We had a sector meeting with some of our Charity Awareness Monitor clients last week and some of the discussion was about how some donors are getting more sceptical about international development being a deserving cause. The recession at home and debatable spending priorities like nuclear and space programmes have prompted many questions about who we should be helping and why. It’s a good question and one that, being Indian, I have admittedly mixed feelings on.
What counts as a ‘deserving cause’ – and why? There are hundreds, if not thousands, of causes that unquestionably need people’s support. How can people choose between them when they have limited amounts of time and money to give?
Research tells us time and time again that people support a cause they have personal experience of, one they feel strongly about and, quite simply, if they’ve been asked to. That makes perfect sense on a personal level for individual donors. But if we step back and think about the big spending priorities, what should the sector be focussing on? If charities exist to provide solutions and not just support, what needs to be solved? What are the central societal issues that need to be addressed and would benefit from an injection of support and cash? And given everyone’s focus on ROI, what is it most expensive to ignore?
In the developing world, education - and educating women in particular - is considered to be the most significant and meaningful way of improving living conditions for people and reducing the various social ills charities work so hard to remove. But what about here in the UK?
According to recent research carried out by New Philanthropy Capital for Barclays Wealth
, three big problems would benefit from early intervention and yield the biggest returns and benefits to society: chaotic families, children with conduct problems and employment difficulties due to mental health problems. The report says these three areas cost the UK staggering £108bn a year through health and social services, benefits, costs associated with crime etc.
The trickledown effect of these spreads to a massive range of issues that charities are set up to deal with, such as substance abuse, poor health, mental health issues and homelessness. The majority of the problems the sector deals with are related through various degrees of separation to those three central problems. So dealing with them could reduce the need for many of the charities operating today, which surely is the aim of the sector – to make itself redundant.
These are complex, difficult problems that don’t always appeal to the general public and require ambitious and sophisticated responses. We can accept and embrace the fact that individuals will give to causes they have an emotional connection to. But the rules are different for companies, foundations and high net worth individuals. They are often willing and able to take bigger risks in terms of the causes they get involved with. Charities should exploit this appetite for broader and deeper programmes when talking to these audiences and demonstrate how their work is addressing these systemic problems.
Organisations working directly within these areas already talk about the devastating effects of inaction. But even those charities slightly further away from the frontline could make strong cases for support on the back of how they’re dealing with the problems and contributing to the solution.
In accord? Not on board? Leave a comment below.