It's not you, it's me: the decline in popularity of the children's sector

Children's toy

It's not you, it's me: the decline in popularity of the children's sector

The children and young people charity sector has seen a marked decline in popularity over the past few years. What can charities do to restore a favourable view?
Becca Thomas

A small child, most likely between the ages of five and ten looks out at you pleadingly; he or she is strategically positioned in an unwelcoming room or street, wearing a sombre expression and smudged with dirt and grime. Emotive music plays in the background (if you’re watching TV) and the filter over the image is dark, possibly black and white. A solemn and grave paragraph or voice tells you that something bad is happening and your intervention is necessary.

It would be flippant to suggest that I’ve just described every UK children’s charity advert campaign produced in recent history – but if asked to picture domestic advertising campaigns for this sector in your head, would the images that spring to mind be evocative of this?

According to our latest Charity Awareness Monitor (CAM), the children and young people’s sector remains in the top three most popular causes. However, it has been pushed into third place by animal welfare charities - and the gap is widening as the popularity of children and young people’s charities continues to show a steady decline.

Trust in charities may have bounced back after a low last autumn, but the public’s perception of the overall sector remains fragile, with children’s charities coming under exceptional scrutiny due highly publicised recent scandal (e.g. the Rotherham abuse scandal and the Kid’s Company debacle).

Compounding this, the sector struggles with misperceptions about who is actually being supported.  The majority of the public define ‘children’ as 15 or younger, with 75% expressing the belief that ‘children’ are classified as those between 3-7 years old (despite The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child defining children as ‘everyone under 18’) .

These misperceptions place charities in a difficult position. Using campaign aesthetics that focus on younger children is potentially damaging to the overall health of the sector as older, vulnerable groups (e.g. teens, who may not trigger the same emotional response as young children in advertising) are underrepresented and overlooked by the public. However, generic campaigns such as the one described above have proved effective time and time again; despite a decrease in popularity, most children’s charities continue to see increases in monetary support.

As someone new to the third sector, I understand that a charity’s ultimate goal is to aid its beneficiaries, and money is essential to do this effectively; but there is doubt in my mind as to how many more times children’s charities can adopt such generic campaigning tactics to garner financial support. How long until the public become completely desensitized and begin to question why they are continually faced with the same images despite their ongoing donations?

It may take some time to recover favourable public perception for the children’s sector - but by distinguishing themselves, their work and its positive impact on beneficiaries (of all ages), individual charities can contribute not only to the reparation of the children and young people’s sector as a whole, but better public understanding of the issues faced by this demographic across the board.

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