Brand Watch: British Red Cross, Oxfam and Save the Children

In the wake of the Disasters Emergency Committee's Syria appeal, YouGov's Anne Gammon looks at the public's perception of three of the DEC's charities

Oxfam: part of the Syria appeal
Oxfam: part of the Syria appeal

YouGov's CharityIndex questions a representative sample of 125 different people each day on subjects such as the charities they have talked about with friends and family and the charities they have heard of. The results are used to generate scores about the public's perception of an organisation.

On 21 March, the Disasters Emergency Committee began an appeal for the humanitarian crisis in Syria. It reached a mass audience fast, with TV spots on both the BBC and ITV; all DEC members put the appeal on their websites. Within three weeks it raised more than £10m.

The DEC is made up of 14 UK charities, but we will look the effect of the Syria appeal on the public image of three of them - the British Red Cross, Save the Children and Oxfam.

Syria dominates the public’s thoughts
All three charities do a great deal of ad hoc and on-going activity that could garner public attention in addition to the Syrian situation. Since the middle of March the British Red Cross has undertaken a broad range of activity, both domestically – such as the Pupil Citizen Lifesaver campaign – and internationally – such as trying to prevent Cholera in Sierra Leone. Over the same period, Oxfam focussed itself internationally, undertaking activity around the Bangladesh building collapse, on-going problems in Northern Mali as well as looking at the UK’s aid budget. Save the Children had similar focuses as campaigning to combat pneumonia and diarrhoea in the developing world.

Due to all this other domestic and international activity, it is important to establish the extent to which the public associate the Syrian crisis with the three charities before we look at how the reputations of the charities have fared during the DEC appeal,. Using our social media analysis tool – SoMA – it is clear that Syria was the dominant theme among followers of all three charities.

Almost half (48%) of tweets referencing the British Red Cross after the appeal launch mentioned Syria, a third (33%) referenced the crisis and almost a quarter (24%) talk about the DEC. Save the Children saw a similar number (49%) mentioning Syria but had a broader range of DEC-related tweets (24% mentioned ‘DEC appeal’ and 18% mentioned ‘DEC Syria’). However, while the number of Oxfam tweets talking about Syria was even higher (74%), few mentioned the DEC.

Appeal rode a wave

The DEC appeal came at a time when people were well primed to react positively. The Buzz scores for all three charities - a measure of whether people have heard something good or bad about an organisation - increased considerably in the 10 days before the appeal, although the increase was more muted for Oxfam. In the week before the appeal, the media was filled with stories about British jihadists joining the conflict, suggestions that western governments would lift arms embargoes and a visit by Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall to a refugee camp in Jordan. So by the time the appeal was made, the crisis and the charities were an increasing presence in public consciousness.


The Value scores for the charities (whether people would give money to an organisation) show that the impact on propensity to donate was more subtle. In the last two weeks of March and the first two weeks of April, the BRC saw a sizable increase in people wanting to donate, only  falling off towards the end of the month.

The Value score for Save the Children fluctuated a bit but balanced out as flat. However, while Oxfam shows a similar pattern to Save the Children, the most triking aspect of its Value score is how far below those of the other charities it was, despite a surge at the end of April. This may be due to the low proportion of mentions of the DEC in its social media chatter, combined with the large number of digital donations.

Given the high levels of Buzz around all three charities the relatively muted Value scores for Oxfam and Save the Children are perhaps surprising. However, by looking deeper into the data the reason soon becomes clear: as soon as the appeal was announced, male Value scores for these two charities decreased while the British Red Cross’s increased. As April progressed, the Value scores for Oxfam and Save the Children improved as the British Red Cross’ declined. It is possible that men initially shifted focus on to the British Red Cross and away from Oxfam and Save the Children, only to return as the scale of the crisis grew.


The Disasters Emergency Committee was established to meet a vast array of crises – bringing on board a range of charities with different focuses that could meet any challenge. For the Syrian appeal it is clear that – initially at least – much of the public shifted towards the British Red Cross, perhaps viewing it as a health disaster. However, as the appeal progressed other charities came into play, allowing the levels of donations to be sustained. The next time the DEC issues an appeal all of the constituent charities will again do everything within their powers to get people giving. However, it is likely that the pattern of attention and donations will be different from the Syria crisis, reflecting how the public views
the unfolding crisis.

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