No cause is too ‘unpopular’ to attract philanthropic donations

A new report from the University's Centre for Philanthropy provides ten useful tips for 'unpopular' charities struggling to attract donations.

Philanthropic support is a crucial source of income for most charities, especially during a period of public sector cuts. The growing public backlash against fundraising, evident in calls to restrict when, where and how fundraisers can ask for donations, is exacerbating the current difficult financial climate.

However, researchers at the  Centre for Philanthropy – in a report commissioned by the charity Migrant Help entitled Rising to the Challenge: a study of philanthropic support for ‘unpopular’ causes – argue that giving is driven by a combination of donor preference and the ‘ask effect’.

This means that people are more likely to give as a result of:
• being aware of the need and convinced of its importance.
• feeling connected to the cause and personally motivated to respond.
• being asked, ideally in a polite and compelling way by someone they know and respect.
• feeling appreciated by the charity, and gaining personal benefits that reinforce their decision to donate.
• having confidence that their contribution will make a difference to a cause they care about.

The researchers point out that Britain is a generous country with £10.6 billion estimated as the total amount donated to charity by UK adults in 2014 (Source: UK Giving 2014 published by Charities Aid Foundation).

But they reveal that the distribution and destination of these donations is not evenly spread across causes, with medical research, international development, children and animal causes tending to dominate league tables of fundraising success. Donor sympathies are less evident for charities working in areas such as mental health, addictions, domestic violence, asylum seekers and ex-offenders.

The research report provides an in-depth look at the destination and distribution of donations. It details barriers that affect the positioning of causes and their ability to attract voluntary donations. However, the report highlights evidence that the categorisation of ‘popular ‘and ‘unpopular’ causes is more complex than is realised by those who bemoan the enduring popularity of ‘cancer, kids and kittens’.

It also highlights how not every charity working in the same area achieves the same level of fundraising success. For example amongst the top 100 fundraising charities there are nine cancer charities which enjoy a collective income larger than that of the 13 charities serving all other types of health charity. Furthermore, over 99% of the £1.4 billion donated to medical charities goes to those focused on physical health leaving less than 1% going towards mental health.
The researchers advise charities to take a more positive approach to fundraising however difficult their ‘ask’ may appear, and suggests the following ten ‘top tips’:
1. Actively ask donors for support
2. Take a holistic approach to fundraising, embedding it throughout the charities’ activities
3. Invest in Fundraising
4. Re-frame the cause to engage donors’ emotions
5. Empower cheerleaders and friends to fundraise on your behalf
6. Seize opportunities to raise your charities profile
7. Make donating an easy process for donors
8. Properly thank existing donors and supporters
9. Demonstrate and evidence impact
10. Make donors feel part of something special