Monday, August 20, 2012

Charities: The Big Get Bigger

That there are economies of scale is no secret to anyone in the charitable or for profit worlds. As I've blogged in the past, what is less well understood is that the positive, self-reinforcing cycle where bigger organizations generally get bigger is far more pronounced in the charitable world than the for profit sector.  For starters, it is estimated that the top one-tenth of 1% (0.12%) of all Canadian Charities receive 37% of all tax-receipted donations made by all Canadian individuals and corporations. So there are a very few very big charities, and many thousands of very little ones.

The news that an Ipsos Reid and TrojanOne study recently concluded that the Canadian Cancer Society and their pan-Canadian fund-raising event, Relay For Life, gained the top ranked ‘Most Valuable Property’ status helps explain one aspect of why this is the case. In the search for donor support, having sponsors for events (particularly corporate sponsors who can pay top dollar for bigger and higher-profile events) is critical. This study surveyed 1,016 Canadians for their impressions of charitable events, measuring:
1. Personal Involvement
2. Creating the Moment
3. Impact on the Cause
4. Sponsor Fit
5. Responsible Management
6. Heritage
7. Uniqueness

That the Canadian Cancer Society runs a memorable, exciting event is not surprising. And, with hard work and solid advertising, given their size and expertise they can attract many participants. So I'm confident that the Canadian Cancer Society absolutely deserves this 'MVP' status for their event.  But when the survey asks about memorable events in a market with thousands of smaller events that may be just as touching, enjoyable, well-managed and so forth, it's virtually a self-fulfilling prophecy that the only the largest will get enough mentions to "win".

Thus, this survey has the potential to drive more corporate sponsors to support the largest and highest profile events, possibly further challenging the smaller less well known events.  Also, while I appreciate that the survey was not intended to measure "hard" metrics such as attendance or viewership, I also wonder if what was also being proven was another variable: most donors give with their heart and less through research. For example, if this survey had included data on Fundraising costs as percent of donations, would the rankings for "Impact on the Cause" have been the same?

In the end, if this survey drives new donors and fresh perspectives to the charitable world then it has more than served its purpose from my point of view. But it may also serve to further cement the pre-eminence of the biggest, most established event properties: the big will only get bigger. To make it even better next time around perhaps a winner can also be celebrated in categories such as "Best New Property", "Best Small Property" and "Best Value to Sponsor".