News in focus: Crime charities left short by public misconceptions

State funding of anti-crime charities has given the impression that they are not charitable organisations. So how can they distance themselves in campaigns to elicit public support too? Dominic Wood investigates.

Crime-prevention charities face a unique funding and image conundrum.

Having relied heavily on government funding, and with crime reduction a top Government priority, how should an anti-crime organisation distance itself from the state so that the public realises it needs their donations too?

Crime Concern, Crimestoppers and Victim Support all receive grants from the Home Office, but the shifting sands of government priorities, and the perpetual short-term nature and insecurity of contracts has forced them all to look for new funding streams.

Victim Support is still trying to convince the Government that it is the best organisation to continue providing its Witness Service, which provides help to people giving evidence in court. Victim Support set up the service in 1999 and spends £7m of its annual £30m Home Office grant providing it, but last summer the Home Office decided to put the service out to tender. After protestations from the charity, the Government chose to let it continue providing the service this summer, and let local devolved, statutory Criminal Justice Boards decide this autumn whether to accept other bids.

Crimestoppers and Crime Concern, on the other hand, have benefited recently from an ever-growing pot of Government cash allocated to preventing crime.

Crimestoppers has received around a quarter of its £3.1m income from the Home Office since 2001, and Crime Concern's annual £750,000 core-costs Home Office grant has been boosted by successful bids to other statutory bodies such as the Neighbourhood Wardens Unit and the Youth Justice Board.

But the price of such handouts is the misconception that these charities are part of government. A recent NOP poll found that only 2 per cent of the public realised that Crimestoppers is a charity, and figures show that it raised just £27,000 from public donations in 2002. This prompted the charity to rebrand this month to reiterate its status. Jane Reay, its director of communications, insists that the rebrand was born entirely from an operational objective to assure people of the continued anonymity of its information line. But she admits that a boost to public donations would be a welcome by-product of highlighting its independence.

"We are developing existing and new fundraising events, both centrally and in partnership with our regional volunteer boards, and there will be further investment in direct mail this year," says Reay.

The issue of branding is a major one for Victim Support too. Last summer, Paul Fawcett, the charity's head of communications, said: "It's proving difficult to persuade people to give because they either don't know that we're a charity because we've been so linked to government funding, or they take our service for granted and don't realise how desperately we need additional support."

The dilemma has inevitably led to discussions over the charity's name.

"We recognise that the 'victim' part raises issues, but no-one has thought of a better one," says Ken Madine, the charity's head of fundraising and marketing. "We would love to undertake research to discover whether our name is a liability or an asset, but we can't get funding to do so."

Earlier this year it did tinker with its visual identity and published 30:30 Vision to mark it's 30th anniversary (Third Sector, 3 March). The report highlighted the charity's financial plight and asked the public to lobby the Government to increase funding for charities that support victims of crime.

But it has almost given up on more traditional methods to attract the public pound. "We tested direct mail in 2000 and found it quite hard to make it work," admits Madine.

He is convinced that the charity's best chance of persuading the public to give is by approaching potential patrons to support the local affiliated organisations, something it has done since 2002.

"People may feel that we should be supported by government, but we expect to see public support too because our £40m total income is nowhere near the £65m we require to meet the real need for our services," he says.

Madine says Victim Support's best source of new funds has been to sell its knowledge to companies, such as offering training courses about correct policies over assaults in the workplace.

It's a pursuit that has worked so well that the first chief executive for its workforce, consultancy and training subsidiary company starts work next month. Madine claims this is more profitable than pursuing partnerships with corporates, which largely prefer to associate themselves with issues of crime reduction than of victim support.

Crime Concern, which runs projects to prevent crime and create safer communities, has benefited most from the Government's increased crime-reduction agenda. Paula Wallington, director of communications, says that the charity's good knowledge of hate, race and gun crime, and its record on delivering measures that allow local people a modicum of campaign ownership, has enabled it to win several government contracts.

"Our support services now generate around £6m annually from competitive bidding for individual contracts with youth and housing agencies, local authorities and the police," she says.

Indeed, this has been the main driver behind a one-third increase in the charity's total income, from £10.6m to £16m, in three years. This has been achieved by sticking to a role, which Wallington calls "raw, unglamorous and frontline".

Yet, it too is aware that it should not become dependent on one source of funding, and chief executive Roger Howard is intent on making Crime Concern a household name in order to raise money from the public.

"I'm sure that we will develop campaigns that will allow us to raise money at a local level," he says. "Crime is probably among the top three public concerns, so we believe it is highly likely that people would donate to a crime charity that could transform lives."

Peter Gilheany, associate director of Geronimo PR, says that donors don't often think about giving to crime charities, so they have to work harder for public donations than those representing children or victims of cancer.

They must also establish the benefits more clearly.

He advises crime charities to carry out a cost-effectiveness survey by comparing the costs of re-offending, to that of their projects. He adds: "Crime charities should use case studies of victims in fundraising material to shift the balance of who benefits from their donation towards the victim, rather than the criminal."

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