Last week I helped out at that most English of events - the garden fête. It offered the full works of raffle, tombola, cake stall, teas, all set in two acres of beautifully kept gardens and seven acres of woodland. Despite overcast weather, nearly 150 people turned up and in just three hours raised more than £1,600. The money will go towards starting a school for deprived children in Uganda.
Community fundraising of this sort is not unusual, of course. Every week there are coffee mornings, jumble sales and a host of other hands-on activities aimed at raising funds for worthwhile causes. What was significant about this open garden was that achieving this turnout and scale of donations was done with no social network activity at all - no Facebook page, no Twitter feed, not even a website.
That is unusual in an era when all activity is assumed to point towards some form of social content. All of the events I attend, from our own NOW! conference through Figaro Digital to the IDM B2B day, assume that social is embedded in all marketing activity. So much so that it actually begins to feel suffocating.
It is only fair to qualify that in two ways: firstly, that the focus of these events is on professional marketing, and secondly, that none of the people involved in the open garden (myself included) were digital natives. To those of us who have adopted these channels, rather than grown up immersed in them, they can still seem like an add-on, rather than the core.
But I still believe it is important for professional marketers, especially fundraisers, to remember that for very large parts of the population, life takes place in the real world rather than online. The twitch to pick up a mobile phone and post a photo or comment is not universally shared or necessarily applicable.
Take the owners of the garden where this event took place. They were more than happy to use their home to host the event and for family, friends, neighbours and the nearby community to come and enjoy their wonderful property for an afternoon. What they did not want was a much wider outreach beyond that relatively-known demographic. There have been enough media stories about teenagers’ parties being posted on Facebook and going horribly wrong to understand that social can also be anti-social.
So fundraisers should beware not to exclude potential supporters by forcing them into digital channels. Including physical materials, such as organiser packs, has to remain part of any charity programme a Comic Relief has discovered, for one. (There may even be a legal reason why all marketers need to do this, such as ensuring equal access for the disabled. If the blind can not read your Facebook page, you need to be able to send them information in Braille instead. Not that the Disability Act appears to be widely respected by marketers or enforced by regulators.)
Further, the individuals involved all had a keen sense of personal privacy - this can be temporarily stretched to allow for an activity like fundraising. But move into digital channels and the risk of a loss of privacy increases. Why be required to set up an online account just for one day’s fundraising?
Genuine charity begins at home - and often stays there. It can be encouraged to get involved and donate by friends, family and community, rather than by digital chivvying. It does not need to tweet, anymore than it requires a celebrity or bizarre physical challenge (anybody for another attempt to swim off Southwold pier?) to open its purse or wallet.
That may not be exciting to a marketer used to the rapid evolution of digital channels and social networks, but it remains the quietly-beating heart of charity in this country.