Faith-based charities: is appealing to non-religious audiences possible?

Laughing Nuns

Faith-based charities: is appealing to non-religious audiences possible?

For faith-based charities, a common challenge is attracting supporters who are not necessarily religious or belong to a specific denomination. From our research in November 2017, we have been able to draw out some interesting findings that could help faith-based charities think about how to do this differently and effectively.

We are happy to find a general warmth towards religious/faith-based charities. Across Britain, 3 out of 10 people in Britain are very likely or quite likely to support them if it was a cause they believed in.

Interestingly, religiousness isn’t a pre-requisite to become a faith-based charity supporter.

Whilst a charity’s affiliation to their religion is a common reason people give when discussing why they support this type of charity, it is not the most common. When we asked those who had expressed warmth toward supporting a religious charity, the charity’s impact on the relevant cause was highlighted as important with 87% citing this as a critical factor in deciding who to support. This was closely followed by whether the charity helps anyone regardless of their faith, which was chosen as a critical factor by 86%. A charity’s affiliation to a person’s religious faith (60%) or their denomination/branch of faith (57%) are still important factors, but just not as important as inclusive and cause-based ones. 

If people think a faith-based charity doesn’t hold these values, they will be less inclined to support the charity. When reviewing the reasons why members of the public decided against supporting a faith-based charity, we should look beyond the 60% that cite a lack of belief in organized religion as a reason for reluctance. Concern about discrimination/tensions against people from other faith groups (25%) and of certain sexual orientations (22%) were also vital factors in why people have chosen not to support charities.

So, how can faith-based charities use these findings to inform their message?

For a faith-based charity that wants to establish a broader appeal, a universalist and non-discriminatory approach will help reach the highest number of those who are warm to supporting religious charities.

Demonstrating inclusivity as an organisation is helpful in drawing in new supporters and increasing the typically low levels of trust that people have in faith-based charities. Refuting some stereotypes about this sector can help establish a new support base.

Yet this approach may not be the answer for everyone.

Let’s remember that there are not many well-known leading players in the field of faith-based charities - In our research, 65% of the public couldn’t think of any faith-based or religious charities. There is an argument that by engaging in a broader appeal beyond their specific religious denomination, it could compromise an organisation’s reputation as a ‘religious’ charity.

For example, although 91% of our survey sample say that they have heard of The Salvation Army, only 11% named it when we asked them about any religious charities that come to mind. The Salvation Army’s wider campaigns aimed at audiences beyond religious ones may be a critical factor in why they may not be widely-known to be faith-based, and instead for their critical work in homelessness and poverty.

Smaller and upcoming charities with a faith-based ethos, particularly those who want to attract people who wish to support a charity with a religious affiliation or values, could use this to their advantage when seeking to establish themselves better in this less crowded sector. Successful examples of religious-orientated charities that are well known in religious circles but less so in the wider public are Tearfund and CAFOD. These organisations remain paired with their faith-based identity with a core following of religious supporters.

For these charities to become more-established in the faith-based sector, emphasising inclusiveness is not necessarily the answer. Instead, promoting religious affiliation and practices can draw in an alternative, more niche religious-orientated crowd.  

Keeping up to date with how the public views the faith-based sector and your charity in comparison to others will help inform a range of communication strategies.

At nfpSynergy, our Charity Awareness Monitor measures public opinion on charities ranging from levels of trust to different motivations to support a variety of charity sectors. These remain key in understanding the public’s relationship with religious and faith-based charities. Our research can be used to keep up to date with the reach of communication strategies, as well as monitoring success against other charity sectors.

Download our Charity Awareness Monitor briefing pack below to see this research in detail. 

Jenny Smith

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