How NGOs can support unpopular causes

How NGOs can promote unpopular topics


Participants of the ASI – Blagosfera media club discussed how to attract donations for issues that are usually avoided.

Who isn’t helped

According to the Centre for Studies of Civil Society and the Non-profit Sector at the HSE, the most unpopular causes amongst donors are those helping adults (migrants, prisoners, addicts, HIV positive people). In Russia, there are also few people who wish to donate to human rights activities, environmental causes, culture and education. The most popular cause is traditionally helping sick children.

Similar data has also been put forward by the project Dobro Together with the Obshchestvennoe mnenie foundation, they carried out a study about helping adults in Russia. The results showed that less than one percent of Russians were prepared to help them.

“We understood that we should make sure as many people as possible knew about the study, that is why we actively worked with the media,” Alexandra Babkina, director of social projects of the Mail.Ru Group, explained. “We started to talk about this fact. People noticed that this is a horrible statistic. And we called for this statistic to change. We started by answering the questions ourselves. The second component in this process was then storytelling. Since the study, we have started talking about adults differently: we have changed our attitude towards the facts and our approach to storytelling. In 2018, the number of Dobra users helping adults has increased by 30%.”

When the Roizman Foundation began to support organisations that help adults, then they faced a negative reaction from the public.

“For every project with adults, we get negative feedback. For instance, when we told the story of an HIV positive man, then we received comments such as, ‘Everything was okay, you supported children, why this now? It was his own decision.’ That is, it’s not our problem, although in the Sverdlovsk oblast there is an HIV epidemic,” Anastasia Nikulina explained, an SMM specialist from the Roizman Foundation.

How to talk about it

According to Alexandra Livergant, the chief editor of Rusfond, in the case of helping adults – the homeless or those with HIV – storytelling really works. It changes the attitude towards people who are considered responsible for what has happened to them. For instance, the organisation Hochlezhka tells the stories of people living on the street and it helps you look at them differently.

But this does not always work. The most difficult and unpopular cause is mental disability. The expert said that people turn away from this topic and it is difficult to explain it.

In Anastasia Nikulina’s opinion, you need to change the delivery of information for unpopular causes. For example, the Roizman Foundation told the stories of HIV positive people which they published in support of one of the organisations. In such texts, the Foundation’s journalists decided to tell more about the importance of the organisation’s work, how they help these people and donations grew. Nikulina clarified that the organisation should directly say why and for what they need the money.

Lecturing potential donors about morality however is, according to the experts, a dead end. It is important that a person feels needed. Propose a concrete action which helps to solve the problem.

Find your audience and the correct tone

In order to promote a topic, NGOs need to first choose the right audience to tell about this topic.

For instance, for theatrical productions with people with disabilities, it is a good idea to engage those who go to regular theatres. It is not necessary to focus on the special features of the actors. Arrange with a theatre about including the show in their programme on the same footing as other performances. The audience will notice at the show itself that actors with special developmental needs are performing. Alexandra Livergant added that it is also important to not write these plays in condescending language.

Problems of violence against children worry parents most of all, but they often shut themselves off from this topic. In order to bring the issue into the public sphere, the experts suggest finding a well-known person who is willing to talk about their difficult past. This is where the so-called Hollywood approach comes in handy, to show how a person became successful.

According to Alexandra Babkina, when searching for a new audience, it is necessary to use not only social media but also other media forms. It is possible that for this, you will need to package information in some other form, for instance a trendy photo project.

When a scandal raises the topic

A scandal can also attract attention to a problem. A few years ago, an article about “blue whales” (suicide pact groups on social media) stirred up the parental community and raised the topic of psychological safety amongst children. Foundations started to carry out lectures, to consult with parents who were worried about their children.

In such situations, NGOs need a strategy. Being afraid of a problem that might cause a scandal will not help to solve the problem. “You need to put fear to one side and explain that there is a way out. Give some simple tips,” Olga Drozdova commented, director of social projects and programmes at the Agency of Social Information.

There is also another side to such informational waves, the topic may be associated only with the scandal and not get to the core of the issue. Moreover, cases where an unpopular topic becomes popular do not happen often.

Charity image

According to Olga Drozdova, NGOs in France do not face the need to promote difficult topics and convince people to give money to these causes: people donate money, because they believe in the integrity and effectiveness of the NGO.

The experts clarified that Russian organisations have also progressed in this direction. There are NGOs which do not need to explain anything since their reputation speaks for itself.

However, participants of the media club believe that all is not yet well with the general image of charity. There are many reasons for this: a lack of awareness amongst people, the actions of fraudsters, scandals about charitable foundations which appear in the media.

“In charity, there are fashionable and unfashionable things. And fashion in the third sector is certainly also changing. It comes and goes depending on the specific external efforts of foundations, the people who work there, how much is written about them, how much they make efforts in PR. As a charity community we are beginning to live according to the laws of the media cluster. And this means, we need to make an effort and consistently maintain interest in us,” Alexandra Livergant commented.

The public talk took place in the ASI – Blagosfera media club with the help of a Presidential Grant for the development of civil society, presented by the Foundation of Presidential Grants.

Mediacentre is a joint project of the Blagosfera centre and the Agency for Social Information. Its aim is to promote in society the idea of charity and social responsibility and the social engagement of citizens using various media formats. One of these formats is the media club to carry out trainings, discussions and educational events in the sphere of communication with participation from professionals from NGOs, communities and citizens.


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