Facts and Figures - Public's Favourite Causes 2016

nfpSynergy facts and figures

Facts and Figures - Public's Favourite Causes 2016

What is the most popular cause in the UK? Which cause attracts the largest proportion of individual donations? Discover answers to these and more questions in this free report.
Megan Williams and Zoe Carmichael, September 2016

Key Facts

  • Cancer continues to be the favourite cause across all age groups.
  • Older people are more likely to support causes that affect older people, while young people are more likely to support children and young person’s charities.
  • Children and young people are the public’s third most popular cause, and have surpassed medical research to attract the largest proportion of individual donations since 2015.  
  • Support for homelessness and social welfare causes has increased significantly over the last 10 years. 


Through asking the public what their favourite causes are each year, we identify which causes are most popular. Over the past 6 years, the top 5 causes have remained unchanged; however, other causes are constantly rising in popularity, such as the UK Armed Forces. Interestingly, the most popular causes do not necessarily attract the largest amount of donation per person. This report aims to give insight into the popularity of various causes, and consider the views of key demographic groups.

Cancer remains the favourite cause

As chart 1 (below) shows, nearly half (48%) of the public selected cancer as their favourite cause, followed by animals (34%) and then children and young people (29%).

Chart 1: “When you think about your favourite charities, which category do they fall into?” (respondents were able to select multiple categories)


public's favourite causes 2016 nfpsynergy

Cancer remains the public’s favourite cause. In fact, the top 5 favourite causes have remained the same since 2010. The proportion of people naming armed forces as their favourite cause continues to rise. The 4 least favourite causes have remained the same as July 2015.

Homelessness and social welfare is becoming a more popular cause

Looking at ten year trends, homelessness and social welfare have increased in popularity, rising from 12% in 2007, to 16% in 2016. This increase in popularity correlates with a rise in homelessness since 2010 and a surge in media coverage of food waste and hunger, both of which could have led to greater awareness of social welfare issues. The high level of austerity following the 2008 financial crisis and a subsequent reduction in social welfare provision under the current Conservative Government has meant that homelessness and social welfare have become pressing issues in the UK. For example - over half of all homelessness services have had their funding cut in the last 5 years despite a rise in homelessness. This is likely to explain the rise in popularity of these causes.

Interestingly, our data shows that young people are more likely to favour homelessness and social welfare causes than older generations. Young people as a demographic are particularly affected by homelessness and other social welfare issues, with a disproportionate number of young people being homeless or unemployed. This can help to explain why they are interested in supporting this cause. In addition, our data revealed that people from London are much more likely to support homelessness and social welfare causes than those in other areas of the UK. Again, people living in London have a greater exposure to homelessness, as rates are amongst some of the highest in the country.

Older people are more likely to have a favourite charity

The number of people who do not have a favourite charity has remained at around 1 in 10 over the last ten years. This is low, and demonstrates the importance and value of charities promoting their causes to the general public. Our data reveals that older people are more likely to have a favourite charity as opposed to 16-24 year olds, which suggests that charities could benefit from promoting awareness about their cause amongst this younger demographic.

Our 2016 data reveals that most causes are fairly equal in popularity amongst males and females, with 2 notable exceptions. Both male and females picked the same top three causes (cancer, animals and children and young people); however, the data reveals that men are slightly more likely to favour armed forces causes. 21% of men picked armed forces causes, as opposed to only 17% of women. In addition, women continue to be far more likely to favour animal charities than men (40% and 28% respectively).

Social grade and household income do not seem to have much of an effect on people’s choices of favourite charities, nor does political opinion. 

Over 65s are most likely to support older people’s charities

As we found last year, different age groups tend to support different charities, with the biggest differences found between the youngest and oldest sections of society. Whilst cancer is the most popular cause across all age groups, 32% of 16-24 year olds picked children and young people as a favourite cause, whereas only 21% of over 65s chose this cause. In contrast, over 65s are more likely to favour causes that support people above the age of 16-24 (20% and 15% respectively).

Despite being the most popular cause, cancer does not attract the largest proportion of individual donations

As highlighted in last year’s Facts and Figures report, the public do not necessarily donate the largest amount of money to their favourite causes. Despite cancer being the most popular cause by far, it does not attract the largest proportion of public donations; the cause that attracts the most individual donations is children and young people (30%), ahead of medical research this year (29%) for the first time. This is despite a decline in popularity of children and young people’s charities, replaced by animal welfare as the second most popular cause (see Figure 1). Our recent blog suggests this could be linked to recent scandals and misperceptions about the age groups that children’s charities support.

That said, the top five favourite causes (cancer, animals, children and young people, hospices, and health and medical (excluding cancer)) received the highest proportion of individual donations in 2015. Individual giving is an important source of income for charities, with 2 in 3 people giving to charity in 2015.

Figure 1: Favourite causes, change 2011-2016

children and young people favourite causes 2016

The top charities receiving the overall highest value of donations are still medical research and cancer

Children’s causes have received the highest proportion of individual donations – however, medical research charities still dominate. Out of the top 10 charities that received the highest amount of voluntary income in 2015, only one was a children’s cause. This shows that donations aside from individual giving, such as corporate gifts, are also very important in shaping which charities receive the most income. This research highlights the need for charities to appeal to both the public and corporations to receive as much as they can in donations.

Add new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.