Our report Rising to the Challenge: A Study of Philanthropic Support for Unpopular Causes explores the concept of "unpopularity" in the charity sector, especially in relation to its impact on fundraising. We unpack what this loaded phrase means, identify good practice and present case studies of charities that have overcome perceived unpopularity to achieve fundraising success.
Using media outlets as a proxy for public opinion, we found donor sympathies were less evident for charities in areas such as mental health, addiction, domestic violence, asylum seekers, prostitution and ex-offenders. But representing these causes does not mean a charity cannot attract donor support.
For example, the mental health charity Mind, perceived as the most "unpopular" cause, according to our research, has increased its fundraising income by almost £1m in recent years by placing fundraising at the heart of its communications, working with all staff and supporters, telling compelling stories about people who have been helped and building substantial celebrity support.
Storybook Dads, a charity that works with offenders and their families, tripled its fundraised income in five years, peaking at more than £42,000 in 2012 (21 per cent of its overall income) by reframing the cause around the children of fathers in prison, imaginative campaigns such as inviting people to tweet comical RSVPs to a non-event and a clear programme for thanking supporters. Strong celebrity support from its patron Terry Waite and the actor Joanna Lumley helped to raise the profile further.
We suggest that by investing organisational resources and effort in fundraising, by framing the cause to maximise sympathy and minimise concerns about beneficiary culpability, and by avoiding the unintended negative consequences of labelling themselves as "unpopular", no charity need assume it is destined to languish at the bottom of the fundraising league tables.
Find the report at: https://www.kent.ac.uk/sspssr/philanthropy/whatwedo/research.html.
Alison Body is a research associate at the School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research at the University of Kent