Why do some causes raise more money than others?

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
fundraising attempts.

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.

  • Iona Joy

    It helps if lots of people are affected. Fundraising is much harder when few people encounter the disease. A contentious point, but I suspect people can be squeamish about some diseases. Taking the stigma out of Alzheimer’s is a real battle (three cheers for Terry Pratchet). I knew a wealthy woman with Alzheimer’s who wouldn’t admit she had it and so left her estate to cancer, the blind and lifeboats. She could have funded a research chair….

  • Liz Monks

    I agree to a point, but David’s article doesn’t account for the skill it takes to create the market (as my predecessors did in the breast cancer sector two decades ago) or to respond to it, and create the persuasive arguments, activity and targeting necessary.

    It is too easy to say “its not fair”, “our cause is tough”, etc. The challenge is to create something sexy from something really not – alzheimers have done it so well, so have mainstream cancer charities, heart health, HIV and AIDS charities – and there is nothing sexy about having any of those conditions.

    Finally, if the article is right, and that it is affinity that drives support, then the attractiveness of the cause (or the stated lack of knowledge about the part of the body effected) shouldnt be a barrier, surely? If youve lost a loved one to pancreatic cancer, you dont need to be told of the need to cure that terrible disease.

  • Lucy Archer

    I think that a lot of what has been said is very true, however i do believe that it can depend more on the emotional affect that it will or has had on the person donating.

  • Mark Atkinson

    This post raises a higher issue relating to poorly drafted job descriptions per se which are commonplace. Irrespective of the role, too many JD’s are simply cobbled together with very little thought as to what is actually required of the post holder and the linkages between the role and the achievement of departmental or organisational strategy. Spending a bit more time on getting the JD’s right inevitably reaps rewards when it comes to recruitment and subsequent performance management. The key point is don’t be a lazy drafter!

  • Donna Price

    I agree with Mark. I see how it has happened though. Volunteer Management by it’s very nature is often misunderstood from above, and standard JDs are produced, which focus on safeguarding the organisation and all of its policies, rather than aiming for best practice in the eyes of the volunteers. There seems a complete absense in the JD mentioned above. There is a lot to be said for processes and how they help with large events and large databases, indeed I would not be able to cope without them. But the personal, friendly and approchable touch from someone who had not only the organisation and the broader volunteer programme in mind but also the people skills and community care is key.

  • David Lewis

    Much of my work involves helping organisations have appropriate processes. In my view processes are important, both as a means of managing areas of risk and performance improvement.

    Having said that, processes are a tool and they are only truly effective if the people using them understand how they fit in to the big picture and “buy in” to them.

    Focusing on the person is essential -including having people focused processes.