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Ethical firms are treading on charities’ toes

November 2008

Charities may soon have to compete with companies for the ethical high ground, a third sector fundraising specialist has said.

Alan Clayton, a well-known figure in charity funding, told last month’s International Fundraising Congress in the Netherlands that charities will have to learn to re-engage with today’s consumers, who often view buying ethical products as the equivalent of charity giving.

Clayton – who is director of The Good Agency, a charity sector marketing and communications consultancy, and a specialist in the study of what motivates donors – said this may soon lead to direct competition with companies offering ethical products and services.

Clayton told the 800 congress delegates: ‘I recently went on a train journey and I counted 21 ads for making the world a better place, but only one was for a charity. The rest were all from companies who offer their consumers the chance to do good through their products, whether it’s buying cruelty-free animal products or driving a hybrid car.’

Clayton said he had no problem with companies making ethical claims in their marketing, but added: ‘Charities offer the chance to change the world and feel good about yourself for doing it. Companies tell consumers they can change the world and have something good, something tangible, for themselves into the bargain.’

He said that consequently ‘ethical’ companies were increasingly in the driving seat and that charities will have to keep up with them – possibly by matching businesses in offering ‘product experiences’. For example, a development charity such as ActionAid could provide ‘ethical’ holidays in competition with travel businesses.

‘Ethical companies are changing the nature of “goodness”, and charities will have to keep up with them,’  said Clayton.




Alan Clayton | Global | Corporate Strategy

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