On Philanthropy and Mental Health

13 February 2024

Jane Hogarth is a Director at Solid Management, a major gifts consultancy, where she has worked for 18 years, working with a number of charities in the UK. Jane has also worked alongside some of the country’s leading philanthropists. She is a trustee of two charitable trusts and the interim Head of Grants and Philanthropy at Mind, a mental health charity in England and Wales.

Last year, I took on an interim role as Head of Philanthropy at the UK’s largest mental health charity, Mind. When they heard about my new post, a friend said: “That should be an easy one to fundraise for, given what a hot topic mental health is at the moment”.

This got me thinking. I knew there were challenges that came with fundraising for mental health. What gave my friend the impression it would be ‘easy’?

The stigma that has long been associated with mental health difficulties is undoubtedly being challenged, as more people are willing to speak publicly about their personal battles, inspiring others to follow and, as a result, broadening the space for debate and action.

It is incredible progress that many people, high-profile figures included, are openly discussing their mental health. But is this really manifesting in funds flowing into the organisations working on mental health?

Last year, the NHS Confederation warned that we are witnessing a ‘national emergency’ when it comes to mental healthcare, with services overwhelmed and the NHS unable to cope with a post-Covid surge in people seeking help.

Across the country, charities work tirelessly to bridge the gaps made evident by this national emergency. They provide vital services to those that need them most. Working in local communities, these charities provide well-being support, advice on a range of mental health illnesses and associated factors, such as housing, crisis helplines, drop-in centres, dementia support, counselling, and befriending schemes – and those are just a few examples.

These services are desperately needed. However, to ensure they can continue to be delivered, charities must secure support from the generosity of public and philanthropic donors.

Yet despite changes in attitudes and the ever-growing mental health crises, securing donor support continues to be a significant challenge, according to the Charities Aid Foundation Giving Report. So, what must these organisations do to get the support they desperately need to facilitate their vital work?

The Importance of Mental Health

Mental health transects with nearly every other charitable cause. You cannot talk about physical health, disability, homelessness, or addiction, for example, without making a link to mental health.

Entire communities are affected by intersecting issues – such as poverty, racism, access to food and health care – all which negatively impact the mental health and well-being of the people in them.

The fact that mental health, as a cause, is competing for space alongside numerous other worthy causes may pose a challenge for donors and fundraisers. This challenge may appear complicated, multi-faceted and, at times, overwhelming. It can be difficult for donors to see how their investment will have an impact.

As fundraisers, we need to rise to this challenge. We must make the case for support and ensure that mental health is treated as seriously as other causes.

The Role of Fundraisers and Philanthropists

Many organisations, Mind included, work hand in hand with local communities, engaging and learning from those with lived experience of the societal issues that contribute to the mental health of those within the community. The design of programmes and projects is informed by those with lived experience, better enabling organisations to provide their vital services and support at a local level.

We need to demonstrate how mental health charities contribute to improving the lives of a broad number of people through the services they provide and show that their approaches are informed by those with lived experience of mental health. The first step is within our own organisations. We must take the challenge to our colleagues. Fundraising must be at the heart of organisational policy, advocacy, campaigning, communications, and strategy (PACCS).

As philanthropy fundraisers, we know there is nothing more rewarding than working with a donor to make transformative gifts to projects we feel passionate about. Our job as fundraisers is to be able to match donor motivations to the projects we need to be funded. We must inspire the donor and provide them with the confidence and reassurances they need to trust that our organisation is best positioned to deliver it.

Fundraisers need to be able to demonstrate how this work has an impact on the lives of many, by bringing supporters closer to the work – arguably there is a gap between what is happening at local, community level and how fundraisers communicate this to donors.  

Fundraisers must continue to innovate, seeking to engage potential donors with compelling cases for support, describing the charity’s fundraising story in the process. For this to be effective, it is imperative that there is internal consensus on what this story is, which will involve fundraisers working closely with other areas of the organisation, such as programmes, service delivery and campaign teams. 

This case for support must be be grounded in a clear strategic business plan with detailed financial information; it needs to demonstrate that however ambitious the vision is, it is achievable. It must show the impact a donor can have.  As one person said to me: “we must sell the challenge”. 

Involving donors and prospective donors in developing the case for support can be extremely helpful. They bring a perspective often overlooked by organisations and their own experiences in business, entrepreneurship, and creativity, along with their lived experiences, can provide the challenge needed to drive the case forward.

Without doubt, fundraising for mental health doubt has its challenges. But the potential rewards far outweigh these challenges. This should provide motivation for fundraisers and philanthropists alike. 

Fundraisers must continue to innovate, seeking to engage potential donors with compelling cases for support, describing the charity’s fundraising story in the process. For this to be effective, it is imperative that there is internal consensus on what this story is, which will involve fundraisers working closely with other areas of the organisation, such as programmes, service delivery and campaign teams. 

This case for support must be be grounded in a clear strategic business plan with detailed financial information; it needs to demonstrate that however ambitious the vision is, it is achievable. It must show the impact a donor can have.  As one person said to me: “we must sell the challenge”. 

Involving donors and prospective donors in developing the case for support can be extremely helpful. They bring a perspective often overlooked by organisations and their own experiences in business, entrepreneurship, and creativity, along with their lived experiences, can provide the challenge needed to drive the case forward.

Without doubt, fundraising for mental health doubt has its challenges. But the potential rewards far outweigh these challenges. This should provide motivation for fundraisers and philanthropists alike. 

Key Tips for Securing Donor Support for Mental Health (and come to think of it, all other charitable) Causes.

  1. Start in your own organisation by ensuring fundraising is at the heart of organisational policy, advocacy, campaigning, communications, and strategy (PACCS);
  2. Show donors evidence which allows them to trust that your organisation is best positioned to deliver the project;
  3. Demonstrate how the work has an impact on many lives by bringing supporters closer to the work and engaging potential donors with compelling cases for support;
  4. Ground the case for support in a clear strategic business plan which shows that the vision, no matter how ambitious, is achievable; and
  5. Involve donors and prospective donors in developing the case for support.