We all love an underdog story. David besting Goliath, Leicester City’s 2016 Premier League win, or the most culturally significant of all, Rocky beating Ivan Drago in Rocky IV. While the villainous Drago is put through his paces by a team of well-equipped and well-funded Soviet scientists, Rocky meanwhile is chasing chickens, punching slabs of meat, and training in a run-down Philadelphia gym. You’re already humming Eye of the Tiger.
The imagery is compelling (and relevant, I promise), demonstrating the psychological effect of how we perceive resources, or scarcity thereof, on the journey to success. We’re much more likely to root for an underdog in the movies; but how about in the charity sector?
The impact of perceived funding
So, does it matter if your sector is seen as well-funded? We believe so. The average member of the public isn’t going to be as clued in on real world donation figures, relying instead on the visibility and tone of each sector. Naturally, this will affect decisions about who to support, with the assumption being that fundraising will see a boost within sectors seen as priority causes while also being under-funded.
Our nfpIntelligence research shows some interesting figures that we can compare on this topic. For example, we can view the mental health charity sector as an interesting case study due to its somewhat unique growth in the public mindset over the past decade. The importance of mental health has seen an upward shift in public priority while most top concerns have remained relatively static over this same time frame. Interestingly, a lot of the growth of this sector may come down to its perception as both a public priority – a figure which spiked in 2020 but held onto this growth since – as well as a sector in need of funding. Twice as many people told us that they believe that this is the worst funded sector as opposed to the best funded, likely implying that there’s public interest in correcting this perceived imbalance and contributing to the success of fundraising in this space.
How does this affect the bigger sectors?
It stands to reason that the biggest sectors represent public priorities and top concerns, but does this also mean that the public think of them as being the most funded? As it turns out, not always. For example, homelessness is in the top five issues for a quarter of the public. At the same time, the average member of the public is nearly twice as likely to believe that the sector is one of the worst funded as opposed to the best funded. Meanwhile, health and cancer charities, reflecting huge public concerns about personal health and quality of NHS services, are seen by an enormous majority to be the top funded charities in the UK, with 50% of the public saying that they believe cancer charities to be the best funded of all.
Much of this may come down to a simple factor of optics; the perception of homelessness charities’ spend is that it goes to meals, clothes, blankets, and temporary accommodation, all reasonably down-to-earth spending. Meanwhile, cancer charities bring to mind imagery of expensive laboratories and research just as much as they do hospices and care, which is likely to affect the public mindset about their donation figures.
How to use this to your advantage
If your charity has found itself in a position where you have an unfavourable relationship between the public view of your cause’s importance and the amount of perceived income you receive, you may need to consider a change to your messaging to rebalance this. It goes without saying that highlighting the need for funding is critical, but equally it’s worth thinking about reassuring would-be donors about the distance donations can go. Expressing the benefit of small donations, particularly during an economically difficult time, is likely to affect the public’s perception of their own impact. After all, donors are a part of the good fight. Letting them feel like Rocky, doing a lot with a little, might be a way to get them on board.
If you want to know more about which sectors are viewed as well-funded, take a look at our new nfpIntelligence research here.