‘New year, new you' has reached fever pitch at The Clearing this week as a group of brave souls (or fools, depending on your perspective) have signed up to test the limits of their mental and physical strength through 12 miles of rope climbs, ice baths and electric shocks – that's right Tough Mudder, here we come.
But this has thrown up a difficult question - if we're going to endure the inevitable humiliation and discomfort that comes with struggling up walls, through ditches and under barbed wire, shouldn't we be doing it for a good cause? Well of course we should. The question is - which one?
A tough choice
There are so many charities to choose from, (at last count 160,000 in England and Wales alone) and each one is trying desperately to make a good case for their cause.
After the past few years that charities have endured it's no surprise they're trying so hard. Three out of four people gave less to charity in 2012 alone thanks to falling disposable incomes and the rising cost of living.
On our own, we tend to support charities with a cause we can personally relate to. But if we're choosing together, what really makes one cause, and one charity, more worthy of our dedication than another?
What matters to us
In recent years, the research says this is increasingly coming down to knowing two things: 1) where our money is going? And 2) what impact is it actually making?
It's no surprise really – if we don't have much to give, we don't want to think that our cash is going straight into the pockets of hotshot executives and on expensive advertising campaigns (even if it is the case that a strong CEO and marketing budget mean better results).
Similarly we want to feel that our money is making the biggest possible impact when it does reach the ground. Helping to create sustainable futures for communities by tackling the root cause of social problems, rather than papering over the cracks with Band Aid-style ‘relief'.
Don't make me squirm
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we want to feel good about what we're doing rather than guilty about what we haven't done so far.
Numbed by decades of shocking print ads and tearjerker TV campaigns, we've become de-sensitised and disillusioned with traditional charity tactics. In one recent survey, 35% of people said that ‘over-emotional' messaging would actually make them stop donating. Pulling on the heartstrings might work in the short term. But looking at the bigger picture, building a brand on shock tactics isn't going to make anybody happy.
What about me?
To stay relevant, stand out and gain support, charity brands need to reflect this shift in their approach – making their impact more tangible and transparent, and making us feel good about participating in their cause.
The best brands create a two-way value exchange – giving you something back in return for your donation. Look to the style statement of (RED) products, the social currency of Movember or the incredible growth of ‘one-for-one' social enterprises such as TOMS shoes and Warby Parker glasses, not to mention of course our good friends at One Feeds Two.
These exchanges make people proud to wear their hearts on their sleeve, and can subtly play up to contemporary internet-era trends of self-interest and narcissism. Not that we're judging. If the action yields results then we're happy to get on board.
Just you wait for those muddy selfies – you're in for a treat.
Stephen Lang is a Senior Consultant at The Clearing