The Children's Society is to screen its first direct response television advert on Monday in a bid to win new supporters.
Martin Field, director of fundraising and campaigns at the charity, said: "We know, through investing in face-to-face fundraising, that when people hear about what we do, they tend to be keen to support us."
The Children's Society estimates that 100,000 children aged under 16 run away or are forced to leave home every year. One in six sleeps rough or with strangers and one in 12 is harmed.
The television advert, which is voiced by comic actress Julie Walters and cost £35,000 to make, tells the story of what it's like to be a runaway through the eyes of a child. The scriptwriters visited some of the charity's projects and spoke directly to runaways in order to make the advert as authentic as possible.
"We know that our work with runaways is what the public finds easiest to latch on to," says Field. "We have also done a lot of research that has involved asking runaways about their experiences, so that's something we can draw on."
Field admits the ad is intended to pull on the public's heart strings, but says the charity has avoided sensationalising the issue.
"The reality of life for young runaways can be bleak," she says. "Many experience physical abuse and others end up in prostitution.
"But we decided not to go down the route of shocking people, partly because we wanted to put the ad out before the 9pm watershed, but also because we didn't want to shock people into giving us money - we are hoping to win over supporters who will stay with us in the long term." The charity is aiming to attract 1,000 new donors.
Adam Smith, who directed the film, added: "You can be shocking without being graphic. The imagination can be more powerful than what you see. You do not find out what happens to the girl who has run away. We didn't need to embellish anything - the facts are shocking enough as it is."
The campaign will be tested on a variety of channels at different times for two weeks.
- See Policy and Politics, page 16.