Last week, Cass Business School published its new Charity
Market Monitor, which looks at the most successful fundraising charities in the
One interesting factor was the differing success of
different charities. By far the most successful sector for fundraising was
health, with Cancer Research UK and the British Heart Foundation occupying the
two top spots, and health charities accounting for more than a quarter of all
It’s not surprising that health charities do well, because
people tend to fundraise for charities which have a strong personal and
emotional connection for them, or which tug heavily on the heart strings, and
health charities hit both targets. But even within the health sector, there are
massive differences. For example the Stroke Association raised £16.7m in
voluntary income, while the main breast cancer charities raised £21.6m, even
though three times as many people suffer strokes each year as are diagnosed
with breast cancer.
Recently, I’ve done a lot of fundraising myself for a health
charity, and I began to wonder why some health causes are more successful than
others at raising money from the public.
First, I would think it needs to be potentially fatal,
because this really concentrates the minds of fundraisers and donors. If a
disease makes you sick, but never kills you, it attracts less sympathy. Rightly
or wrongly, people are strongly motivated to fundraise and to give by the sense
of loss that comes with death, particularly if that death is a painful one.
Second, it should be something which isn’t always fatal,
because survivors make the very best fundraisers. The marathon is full of
cancer survivors who have been given the all clear and understand how lucky
they are, raising cash in thankfulness that they have the strength to run. For
diseases where no one ever recovers, this lack of survivors blights the
Third, the disease should affect the right demographic. In
particular, people fundraise more for diseases which affect the young. Not only
do we all feel strongly for young people cut down by sickness, but because if
you survive a disease when you’re young, you fundraise for that cause
throughout your life.
The next best group is surely middle-aged women. Women
because they tend to raise more, give more, and have more friends to rope in,
and middle-aged because this is the age at which you tend to have the most
disposable income, and the strongest social networks.
Lastly, I suspect it’s good news for the charity if the
disease affects a part of the body that people like. I bet charities
supporting, say, pancreatic cancer sufferers, find it more difficult to raise funds
than those supporting people affected by diseases of parts of the body that people are, shall we say, more fond of. And most of us
probably don’t really know what a pancreas is.