Have you heard that this year’s beneficiary of the X Factor charity single is an organisation working with parents in prison, and that they were chosen after narrowly edging out competition from a befriending scheme for asylum seekers and a project that provides protection for female sex workers? No, of course you haven’t heard any such thing because it’s not true. This year’s X Factor charity single will raise funds for the Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH), the 150 year old London-based children’s hospital that provides world-class care for young patients and their families. GOSH is a great charity, it meets important needs and its successful fundraising is admired by many, including me. But isn’t there something wearily predictable about it being chosen as the beneficiary of this Autumn’s blockbusting celebrity fundraiser? What about other causes in greater need of a boost in funds and raised profile, including those that meet more complicated needs and can’t offer such appealing photo shoots?
Of course, the X Factor is not the only corporate behemoth to pick a less-than challenging recipient for its fundraising efforts. Many organisations look for charity partners that offer a ‘halo effect’ in which their positive connotations are transferred to the company, their staff and customers. But this approach results in the exclusion of many excellent charities from such fundraising opportunities because their ‘face’ does not fit the corporate image, their beneficiaries do not command widespread appeal or they fail to evoke a ‘feel good’ factor.
Particular obstacles lie in the way of charities whose clients are perceived to be in some way responsible for their situation. Research shows that donors tend to favour charities whose beneficiaries are perceived to be disadvantaged for reasons outside their control: the more ‘innocent’ the victim, the stronger our desire to help. So what chance do charities working with prisoners, substance abusers or other ‘unpopular’ causes have, when pitched against fluffy puppies and sick kids in head to head popularity contests?
There are tens of thousands of charities doing good work across the UK, helping all kinds of people and doing great work to support a much wider range of causes beyond the typical focus on ‘kids, kittens and cancer’. Wouldn’t it be nice if Simon Cowell and co recognised they also have the X Factor?