Charities have to commit a minimum of nearly two million before the Ad Council will consider taking on a public relations campaign.
The posting a few days ago about charity public service ads on hot talk radio took me on a journey through the Form 990 of the Advertising Council (EIN 13-0417693 Form 990). Some of the sights on the trip are worth noting.
Until I read this Form 990, I had always thought that the Ad Council was itself a public service offered to charities. Not so. The organization's primary revenue source are billings for the development and distribution of public service announcements. This amounted to $26.6 million in the year ended June 30, 2005, the most current data available. Contributions are only $6.7 million, only a tad above the organization's management and fund raising costs of $5.8 million.
The largest program expense is a line labeled Program Service Expenses ($19.3 million). My guess is that this represents billings passed through to the advertising agencies that produce and distribute the public service announcements. The Ad Council doesn't do any production of its own, it simply matches up government and charity clients with ad agencies and PR firms who are willing to participate.
The Ad Council had its origins selling war bonds during World War II, and a majority of its billings ($14.5 million) are still for government campaigns. The largest of the twenty-one government campaigns were emergency preparedness ($3.0 million), obesity prevention ($2.4 million), high school dropout prevention ($1.3 million), community drug prevention ($1.2 million), youth voter participation ($1.1 million), and foster adoption ($1.1 million). The classic wildfire prevention campaign (Smokey the Bear) is well down the list at a half million.
By comparison, the forty-two campaigns for charities were smaller ($12 million altogether). The two largest, parental involvement in schools and early childhood development, were about a million each. Here are all the campaigns over a half million:
- Parental Involvement in Schools ($987,984)
- Early Childhood Development (956,694)
- On-Line Sexual Exploitation (857,595)
- Bullying & Volunteerism (742,261)
- Underage Drinking Prevention (722,149)
- Father Involvement (656,484)
- Domestic Violence/Teed Dating Abuse (648,627)
- Childhood Cancer Prevention (637,813)
- Infant & Child Nutrition (572,899)
- Stroke Awareness (522,700)
- Blood Donation (515,117)
The Ad Council's web page informs charities that they will need a minimum three year commitment totaling at least $1.8 million (vs. $2.2 million for government campaigns). They require evidence that the organization has the funds in hand for the first year and a solid plan for raising the funds in subsequent years. In addition, the charity as to put down a $40,000 deposit to cover out-of-pocket expenses and any budgeted expenditure of $25,000 or more requires payment in advance.
On top of all that, organizations have to have local affiliates, chapters, or a network of some sort for distribution of information to the media and the public.
Also notable is the prohibition on campaigns to raise unrestricted funds. The long-running campaign of the United Negro College Fund (EIN 13-1624241 Form 990) solicits for scholarship funding and so does not fall within that prohibition.
All campaigns have to involve a call to action of some sort, so campaigns that simply call attention to a problem won't be approved. The call to action can't involve advocacy for a legislative response. As a matter of Ad Council policy, campaigns with a focus on children are given preference.