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Australian charity survey reveals some home truths. Then again…

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Global marketing researchers Millward Brown has released the Australian Charity Perceptions Report 2012 summarising the responses of 1000 Australian adults on matters charitable. 

We have no insight into the methodology or sample quality and hold no doubt that Millward Brown is a serious operation but we do have some points about this and similar surveys: #1 responses received are hugely dependent on how questions are asked. Take this finding:

charities ranked by importance

Some stuff people said about charities when asked.

Respondents were asked to rate the importance of 12 types of charitable organisations. Top of the list: disaster relief. Lowest: sport. Environment also ranks in the lower half. In a way this makes sense – we see coverage of a disaster on TV, we can swiftly donate and know that the money is turned into blankets, canned food, tents and the like. This is ‘old fashioned’ relatively simple-to-understand charity category.

But would disaster relief have ranked so highly and environment so poorly if the question was posed this way:

Which type of charity is more important: one that makes a difference in the long-term or one that helps intensely for a brief period and goes away?

Would sport have failed so miserably if the question was posed in this way:

Is this this type of charity important: One that uses sport to reduce childhood obesity, give kids something to do, find future champions and intergrate new arrivals into our Australian way of life? Hell yes – where can I donate?

Top 10 charities in Australia

Household charity names.

So which Australian charity brands are the best known – or at least fastest to be recalled? As you’ll see on the left, all the usual charity suspects are there. All are big, most are old, all are huge communicators and only Greenpeace would consistently divide opinion on its merits.


#2 Survey respondents the world over are endlessly cute with the truth.

One key ‘finding’ is that 67% of respondents claim to prefer supporting Australian charities. Oh dear. Ask any Australian if they would choose an Australian product in any category over a foreign competitor and they always say YES. (Greeks, Turkmenistanis and Bhutanese fib just the same when surveyed.)

Of course this is bollocks – ask the good people who once worked at Ford, SPC, The Age, AWA, QANTAS, Holden, Billabong et al who are all victims to the harsh realities of life as opposed to the quaint theory of Surveytown. This finding should be served with a mandatory pinch of salt – Australian made of course.

The gap between people’s responses and their behavior is in fact a GULF. If people acted as they say they do when surveyed, the nonprofit sector would be out of business and we’d all be drinking daiquiris by the pool.

Why do researchers and media continue to portray survey results as if they are predictors of the future?

No doubt some charities will do well by flying the Australian flag at all opportunities – particularly those with intrinsically Australian missions such as Royal Flying Doctors Service or Bush Heritage Australia. However other charities may do better to map out less populated territory.

And here’s something to consider when pushing ‘Australian’ as a key brand value: in the last 20 years we’ve seen the rise of a new, dumb brand of national pride. It’s all flag capes and “oi, oi, oi”. Many people feel this is too nationalistic, jingoistic and aggressive. It’s certainly not sophisticated and there may well be an overlap with people who prefer sophisticated brand values and people with money to donate. Just a thought.

#3 Australians are not particularly knowledgable about charities and nonprofits. Could they even explain the difference between the two terms? Most could not. So how can they judge which charities are reputable or effective? Most can’t.

ronald mcdonald house

One proud Mayor. Perhaps Hootville should sister-city with his town.

Goodness – they ranked Ronald McDonald House #3 in the category for large and / or global charities that are “Good at raising awareness for an important cause”. Fine though RMH is, does it really belong there? Ronald McDonald House also scored #3 in the “Help the most people” category for large and / or global charities. Quit clowning around respondents!

We think that this shows the benefit of large mainstream advertising budgets. Most of the most recognised brands are heavy advertisers.

Whether or not the public’s views are well informed is of course, largely irrelevant – perceptions rule. 


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