We need to tell the truth, but not the whole truth

In the wake of the revelations about Lance Armstrong and the impact on Livestrong, Craig Dearden-Phillips writes that charities should stop telling porkies,.

In my experience, the opposite is true; charities are usually punctiliously, scrupulously honest sometimes to a ridiculous and self-sabotaging degree. They tend to want to tell everybody everything about what they do, to ensure that communications are faithfully representative of what the organisation does and to educate the donor about the totality of their work – even the boring bits (though I doubt anyone has ever been educated into supporting any cause).

Brands in the commercial sector commonly focus on flagship hero products to achieve a halo effect for the brand – the 501 jeans or the celebrity-inspired range, rather than the everyday staples.

Samaritans doesn’t ask for money to pay the rent or to cover the cost of the phonelines, although very likely that is exactly what it needs the money for. It asks for money to help people in need with no one and nowhere else to turn.

It’s benefits, not features that motivate people – the lives saved through access to clean water, not the equipment needed to drill the boreholes. That would be, well, boring. As  Charles Revson, founder of Revlon, famously said: “In the factory we make cosmetics; in the drugstore we sell hope.” (He also said “I built this business by being a bastard”, but there we are).

The best advertising is a truth well told. In the third sector we have something commercial brands would kill for: great true stories. If we can put a window on the work and connect donors with beneficiaries so that they can see the real, lasting, human impact of their support, we will deepen the engagement necessary to generate the lifetime value we all seek; the income that will help deliver on the mission and make the vision we want to achieve a reality.

You don’t need to know what’s under the bonnet to want to drive a particular brand of car, although Honda showed that sometimes the nuts and bolts can make utterly compelling viewing. We need to tell the truth, just not the whole truth.

Caroline Gibbs is head of planning at The Good Agency