What’s Behind the Precipitous Rise in Donations to this Nonprofit?

May 31, 2018; Third Sector UK

What was it that led to a 44 percent year-over-year rise in donations to Alzheimer’s Research UK in 2017? It would have to be the organization’s straightforward Defeating Dementia strategy, which was launched in 2014 to develop a life-changing treatment for dementia by 2025. The state of the science suggested that the goal was ambitious but possible, and so the organization set an overall goal of £100 million in just three-and-a-half years to ensure that lack of funding wouldn’t impede the research.

Ian Wilson, director of fundraising, says, “I think one of the main reasons the charity has grown as it has is that we’ve been very ambitious in terms of the plans that we have, mainly from a scientific perspective.” Wilson says that the organization’s starting point for the campaign was not how much money could be raised, but where they were relative to achieving their mission. “Then we asked how fundraising, communications and other aspects of the organization could underpin that.”

CEO Hilary Evans says that all of their planning was organized around the achievement of a specific goal, one that’s important to growing numbers of people all around the world. “Dementia is the leading cause of death in the UK and, increasingly, across the world,” she says. “There’s been chronic underfunding of dementia research and we haven’t really seen some of the success that has been seen in other, parallel diseases. So, we’ve positioned our strategy towards trying to find a disease-modifying treatment.”

That strategy has driven a number of collaborations that have brought the organization funding and visibility—visibility boosted yet higher with public advertising. Most of the ads stressed the potential to find treatment options, but one featured a little girl coming to realize that Santa Claus had dementia. Many complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority ensued, but the organization was not sanctioned for it.

Evans believes the controversial campaign served its purpose. “We knew there would be a bit of tension around it,” she says. “But we’ve found that, for children who might have grandparents with Alzheimer’s, it was suddenly a nice way in which they could relate to what’s happened to grandma or granddad.”

In the end, says Evans, none of these intermediary successes mean much. “Our success will not be calculated on what we can raise and spend. It will be when people start seeing new treatments coming through…That’s the first and only thing that anyone who has been affected by dementia wants to see from us.”—Ruth McCambridge