A Healthy Audience: does the number of sufferers equate to income when it comes to medical conditions or disability?

Research for our new report, ‘A Healthy Audience’, looks at the relationship between the number of people with a particular medical condition or disability and the size of the largest charity supporting those affected. Here are some interesting nuggets from the report.

Research for our new report, ‘A Healthy Audience’, looks at the relationship between the number of people with a particular medical condition or disability and the size of the largest charity supporting those affected. Here are some interesting nuggets from the report.

Some conditions have millions of sufferers*

There are 34 million people with high cholesterol, 17 million with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or other digestive conditions and 16 million with high blood pressure to name but a few of those with high numbers. Indeed, the report identifies 15 conditions with over five million sufferers.

Some conditions have just a handful of sufferers

At the other end of the scale, there are many conditions with just a few thousand (or even a few hundred) sufferers. Rett Syndrome has 2,500, while there are 2,200 teenagers and 1600 children with cancer. There are many more conditions that our study does not include.

The size of charities supporting the conditions varies enormously

The smallest charity in our study had a turnover of £316,000 and the largest a turnover of nearly £500 million; a 1000-fold difference. More interesting (and saddening) is that two of the three most prevalent conditions (back pain and IBS) had two of the smallest charities, National Back Pain Association and CORE, in our study. The third smallest was the Migraine Trust, tasked with supporting eight million sufferers.

There is no simple relationship between numbers of sufferers and size of charity

Any charity that hoped that sheer numbers of people with a condition would guarantee them an income will be disappointed when they see the results. There is no simple linear relationship between the two; more people does not equal more money. There is a non-linear relationship showing that conditions with an intermediate prevalence do best. This is a sort of Goldilocks relationship; those with not too many and not too few tend to do the best financially.

Income per person with a condition

So we did the maths and worked out the income per person for each condition in our study. The differences are eye-watering, truly eye-watering. The lowest income per person was 2p and the highest was £13,000, a difference of £650,000. Not surprisingly, it is cancer in children and teenagers that raise the most, followed by motor neurone disease and cystic fibrosis. At the other end of the scale, conditions like back pain and IBS raise very little per person

Explaining the differences in income per person

We can’t explain all the differences in our figures. There are some patterns that we can tease out:

  • Cancer has an emotional pulling power all of its own. People support cancer charities and are moved by cancer in a way unlike any other condition
  • Children and young people move people as well. Deaf children do better than deaf adults. So children with cancer combine two very powerful emotional forces

We can explain who does well more easily than who does less well. The economic arguments of the impact of back pain, IBS or migraines are compelling, as the human cost is strong. However, these conditions are often invisible. The reason these charities fare less well financially is perhaps that they have millions of sufferers, but not many people die.

Is the number of people who die from a condition important then?

Intuitively, it would seem that the number of people who die from a condition must be important. But things aren’t that simple. We found no significant correlation between mortality rate and income per person. So while cancers tend to have a high mortality rate, children and teenager cancer sufferers have a better survival rate than many other conditions. It may be the perception that people may die, rather than the reality. And of course, for many of these conditions nobody dies at all, but the income per person still varies enormously.

What else might explain our findings?

Levels of income from government or government-funded research or the standards of treatment from the NHS might also explain our findings, but we have not been able to research these variables.

Six things charities should do to maximise support

  1. Identify their case for support – why do they need people’s help?
  2. Identify key audiences – is income likely to come from sufferers, their families or the wider public?
  3. Work out the mechanisms for support – the way that somebody supports a charity should tie in with our first two points
  4. Copying other charities is often a good way to test new ideas about what works and what doesn’t - though jumping on the bandwagon may not be
  5. Raise your profile - if nobody hears anything about a condition, it’s not surprising if it raises little money. Great comms is the midwife of great fundraising
  6. Be ambitious - trustees and staff need to be hungry for growth and change. Without that, nothing is possible

It would be easy to look at some of the data from our research and become despondent about how little a charity raises for a cause. We see it as the opposite. There is little that is pre-determined about the size of charities. There are those with low and high numbers of sufferers that do well. There are those with low and high mortality rates doing well.

The potential for charities that support medical conditions or disabilities to do more and do better is huge, and the role models they have to learn from are numerous.

You can download the full report for free here.


*We know sufferer is not an ideal term, but it serves as a useful shorthand



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