Truth or dare: why are some causes harder to fundraise for than others?

Howard Lake | 2 August 2018 | Blogs

Did you know that approximately 97,000 people are raped every year in the UK?
According to my calculations, that’s:

The statistics are taken from An Overview of Sexual Offending in England and Wales, the first ever joint official statistics bulletin on sexual violence released by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), Office for National Statistics (ONS) and Home Office in January
By the time you’ve finished reading this blog post, one person would have been raped.
And these figures are only in relation to penetrative rape, they don’t even begin to take into account all other forms of sexual violence.
And these figures are only in relation to adult rape. They don’t even touch the surface of child sexual exploitation and abuse.
And of all those 92,000, only 13,800 victims will report to the police, and only 5.7% of that number conclude with a conviction.
Did you know that 92% of all rape is perpetrated against women? That could be you grandmother, your sister, your aunt, your wife, your mother, your daughter, your granddaughter.

Out loud

Now say the word rape out loud to yourself (if you’re somewhere that’s okay to do so).
This was what I was made to do repeatedly when I joined the women’s only helpline team at my local rape crisis centre. They said I was afraid of it and shied away from it. If I was ever going to have frank, open discussions with our callers, I had to come to terms with it. Come to terms with the word, and the fact that this brutal, violent, humiliating, life-destroying act happens every hour, of every minute, of every day, of every month, of every year – and disproportionately against those of my own gender.
Rape and sexual violence is the epitome of a gritty cause. A cause that, if I wasn’t a die-hard feminist, would have hopefully never have had to have been on my radar.
It is a taboo that the public would rather not address, confront, or even acknowledge. And that reflects in its donations – my local rape crisis centre have no guaranteed funding as of April next year.
Now this is somehow different to my place of work – Saint Michael’s Hospice in Harrogate. The epitome of your much-loved, local cause, with its solid, dedicated support base.

Opposite ends of the fundraising spectrum?

From my experience, hospice care and rape crisis appear to be at two opposite ends of the fundraising spectrum. But why is one cause easier to fundraiser for than the other?
With Saint Michael’s, there is the local aspect – each hospice is situated within its own distinct territory, reducing competition with other hospices. By focusing on one local area, us fundraisers can target our audiences far more specifically. Additionally, everyone is likely to be aware of their local hospice – if not through a personal connection, then one not too far removed. The bottom line is, this cause is an inescapable fact of life that will affect everyone at one point or another. Therefore, when it comes to fundraising, it could sometimes feel like a more natural ask.


Rape crisis on the other hand, is a different story. The problems here arise mostly from untrue myths.
First, there is a misguided belief that it receives a lot more statutory funding than it actually does.
Secondly, there is also the belief that there is not a huge need for their services – this largely stems from the fact that, many survivors of rape and sexual violence will rarely make what happened to them common knowledge.
Overall, the scale of reach of this cause is considered to be far more niche, despite the facts that I reeled off to you earlier…

Disparity due to different emotional connections

Now these are two very specific examples, and both very quickly assessed, but the essence of this discussion could equally translate to a variety of non-profits – both are on each side of the spectrum.
Where is the disparity here? It is the emotional connection that each cause brings out in its audiences.
And when it comes to charity, emotional connection is what compels our donors to give, and gives them a logical justification to do so.

But we cannot reach that final step without the ability and the tools to stimulate steps one and two.
Now some causes have these first two steps covered already. This is a result of inbuilt emotional connection of those that are already drawn to the cause through personal reasons – they already have their logical justification to give.

How to harness the connection

How do we harness this connection? How do we make our jobs as rape crisis-esque fundraisers easier, and how do we challenge ourselves as Saint Michael’s-esque fundraisers?
The only way in which we as fundraisers are ever going to be able to turn the heads and pull the heartstrings of our donors, is to encourage our organisations to embrace vulnerability.
That is what it comes down to. Courage and bravery.
If we are braver, then perhaps we could appeal to that harder to reach group, perhaps we could expand beyond that initial, traditional support base, and perhaps we could reach those that weren’t originally struck by our cause.
Become braver, more honest, showing your vulnerability, and better at emotional storytelling and you’ve got it – it’s a fact that the brain reacts to stories far better than statistics. I wish I could have told a story at the beginning of this article. In fact, I could have told you hundreds of separate accounts. But I didn’t because of the anonymous nature of the rape crisis helpline.
Hospice care can equally present challenges in collecting case studies, with research suggesting that with some clinical staff being somewhat reticent to ask patients and their families to share their stories.
We want to empower and help the people we raise money for. But in both cases, there is a real fear that we undermine that empowerment with a ‘sob story’, that we ignore the successes…
This is about making an emotional connection. The fact is, it is emotional case studies that connect people to the cause – we cannot start with the solution, we need to start with the need. We need to start at the beginning where the donor is, at the root of the problem.

Being brave

So what do we mean by brave? One of the best examples of brave fundraising is domestic violence charity ‘Refuge’s’ ‘Don’t Cover It Up’ campaign, which you can watch here:

Make-up and beauty vlogger Lauren Luke, who had a large and very engaged community of 455,000 young, female followers on her YouTube channel, posted a shocking video of herself heavily bruised, acting as if it were perfectly normal, and demonstrating to her viewers ‘How to look your best the morning after’, by covering these bruises with make-up.
Only after the 1min 45sec video has come to an end was Refuge’s presence revealed.

(Source of figures).
The video was harsh, brutal, it’s caption shocking, and its content upsetting – but its impact was huge. This was being brave. Emotional. Honest.
Refuge’s campaign shows that we can start from the root and connect the donor in an appropriate manner that doesn’t exploit our service-users.
Now I can’t tell you what ‘being brave’ and telling the truth in fundraising for your charity looks like. But I can help you consider what is stopping you from being so…
Is it the culture within your organisation that makes your job as fundraiser more difficult, placing you and your priorities very low in the pecking order? Upon talking to the Director of Funding at my place of work, she described to me how, throughout a large proportion of her career, she was forced to prove her worth. I’m new to fundraising, but it didn’t take me long to work out that there is a distinct internal tug-of-war across the board within the non-profit sector.
Or is it you? Are you so comfortable in the way you’ve always done things that you’re too frightened to branch out? Have you lost your passion? Or perhaps you’ve never considered it before. If you’re the problem, then you’re also the opportunity.

Call to action

So here’s my call to action:

If you want to change the world – be more emotionally brave and tell the truth. Your truth. Be honest when describing the problem your charity is trying to solve.

That is what is going to turn heads and tug on heartstrings.
And actually, the ‘gritty’ causes often have the emotionally compelling stuff that can be engaged with, and audiences that need reaching.
Use that emotional storytelling, and you can plant a seed so deep that it lasts for the long-term, where it can be called upon for future action.
The beneficiaries of every charitable cause have a story that needs telling – help them tell it. Unlock their emotions, unlock yours, unlock the donors.
Dare your charity to tell the truth and we can all change the world.
Olivia G. Fuller is Trust Fundraiser at Saint Michael’s Hospice, Harrogate.

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