Are you a Waitrose shopper? Of course you are. I can’t believe I have non-Waitrose readers. But in case there’s the odd one, I should explain the green-token charity selection system.
When you pay at the till, you’re given a green token. On the way out of the store, you pass a Perspex construction made up of three containers into any one of which you can post your token. Each container represents a local charity, and above each container there is a a single A4 sheet in which the charities can pitch their stories. Their success in doing so is starkly revealed by the number of tokens in each container. Then, at the end of every month, Waitrose makes donations to the three charities pro rata to the number of tokens collected, and the cycle starts again.
OK, obviously to some extent the pulling power of the charities depends on what they do. They say, for example, that to us Brits the most appealing of all causes are those to do with donkeys, followed fairly closely by dogs, cats and horses, then at some distance by children, then at a considerable distance by British adults and then at an even greater distance by foreign adults.
But beyond this, the pulling power of each cause depends entirely on the quality of the copywriting on the A4 sheet. And my empirical observation is that a mediocre cause with great copy will outpull a great cause with mediocre copy by about five to one, unless of course the great cause involves donkeys.
It’s early days for the January charities, but the position is already pretty stark. One of this month’s charities, unusually, goes for simple name awareness, displaying a message which just reads (more or less) UPPER HOLLOWAY BAPTIST CHURCH. This approach is a disaster, with just a handful of tokens (presumably contributed by members of the congregation) rattling around at the bottom of the container.
But the second, if anything, is even worse. I can’t remember what the cause is or does, but its copy has clearly been written by someone who has been working in the charity sector for far, far too long and is now only able to write in the hardest of hard-core voluntary sector jargon. The copy begins with something like: “Our stated aims and objectives are to deliver real synergy and integration benefits on a multi-disciplinary basis, within a defined evaluation framework which offers full potential for replicability,” and goes on in the same vein from there. Needless to say, this cause, whatever it may be, has attracted about three tokens, probably mostly out of sympathy.
Which leaves the third cause collecting about 95% of this month’s tokens, and presumably being firmly on course to collect 95% of this month’s pot. Disappointingly, I have almost no recollection of what the cause is or what it has to say about itself, although I have an impression of something about disadvantaged kids and a visual which is a kid’s drawing. No donkeys, anyway – but against this month’s opposition, even something really unpopular like asylum seekers would clean up with some half-decent copywriting.
I don’t know if you get people wanting jobs as copywriters any more. But if you do, and if the jobs are difficult to get, then one thing people could do is to go and check out the identities of this month’s two disastrous causes, and offer them a free rewrite. If they counted the tokens in the containers on the day their copy went up, and then again at the end of the month, they could prove very precisely how effective they had been.