Charities: How to raise awareness and funds responsibly

It’s perfectly understandable that charitable organisations want to do everything possible to raise awareness and funds for their causes.  While some material may fall outside of the ASA’s remit, it is important that charity ads are prepared with a sense of responsibility and marketers must take care not to overstep the mark by misleading consumers or causing unjustified distress.  

Read on for top tips on how to stick to the rules.

Always give complete and accurate information

Marketers should be mindful of keeping their ads up to date to avoid misleading consumers about the current charitable work being carried out.  A charitable organisation, who had ceased operating in a particular area, was found to have broken the rules by continuing to advertise their involvement in certain operations.

Any promotions carried out with the aim of raising funds for a charity must not mislead participants about where the proceeds are going. The following specific information needs to be clearly communicated to consumers: the name of each beneficiary, its nature and objectives (unless obvious), what will be gained by the charity or cause, and any limit on the promoter’s contribution.

Similarly, private companies and individuals who carry out door to door charity bag collections must be upfront about the nature of the service.  The bags themselves should not mislead consumers about the company or charity receiving donations, if only a small proportion of profits actually go directly to the charity.  Care should be taken to ensure that all relevant material information is significantly prominent. 

Consider sensitivities when preparing hard-hitting ads

Although consumers might expect charity ads that contain sensitive themes such as poverty, war, illness or animal cruelty, to contain hard-hitting messages; marketers should take care to ensure that their ads strike a responsible balance between highlighting the importance of their cause and the need to be sensitive to those who are particularly vulnerable and may be affected severely by references to it. 

Marketers should be mindful of the tone and language used and ensure that images are not overly graphic for the audience.  The ASA ruled on a cinema ad for a charitable organisation, which contained themes of domestic violence, and concluded that the potential distress that would have been caused by the ad was proportionate given the seriousness of the subject matter.  This case also highlighted the importance of appropriate placement and scheduling restrictions to minimise the potential of causing distress to vulnerable consumers. 

Need advice on a charity ad? You can get free and confidential help with your non-broadcast ads by contacting the CAP Copy Advice team.

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