Can you build a community base without using ‘sadvertising’ ?

Post by Dani D Picture of Dani D
Reading time 4 mins clock

Building up the foundation of your charity stems from how you build the foundations of your community. 

You build it with supporters and volunteers who are filled with passion, interest and purpose. They will have similar traits to your organisation's mission and values. They’re important people to have and keep close when growing your community.

It’s clear that the third sector is facing fundraising difficulties. Is this down to the over-use and dependency put into shock tactics and sadness, often known as ‘sadvertising’? 

Provoking sadness, guilt and grief are common tactical methods that non-profit organisations use when creating marketing content but may not be the key to success that they had hoped to achieve. 

Building a strong community of supporters is about much more than pulling on their heart-strings. It’s about finding supporters of your cause who have a passion to help you in your ambitions and are willing to help you thrive.

woman with camera filming people at table

Be clear, not miserable.

If it isn’t clear what you do, what your mission is and how you’re making a difference with the work you are doing, it can be difficult to get supporters on board. The best marketing slogans and campaigns are often the short and snappy ones. Straight to the point without confusion. 

We all live busy lives and so making something clear and simple is definitely the way to grab your audience’s attention.

When it comes to the digital realm you have a teeny tiny fraction of time to get that attention: think of the amount of time it took you to read the title of this article — about three to five seconds, then you automatically decided from that to read through the rest. 

Consumers should have a clear understanding of the work your charity does before they make the transactional decision to donate money and advertisers should ensure that their messaging doesn’t mislead consumers either through exaggeration or ambiguity.

The clarity in what you are looking to achieve will help you gain strong supporters and with much more ease, with no misunderstanding miserable churned out content and without the need to use ‘sadvertising’, just clever advertising. 

smiley yellow ball

Use relatable connections

Cancer Research UK’s ad in 2018 featuring Adyan, a singing, smiling young cancer sufferer who beats the disease and goes back to school touched the hearts of many across the country because we all know a little boy that could have been Adyan.


The advert did so well because of its relatability; people could connect with the story and the work the charity does. 

This is what forms their community, the connection between everyone that ANYONE could find themselves in this situation. Without the charity and the work it does, it’s possible that Adyans story wouldn’t have had this happy ending, and as an audience, we know this from reading between the lines, but the ‘sadvertising’ aspect is taken out and left for the audience to draw to this conclusion.

Advertising in this way draws people close together, it creates its own community. The power of creating relatability is strong and can be done in a positive light rather than a sad, guilt-ridden storyline.

Scientist Ding Li carried out a study in 2014 which won FameLab in Hong Kong, proving that when our brains feel happy, endorphins are produced. These endorphins, along with neuronal signals are transmitted to your facial muscles to trigger a smile! This is the start of the loop of happiness! When our smiling muscles contract, they send a signal back to the brain, stimulating our reward system which further increases our level of happy hormones or endorphins. 
In short, when we are able to make our brains happy, we smile; when we smile, our brain feels happier! 

There is less space in the world for sad adverts of those in poverty-stricken parts of the world. They’ve left us feeling completely divorced from our feelings to those who need help from the charity. People want to see that your charity is making progress and by consistently showing messages filled with cruelty and misery, you are failing to demonstrate how your charity is helping make the world a better place.

man painting covered in paint

Building a community by using real stories from real people which can help others understand and share the feelings of those pictured. Your supporters and volunteers want to share how donations are really making a difference. Previous donors are able to feel as though their donation directly helped a person.

Shock tactics will always have a place within charity marketing. They provide quick and powerful messages to wake people up to your cause. However, using it frequently won’t build you a supportive audience that wants to build you up and help you thrive. Most people want to share happiness and things.

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