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Reckless opportunism versus the dead hand of risk-aversion
A risky though potentially rewarding path? Or shameless irresponsibility?


Ken Burnett, writer, publisher and occasional fundraising consultant.

I almost invariably don’t post a new blog within at least a month of my last effort, far less inside a week. But this subject is a bit special...Carpe diem, and all that.


The first rule of marketing may not be that you should never, ever suggest that if potential customers don’t buy your cause or product you will kill them, but it is pretty close up there.


More blogs on fundraising and communication
Welcome to the Happy Bubble.
Seize the day – on missed opportunities.
How to turn talk into action.
Is it time for Twitter suicide?
The future of fundraising.
Is direct mail dead?
The donor pyramid isn’t well either.
The fundraising dream team.
The transformational fundraising entrepreneur.

The indispensable guard book.
Prepare for the fundraising trustee.

Transformational consulting and creativity.

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Tales from The Field by the River:
Animal intelliegence,
The adventure of the five white bulls,
Rough sex down by the river
Alzheimer's disease has stolen my great friend.

And also a special
from the distant past,
A Sudan safari.



In my New Year’s Day blog, Carpe diem, I was critical of the prevailing tendency among charities to fail to seize potentially ripe opportunities. I hinted at timidity, risk-aversion and lack of ambition. Lots of people agreed with me.

Then I realised (hence this follow-up) that I’d omitted to put the other argument. What about a charity that grabs an opportunity eagerly and then it all goes horribly, horribly wrong?

Of course this can happen. An appalling example recently surfaced in the UK with the unveiling and then hasty recalling of a campaign from the lobbying group 10:10 UK. Supposedly the ads in question were designed to encourage people to voluntarily cut their carbon omissions. But the message in these graphically explicit and now infamous ads was, ‘Agree to reduce your carbon footprint or we will make you explode.’

Even the best laid plans do go wrong at times, of course. Otherwise, there would be no risk. The plans for this campaign though were hardly well laid. The issue here is not one of a calculated risk going against its creator, it is one of flawed judgement and procedures. Click the link opposite to see the ads; be warned, they are pretty gruesome.

I agree with Jeff Brooks on many things but not when he says (see SOFII’s stupid non profit ads showcase) that this is evil. It’s not. It’s just foolish. Extraordinarily and inexplicably foolish, but that’s all it is. Richard Curtis made the films, Gillian Anderson and other celebrities appeared in them. Lots of people accepted the concept without, apparently, objecting to its central flaw. The 10:10 staff were, presumably, swept along in the excitement. Whoever was in charge should have had the sense and judgement to stop the process before any part of it ever appeared anywhere. He or she didn’t. That’s an issue for the 10:10 board. Hopefully, they’ve learned some lessons.

Curiously, 10:10’s series of short clips has already had more than 700,000 views on YouTube. Controversy can get coverage. But in this case there is such a thing as bad publicity, for most of those people will have been left wondering, ‘Who on earth could have been so stupid as to have let these ads through?’

One thing is sure, for all of the rest of us. This aberration is not an excuse to hide behind, to keep our collective heads down, to duck taking carefully assessed risks. It doesn’t in any way justify our sector’s indefensible propensity for continuing with the status quo.

Somewhere between the two extremes is the right way for all of us. But for goodness sake charities, get more seriously adventurous and stop being afraid or unwilling to test and take reasonable risks. There’s too much need in this world for what you do, to accept anything other than a creative, determined policy of pushing the boundaries. And that demands the courage, willingness and ability to continually take appropriate risks. And to be able to justify taking those risks, to anyone.

© Ken Burnett 2011


With thanks to Tony Elischer for pointing me in the direction of these incredible ads. These blogs are my own opinions, of course. I am not speaking for any company or charity of which I am a director or trustee.

Ken Burnett is a director of the Clayton Burnett consultancy firm and The White Lion Press Limited. He is author of several books including
Relationship Fundraising and The Zen of Fundraising and is managing trustee of SOFII, The Showcase of Fundraising Innovation and Inspiration. For more on Ken’s books please click here.


The 10:10 commercials. You might think it obvious that an ad featuring exploding children and blown-to-bits office workers would be a very, very bad idea for a campaigning environmental charity. But you might be wrong – it’s not obvious to everyone. Click here to watch the ads – but be warned, they are sick.

Readers’ comments
There have been a few interesting reactions to these posts. I've only put one up on the site so far, here, though more will follow soon. But it’s an interesting viewpoint, I think you'll agree.



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