top of page

11 ways the charity and health sectors can learn from each other

At 11 London, we're big fans of the double act. Wine and cheese, Laurel and Hardy, rollerskating and discos. All things that are great on their own but even better together, much like our own specialisms of Health and Humanity. 

Unlike other communications agencies, we are skilled in creating meaningful campaigns for both the charity and the health sector.  Our privileged position gives us a broad view of the infrastructure and behaviours that exist in each industry, and we’ve realised that there are lessons to be learnt by and between the two sectors. 

Here are 11 ways we believe Humanity can learn from Health, and vice versa:

What can Humanity learn from Health?

1. Keep your friends close – and your competitors closer

A competitive advantage can only be offered if you know what you’re competing against. Health companies know this all too well, and keep a close eye on both competitors and future innovators.

Whilst charities are fishing in the same pond for support, many have not adopted a competitive mind-set. Of course, when you’re working for an important cause, the idea of ‘winning’ at the expense of a competitor can seem unpalatable. However, we do believe that charities can benefit from knowing their competition – what they do well, and where they struggle – in order to better differentiate themselves and understand where their competitive advantage lies. 

2. Have new products in the pipeline

As only one or two of every 10,000 drugs tested become licensed, the health industry spends an enormous amount of money on research and development. Although there’s a lot to recoup from failed drugs, this does mean that the product pipeline is kept active.

Understandably when resources are limited, charitable organisations focus on activity that is proven to deliver. For this reason, many charities fail to give due attention to innovating, developing and refining their fundraising portfolios. But when portfolios are clearly defined, and attention is given to products and gaps at the innovation, test and scale stage, we’ve seen charities make exciting leaps forward.

3. Control yourselves

Currently, the fundraising sector is in the midst of a regulation drive and could learn from the health sector’s experience of such changes. The ABPI (Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry) code of practice provides guidance on all forms of pharmaceutical promotion, restricting the number, tone, and content of communications between doctors and patients, and the industry. However, some of the APBI guidelines, such as those that relate to social media usage, are too vague and have stopped any advancement in this area.

Although the on-going regulation drive has caused much navel-gazing and incredulity in the fundraising industry, the charity sector needs to put its best people forward to embrace and shape this change, and ensure that the new guidelines are of genuine and practical use.

4. Speed up your sign offs

Because healthcare promotions are heavily scrutinised, the companies behind them have developed electronic approval systems that allow simultaneous review and sign-off by all stakeholders.  Although the bane of many account executives’ lives, this system makes everyone accountable and allows for swift approvals.

By contrast, charity sign-off procedures can be a manual and time-consuming affair. These processes can be both disempowering and costly, as individuals responsible for delivering work must continually chase those further up the hierarchy for feedback, which can delay timelines. Streamlining and automating the sign-off process is never going to set pulses racing, but the impact of doing so could be huge.

5. Don’t let procurement strangle strategy

It seems a truism that small organisations want to grow, and that large ones aspire to act like smaller, more focused companies. Whatever their size, businesses work better when they are not stifled by process, and in particular, by procurement.

Ask most health marketers in large organisations whether procurement has made their lives easier and work better – and you’ll receive a two-letter answer. Yet as charities grow, we see them establishing procurement departments who typically view artwork as a purchase, and strategy as a freebie. This might be a gross generalisation, but putting more commoditised services on par with partners who help build your income and shape your reputation is counter-intuitive. We’d love growing charities to continue to be mindful of the value of strategy as they expand.

6. Harness your people power

In an increasingly digital world, face-to-face communication may appear to be in decline. However, there’s still a lot to be gained from a human-to-human conversation. The health industry addresses this decline by training their sales reps in active listening and needs-based selling, to ensure that their interactions with doctors are worthwhile and informative.

We’d love to see charities use their face-to-face sales forces to actively listen to their audiences, and learn how to be even more appealing to their prospects. When the public start to see these encounters as meaningful conversations – rather than a hard sell – we could see real benefit for everyone involved.

What can Health learn from Humanity?

7. Jump into the social test-bed

As testing and learning are essential principles for most charity direct marketers, it’s no surprise that many use social media as a test-bed for creative concepts. For a small media outlay, marketers can quickly identify which audiences to focus on and which creative performs best, and use this insight to inform more costly channels.

This stepped approach to building campaigns has been hugely successful for our humanity clients, and is something we are encouraging our health clients to explore further. The health sector typically follows a top-down campaign approach where, in the name of efficiency and alignment, global marketers use international insights to inform local markets – often at the expense of real insight and motivating creative.

8. Make the right kind of impact

The charity sector has also become much better at measuring and reporting the impact it is having in its area of focus. Whether this is quantified in terms of people helped, environment improved, or political change achieved, the wider community of supporters are kept up to date and can feel that they’ve made a difference.

Investor reports aside, the health sector could learn from this by taking more of a community-centric approach. As corporations are held to more transparent account and CSR, once a pipe-dream, is now commonplace, it’s clear that an approach that values feedback on what change an organisation is really making in society is more desirable than ever.

9. Engage head and heart

Charities are masters of engaging their audience’s emotions around a need. They know that to move someone to take action, heart is more important than head.

Conversely, the temptation with health care professionals, biotech investors, and healthcare systems is to believe that these clever people need messaging that engages their clever heads rather than their feeling hearts.  Numbers, graphs and decimal points may be key detail at some point in the communications journey, but not as a first gambit. And it’s not just creative agencies that believe this – IPA research shows that emotional campaigns are more than twice as effective at driving market share growth than rational campaigns.[1]

10. Find your higher purpose

By their very nature, charities are mission-driven. They’re driven by making the world a better place and by long-term goals that are several steps beyond day-to-day transactional marketing campaigns. This allows them to engage their audiences at a deeper level, and develop a long-term relationship by getting them involved in multiple ways, from buying a humble raffle ticket, hosting a fundraising event, and even leaving a gift in their will.

There’s a huge opportunity for health organisations to delve deeper into the problems they are trying to solve, and although some players are actively taking this approach, many are still at the ‘thinking’ rather than the ‘doing’ stage. At 11 London, we routinely help our health clients go bigger by reaching up to a higher purpose and thinking about the individual patient; in our minds health and humanity should never sit apart.

11. You’re both working in areas that matter most

The more we work with health organisations and charities, the more commonality we see between you. You both deal with life and death; you both trade in hope and fear. You both ask people to make complex, sometimes counter-intuitive decisions: to buy something that doesn’t necessarily have a tangible personal benefit, but will enhance the wellbeing of someone, somewhere.

And to pull this off, you need to engage both head and heart.

Thanks to our rich experience with both sectors, we are more attuned than most to meeting your shared challenges: making the complex simple (never simplistic); balancing the power of emotion with the role of facts; using subtle tonality and nuanced messaging to get different audiences to take positive action. And we’ve learned this: the wins aren’t always easy, but they’re always worthwhile.

11 London is an advertising and communications agency, based in leafy West London. We work in the areas of health and humanity - with organisations, brands or products that improve or prolong life. To learn more about 11 London, please contact:

Matthew Hunt


[1] Binet & Field, The IPA ‘The Long and the Short of It’


bottom of page