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Forget service offerings and get back to selling your charitable mission


8 June 2021 at 8:32 am
Emma Lang
For social services to balance the finances, it’s time that they stop referring to clients as customers and return to their why, writes Emma Lang.


Emma Lang | 8 June 2021 at 8:32 am


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Forget service offerings and get back to selling your charitable mission
8 June 2021 at 8:32 am

For social services to balance the finances, it’s time that they stop referring to clients as customers and return to their why, writes Emma Lang.

In under 10 years, we’ve seen the federal government overhaul its funding model for the Australian disability and aged care sectors.

From offering organisations a pool of cash to deliver local services, to a consumer directed model that leaves our CFO’s financial statements at the beck and call of people seeking the service themselves.

With this now well in place, the NDIS and Consumer Directed Care of aged care services have become the closest thing to a neo-liberal’s social service dream; when market mechanisms and social services become one!

Promising increased efficiency, quality of care and the important ideological shift to “consumer choice”, management and boards of longstanding social services have embraced this.

They won’t be left behind or outdated with old charitable ways. They will embrace the new market model and compete for consumers the way banks and insurance companies have done so well in the past.

But with corporate training-wheels still on, it’s almost got a similar flavour to watching a baby boomer adopt meme culture or emojis in their emails. Somewhat relevant, but too often, slightly just off beat.

Social service management and boards tend to feel safer replicating a notion of corporate marketing and communications that resonates from 10 years ago.

What’s the unique selling proposition for our home care services? What’s our latest sales promotion at Easter to get respite beds filled? What’s our new counselling service to try out, or innovative allied health offering that’s going to transform your life?

Don’t get me wrong. These are all great approaches to generating sales, right here, right now. But they too often come at the expense or distract from what’s actually shifting the dial for corporate leaders, which is, brand loyalty.

With a tagline that sells quality care, or a campaign’s focus on the range of tailored services for you and your family, our social services are quickly losing sight of what actually inspires a community to stick with them through thick and thin. They lose sight of what builds a person’s brand loyalty and pride among the customer base, what keeps them coming back for more and eager to try something new.

The best performing companies have drawn on the latest behavioural insights and neuroscience learnings that show people are not rational beings. They are first and foremost driven by values, a need for belonging and connection with a shared community; they only rationalise their irrational decisions after-the-fact.

It was cheaper. It was superior. It was more convenient. In many ways, whatever the specified reason, these are just as likely to be post-purchase empirical pieces to help justify the person’s gut instinct that ultimately, it just “felt right”.

The best performing corporate brands with disproportionate market cut-through and ability to truly withstand market change have moved well beyond selling the product features of their car or credit card, to selling a community of values and vision that you belong to.

With Apple you buy into a group committed to challenging the system of how things were done. With NAB’s “More than Money”, you join an organisation committed to family and fulfilling lives. And with NIKE you join a group that breaks down barriers, regardless of who or what you are.

It doesn’t really matter what the service or product that these organisations offer, their customers stick by them so long as they are authentic to the values and principles they espouse.

I want to see our social services return to their why; to marketing the community vision that they strive for. So many Australian corporations would give anything to have the authenticity and commitment to community welfare that our charities and social services innately hold.

By definition, an Australian charity must have a community purpose that extends well beyond its service offering and delivers on a community vision. This is the stuff that both inspires our community and brings “consumers” well into an organisation, holds them there and has them return for more without having to fight for a cheaper offer.

Let’s see Australian social services in the aged care and disability sector embrace their charitable origins and refer to their clients as clients again. Refer to their community as community again. And embrace social justice, advocacy and social leadership to reinstate who they are and what they stand for, again.

And like leading international brands, they too may just find that their market cut-through and sales will hold stronger than they originally may have thought. 


Emma Lang  |  @ProBonoNews

Emma Lang is a strategic communications professional for Australian charities and not for profits.

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