messaging about the group’s mission was the catalyst required to elevate Help Refugees from a group of friends trying to do something good to an international charity with tens of thousands of dedicated followers.
  • But it’s taken offline too. For the past few years, the organisation has run Christmas pop-up shops in London and New York, giving visitors an opportunity to interact with items that are vital to refugees such as survival blankets and educational materials, while also purchasing some unique and meaningful Christmas presents too. In 2017, the London pop-up store raised £750,000. Following the success of the pop-ups, it has now opened non-seasonal stores – called Choose Love – in London, New York and LA, where customers can physically see and ‘purchase’ items which represent a similar product or service that the nonprofit would provide to refugees around the globe, such as children’s coats or a sea rescue vessel. It’s a really beautiful idea. Check our Choose Love online here.
  • Crowd-funding and creative solutions are key. Crowdfunding was responsible for about 61 per cent of the £10m income Help Refugees received from October 2015 to December 2017. The organisation also famously raised funds by raffling a sculpture by the graffiti artist Banksy.

The results

  • All bases are covered, for optimal results. By utilising both offline and online channels so effectively, Help Refugees is able to connect with potential donors of all ages, backgrounds and preferences.
  • Again, it’s all about trust. Through the physical act of going into a store, seeing the items the charity uses in its aid work, and ‘purchasing’ them, individuals really begin to trust the charity and its mission. Think about those earlier Google search results – Charities are a scam, a con, and so forth – and then consider why this approach is so effective.
  • Overheads are low. Utilising more modern and creative means of fundraising means that overhead costs are lower than those of a traditional charity – there is no need to pay teams of ground staff fundraising on the streets, for example.
  • It’s cool. Take a look at Help Refugees’ website – the colours that have been used, the graphic design choices, the language, etc. Everything is modern, vibrant, Millennial-appropriate. Basically, it’s cool. Nothing tired or old-fashioned to be seen. There’s really no longer a need for charities and nonprofits to ‘play it safe’ by, for instance, opting for more elegant, more traditional branding choices. We’re in a Brave New Internet World where everything hip goes. The cooler, the better.

Do you donate to charities? What attracted you to that charity in the first place? How does it maintain your attention as a donor? We’d love to continue this conversation with you. Follow us on LinkedIn