THE BLOG
02/06/2015 13:05 BST | Updated 02/06/2016 06:59 BST

Charities - Guilt Tripping Doesn't Begin at Home

The posters which have started appearing on behalf of Motor Neurone Disease Association (MNDA), have incited a strong reaction from the British public - and rightly so. I'd not want to ever disparage the work charities do and the causes they champion; however on this occasion MNDA has over-stepped the line by moving from impact-drive into guilt-tripping.

The strapline reads, "Last summer, I was the only person I knew who didn't do the Ice Bucket Challenge. Five months later I was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease." - on behalf of 'Michael, 34', a forlorn but healthy looking chap in a polo neck. That a charity thinks it acceptable to suggest that not taking part in a fundraising initiative will put you at significant risk of contracting the disease for which the money was being raised is nothing short of offensive, and so far outside the realms of all charitable ethics and codes of conduct it defies belief.

Charities rely on building bonds and relationships with the public to drive awareness, fundraising and sharing of their stories and successes - bonds which are forged in empathy and humanity. People don't want to be bullied into supporting causes, (and, arguably, such 'support' would be disingenuous and short-lived at best).

Humans are emotive, social creatures - we respond well to having our heart strings tugged and to being made to think... part of the reason for the ongoing success of the likes of Comic Relief is arguably how the juxtaposition of comedy and desperation jar - laughing at a Blackadder special one minute, and witnessing Peter Capaldi in a desolate hospital ticking off the dozens of names of children who have died that day from malaria the next puts your happy, sofa-led Friday night into context and impels people to donate.

MNDA have, sadly, misjudged the situation massively. Whether they're trying the 'shock tactic' approach demonstrated by Protein World is open to debate, yet in that instance there was a brand which wanted to grab attention precisely through disruption and front foot boldness. Arguably it got the brand talked about - albeit, much of the time (and in my opinion rightly) for being insensitive and offensive. The ASA subsequently banned it, albeit on health claim grounds, although considerations were made about its offence levels.

The Protein World example is one of a disruptive, body-building brand wanting to grab attention and proactively polarise - those who liked the ad were hardcore advocates; those who didn't weren't going to be customers anyway. Who at Protein World cared about offending the latter? Charities however need everyone on their side, and can't adopt the alienation drive that brands can. They need to drive empathy and understanding, and bring people on board for the long term. They certainly can't play on a guilt trip suggesting that not supporting them will put you at higher risk of catching the disease.

Much as I hope MNDA continues to drive awareness for its work in the sector and its success, they need to take a long hard look at themselves, and the team behind the poster and rapidly retract their implicit threat.