Last week as I left the supermarket, a young man in a sky blue uniform approached me. Having just finished my weekly shopping, I was lugging a couple of full bags. It would have taken an absolute miracle for me to drop my bags, put my life on hold and listen to someone tell me about problems in a country he’s probably never visited. So I continued walking like the other shoppers before and after me.

It is rare to see a street-corner collector signing up a new donor. I once spoke with a UNICEF clipboard collector who explained that he’d been ignored for three days and could lose his job. The reality is most people just aren’t interested in conversing with a random stranger on the street, especially one who asks for money and professes to be morally superior. Surely the organisations that employ these people know this? Perhaps the street-corner clipboard collectors are on the street for advertising purposes? In their one-colour outfits, they stick out and for only $18 an hour, they're a highly economic advertisement in busy areas.

But let’s not pretend that social awkwardness is the only reason why people aren’t donating through street collectors. Humans are inherently selfish. Most of us need a good incentive to do something selfless, and the feel good factor isn’t enough of an incentive to be generous. Although this is an obvious insight, many charities continue to produce clichéd emotive advertising campaigns that ask us to dig deep and donate out of the goodness of our hearts. Time and time again we see television commercials depict scenes of suffering and a voice over telling us we can make the suffering stop by donating just a dollar a day. Eventually viewers become desensitised to the graphic pictures in these ads and the advertiser’s message completely loses its potency.

Charitable organisations are infinitely more successful when they offer a reward that mitigates the cost of the outlay and compensates the giver for not winning. If charities can offer some type of consolation prize, people have a stronger incentive to give and it’s a win-win for all parties concerned.

There are a number of major charitable organisations in New Zealand that operate this way, and it is no surprise that they’re among the most generous groups in this country. Pub Charity raises funds through gaming machines in hotels and taverns for distribution to grassroots community causes throughout New Zealand. Similarly, Lotto New Zealand donates its proceeds to a range of social, community, arts, heritage, sports, health and recreational activities as well as research programmes across New Zealand. Sanitarium, which is owned by the Seventh-day Adventist Church, donates all of its profits to charitable purposes.

When it comes to advertising a charity, the approach should be no different to advertising a commercial enterprise. The goal is the same - to engage the market and sell the product or service in the most compelling way possible. Banking on the public to find their altruistic self is usually not the best approach. It’s better by far to invent a clever win-win situation. Red Cross’ Charity Arcades are a perfect example of a win-win idea. The gaming machines currently stationed in Stockholm Airport accept coins of any currency and all the funds raised are used for charitable purposes.

The Children’s Museum in Holon Israel houses interactive and experiential exhibits such as Dialogue in the Dark (an interactive seminar on being blind) and Invitation to Silence (simulating the sensation of being deaf). All of the museum’s proceeds are donated to the Blind and Deaf Foundations in Israel.  The exhibits were opened in 2001 and have become internationally famous. The museum is now one of Holon’s major tourist spots and it’s all thanks to some clever interactive ideas.

Whether you’re involved with a local community group or an international charitable organisation, it’s important not to lose sight of your organisation’s main objectives. For most philanthropic groups, the main focus is fundraising and when pondering marketing ideas, this should really be at the fore. Producing emotive campaigns that hope to evoke guilt, sympathy and compassion is not a long-term marketing solution for any charity group.  Instead, the focus should be on innovative and effective fundraising ideas.