The tricky task of getting a charity message to men

Charities that want to reach out to the notoriously reluctant male audience need to be creative to do so, writes Susannah Birkwood

Prostate Cancer UK's 'facts of life' advert
Prostate Cancer UK's 'facts of life' advert

Men are a tricky bunch for charities to reach. A recent study by the Charities Aid Foundation found that only 52 per cent of men were involved in some form of charitable action in 2015, compared with 60 per cent of women.

But despite this, growing numbers of charities are putting resources into targeting this demographic this year. Macmillan Cancer Support, the blood cancer charity Anthony Nolan and the reproductive health charity Marie Stopes are just some of the organisations that have launched male-focused campaigns in recent months.

John Low, chief executive of CAF, says charities need to work harder to motivate men to back good causes. "Sporting fundraisers and appeals such as Movember have gone some way towards getting more men and young people giving, but it is clear that more still needs to be done," he says.

Prostate Cancer UK has been effective at reaching out to men through its Men United campaign, which was launched in 2013. Alison Day, communications director at the charity, says one of the strengths of the campaign is that it engages with men in the places they already are. "Instead of expecting men to come to us, we go to them," she says. "Whether in the pub, on the football terraces or the golf course, we've learned that reaching men on their own turf proves an effective method of engagement."

Gaining access to these men has been made easier by the charity's corporate partnerships. In 2010, it began a five-year link with the Spirit Pub Company, which owns 750 pubs in the UK. The chain held events such as pub quizzes, comedy nights and ironman challenges to raise funds for the charity. Prostate Cancer UK also formed a partnership with Millwall Football Club, which included the charity's logo on its first team kit for the 2013/14 season.

Day says this led to a host of supporters coming forward to share stories of their battles with prostate cancer, which proved a powerful way to generate media coverage.

Elspeth Massey is head of communications at Beating Bowel Cancer, which in 2011 launched Decembeard, its answer to Movember for men who prefer beards to moustaches. She says it too has benefited from its corporate partners.

"Our work with L'Oreal Men Expert, the History Channel and Just For Men have catapulted us to places we couldn't reach alone," she says. "A lot of History Channel programmes have bearded characters, so it ran adverts for us in the evenings when these programmes would be on."

Humour is another important consideration when targeting men, according to Day. A recent Prostate Cancer UK television advert featured a comedy sketch that saw the stereotypical "facts of life" chat between a father and son flipped on its head. "In the advert, the son pins his father down for a talk about the prostate and what happens when it goes wrong," says Day. "Men totally got it - more than 95 per cent of 80 men surveyed said they would go to our website as a result of seeing the ad."

Jane Powell, director of the Campaign Against Living Miserably, says humour played a part in the mental health charity's #Mandictionary campaign, which was shortlisted for the 2015 Third Sector Awards. The campaign encouraged men to define what it meant to be a man by adding words and definitions to an online "man dictionary", with some of the best featured on posters. One example was "camanflage": the happy front that some men put on in certain social situations.

Powell says charities that want to target this group should run campaigns that are "of and about men", not just simply aimed at them. And she says they need to respect their audience. "Don't patronise men or treat them as objects of ridicule, or assume that if you put a car in an advert they'll immediately relate to it," she says.

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