Finding your niche: the strategies for charity sector

by Jenny Taylor

Charities are big money

Brits are a generous bunch, donating over £10bn billion annually to charities across an astonishing 160,000+ charities (Source: CAF). Many of these charities are small, niche and local. However, the vast majority of the giving population (and their donations) support the Top 100 charities:

We have classified each organisation in the Top 100 Valuable Charities into sectors based on their mission, broadly based on the CAF classifications.

We found 20% of all Brand Value (£3.9 billion) is attributed to Health & Disease charities, making them far and away the causes Brits give most to.

Health & Disease charities are dominated by relatively few big players, such as CRUK and the British Heart Foundation. While small brands may have personality by the bucket load, the size and expense of the scientific breakthroughs these organisations seek, convince us of the benefits of supporting the big brands.

Size can confer a sense of authority and expertise, so it’s unsurprising that health charities are dominated by a few giant players.

Nevertheless, there are also some micro- players in the health sector. Whereas CRUK treats all forms of cancer, niche charities have sprung up treating different forms of cancer, like breast or prostate cancer or cancer in different groups, like teens or children.

The second largest sectors by brand value are Children & Young People and International Aid & Disaster Relief at £3.6bn and £2.6bn respectively.

Children’s causes are mainly served by mid- sized or small charities when compared to Health and Disease. What exactly is driving this? In part, it’s related to the variety of what they are offering. Children’s charities are broad and range from developing nations to health to education. Many different skillsets are needed and therefore many charities to provide them.

However, it’s more than just that. Might we actually prefer to help children through smaller charities, with more of a personal touch? Whereas health charities benefit from authority that comes from a big organisation, this may be a detriment to children’s causes.

We support health and children’s causes for very different reasons. Whereas donations to health causes are often driven by personal connections, children’s charities rely less on this. They rely instead on the primal instinct to care for children we see suffering, and this primal instinct is more emotional than rational. We want an organisation who can connect with people and issues on a level which is principally as humans.

Not how scientists might approach diseases with petri dishes and microscopes.

A smaller, more personable organisation may feel better placed to care for these children than big corporations.

Therefore, although children’s charities make up a 18% of Brand Value of the top 100 brands, it is spread across many more charities than Health and Disease.

So, is it the case that large brands win in areas like health, where we are thinking rationally, and small brands win in areas like children and animals, where we are led by our hearts, not our brains?

To an extent, yes, but that’s not the whole story.

Expanding may provide a small charity more credibility and allow them to stand apart from competitors, so they can maintain income whilst getting bigger.

Equally for large charities in fields like healthcare. Although, as a rule people want to be reassured by science and rational experts, when we’re personally affected by something, we want support from something more human, that can be well served by a smaller charity. This may be why Great Ormond Street Hospital (a childrens’ hospital) maintains sister brand, Sparks, which fundraises for research.

At the other end of the table, we have the smaller sectors: Conservation and Heritage, Armed Forces, Older Age and Social Justice, collectively making up 12% of the total Brand Value in the list this year from 18 organisations.

In many ways ordering sectors by Brand Value reveals our priorities as a nation, with that which is most immediate and life threatening most valuable to us and that which further away, either by time or distance, least valuable.

Although these are smaller sectors, they still contain are still some of biggest charities in the UK (e.g. Help for Heroes, English Heritage, Age UK and Amnesty International). Many of these names are synonymous with their mission and are sector leaders.

When we see such consolidation on this basis it is important for the brands serving these out of sight issues to create stories and supporter propositions that elevate these potentially ignored or forgotten causes to the top of supporters’ minds to ensure our extraordinary generosity is used to its best possible effect.

Looking forwards to 2019 and beyond

We look forward to seeing how the nation’s priorities, giving habits and brand sentiments change as we return to this analysis each year.

Jenny Taylor

Working with a variety of charity clients has given Jenny a broad understanding of the charity sector, bringing her multi-methodological research expertise. She excels in weaving abstract pieces of data together to tell a rich, and actionable story.