Friday 26 December 2014

Dig deep, taxpayers

In October, Third Sector magazine reported the amusing news that Alcohol Concern's 'Dry January' idea had been ripped off by two larger charities...

The two biggest are Cancer Research UK's Dryathlon, which has raised nearly £10m to date, and Macmillan Cancer Support's Go Sober for October, which raised £2.3m in its first year. Alcohol Concern, meanwhile, runs Dry January, which had almost 16,000 participants last year. All three are health charities, but the emphasis of Dry January is on abstaining from alcohol rather than raising funds. Last year 10 per cent of participants raised £45,000; the charity declines to give figures for 2014.

"The aim is to create a different conversation about drinking and to encourage people to reflect on how much alcohol they consume," says Emily Robinson, its deputy chief executive. "It's frustrating for us as a small charity that two of the biggest charities in the country are running similar campaigns. They have bigger marketing budgets than we do."

It's dog eat dog in the charity industry and the article gave an insight into how ruthless the third sector can be:

Macmillan launched its alcohol abstention campaign in October 2013, a full 10 months after Alcohol Concern and CRUK had launched theirs. Redmond says she welcomes the competition. "It's great that three charities have had similar ideas and we're all benefiting," she says. "There's enough room in the market for everyone. I look at it like 10km running events - it would be a bit odd if there was only one of them."

At the recent event I Wish I'd Thought of That [a very suitable name - CJS], which showcased outstanding fundraising ideas, Sinead Chapman, strategy director at Open Fundraising, said that CRUK deliberately increased the profile of its campaign after discovering that Macmillan was planning a similar one. "The launch was supposed to be discreet," she said. "It was meant to be launched in Manchester only. At the eleventh hour, in the knowledge that Macmillan was on the same track - it didn't know when, how or where – CRUK doubled the budget, taking it to London and south-east England as well. And the PR machine went into gear."

It would take a heart of stone not to laugh at Alcohol Concern, a state-funded temperance sock-puppet, being squeezed out of the market by two bigger charities. However, you have to give them credit for attempting some actual fundraising after decades of leeching off the taxpayer. Dry January was born after the Department of Health withdrew its funding a couple of years ago, although the Department for Education and the Welsh Assembly soon stepped in with a few hundred grand. According to its accounts, Dry January raised £38,000 in 2013. Figures for 2014 aren't available.

So how can Alcohol Concern compete with the big boys in this over-crowded market? That's where you come in, dear taxpayer. Dig deep.

The Government plans to harness the 'Dry January' phenomenon that has sprung up in recent years with a marketing campaign aimed at encouraging social drinkers to give up alcohol for a month.

In a first, Public Health England has teamed up with charity Alcohol Concern, which owns the trademark for the term ‘Dry January’, to run a £500,000 digital, press and radio campaign, created by M&C Saatchi.

Saatchi and Saatchi? Nothing but the best for our hard-pressed public servants, eh? Apparently this cash will be spent on "a website, Twitter feed and Facebook page offering tips and encouragement to those taking part". Those Twitter accounts and Facebook pages don't come cheap, do they?

This how Public Health England, with its vast and growing budget, throws our cash in an era of so-called austerity. It is happy to squander half a million pounds on a marketing campaign for a project that only makes £38,000—a project that is being run more successfully by two real charities on voluntary donations. And so it is that one parasitic arm of the state funds another.

As I have said again and again in 2014, this pointless leviathan—this hectoring money-pit—must be shut down.

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