I nearly called this post “Why The Irish Charities Expo Sucked”. But that would be harsh, wouldn’t it? And so negative. The truth is there were a lot of positives about today’s first ever Irish Charities Expo: the charity turnout was good with a lot of effort put in, some fantastic speakers for free, and [initially] a really lovely, positive vibe.
But alot sucked: It seemed to have an identity crisis…who was this targeted at? It was expensive for exhibitors and the footfall of visitors was virtually zero. The general consensus was disappointment, and even some anger.
Charities found themselves paying to exhibit because everyone was afraid it would be a huge success and they would be missing out on easy money. The Expo had said that 5,000 company representatives were invited…it might have been amazing. It wasn’t. It was sad – for some charities they had paid a huge chunk of budget on this and put a lot of time and effort in to it, and it didn’t pay off.
So what went wrong? A few things:
5,000 company representatives didn’t appear. A couple of charities said they counted 4 company representatives. Not 4,000. Just 4.
And why would they come? Why would they subject themselves to a room full of charities asking them for money? Why would they throw themselves to the lions?
A company making the decision to donate to charity is relatively easy. They can do it from their office. They can respond to charities they want to respond to. They can meet who they want to meet. They can support who they want to support.
Similarly, the public wouldn’t want to expose themselves to what someone described as “a room full of chuggers”, but not to the same extent as the corporates. People love charities. And I really believe that a good chunk of the public would be interested in seeing all of these charities in one place, learning what they’ve been doing, hearing the excellent speakers, discussing volunteering opportunities, showing their support, and yes even donating to them.
But the public didn’t show. Why? Probably because it wasn’t marketed very well.
There was very little advertising, very little PR. Social media was not harnessed (the only Facebook presence was an event page that I set up a few days ago). Twitter was used incorrectly. Nobody knew about it.
And that’s not necessarily just the Expo’s fault – maybe charities didn’t advertise it enough, maybe us exhibitors didn’t push it enough.
The cost of exhibiting excluded a lot of charities. And almost certainly it was never going to be worthwhile. It needed to be cheap…or free…for charities. Easier said than done. But perhaps us profit-making exhibitors should have paid more. Or maybe the public (if there were any) needed to make a ‘suggested contribution’ on entry that was divided among all the charities involved. Or maybe they needed more sponsors. They didn’t approach us for sponsorship (That always amazes me! Like the ICTR Tax Back Campaign – they are struggling for funding and they’ve never asked us to sponsor!)
Maybe the charities could have done more? I spoke to a really nice print agency guy that I see from time to time. He was doing the rounds at the conference and pitching for business. He spoke to almost every charity there and then he spoke to me, at which point I asked if his company would make a donation to one of our charity partners. He said I was the first person there to ask him for money.
So What Is The Solution?
I believe this can work. I want this to work. I think it’s a beautiful idea and can be a great thing for the charities, the corporates, and the general public. So how do we make it work?
Well, it needs to be better advertised. It needs an attraction: a celebrity, an amazing keynote speaker, free shit.
It needs to be cheap, or free, for charities. More of them will exhibit (perhaps with smaller stands) and this will allow the organisers to get more company exhibitors to pay. Make companies like mine pay double, half of which sponsors a charity of our choice to attend and exhibit.
It needs to be better integrated with the charity sector. What about partnering with Fundraising Ireland and running in conjunction with their annual conference. Day 1 is the annual fundraising conference, Day 2 is open to the public with the charities exhibiting and speaking. Maybe at a more appropriate venue.
But I’m writing this on the day of the conference. Let me sleep on it. Maybe I’m being too critical. It’s easy to criticise. Maybe there’s a lot more to it. We all want this to work, and I hope this will be read as constructive criticism.