The Aid Attitudes Tracker analysis has identified key underlying attitudes and perceptions which drive engagement with global poverty. As particular perceptions change those changes directly drive an increase or decrease in propensity to engage with global poverty.

In our first analysis of these drivers, conducted in 2015, one of the drivers identified was the the perception that you personally can make a difference. The analysis found that the more that you believe that you personally can make a difference the more likely you are to engage with global poverty or to increase your engagement. A repeat of this analysis in 2017 found that this driver’s influence had weakened, however for engaged audiences -people already doing stuff- the sense of being able to make a difference is still and important factor.

However, the statistics on perceptions of being able to make a difference are fairly bad; in May/ June 2016 67% of the British public, 68% of the American public, 58% of the German public and 59% of the French public believed that they could make very little or no difference to reducing poverty in poor countries.

Improving perceptions of the ability to make a difference is most important for those who are already engaged. Messaging showing how a call to action will make a difference encourages those who are already engaged to do more and to choose between calls to action. Despite this being a particularly important driver of engagement for those who are engaged there are still significant percentages amongst those segments who believe they cannot make a difference; 34% of British, 30% of American, 22% of German and 20% of French respondents who are ‘Fully Engaged’ believe this to be the case.

There are specific techniques which improve these perceptions and increase propensity to engage.


When audiences feel hopeful in response to a piece of communication this increases their perception of their personal ability to make a difference. Communications framed by an empathetic, rather than pitiful, relationship between audience and person living in poverty are far better at making people feel hopeful.


Tangible examples of impact are better at communicating the ability to personally contribute to change. Large numbers are difficult to engage with; using descriptions of impact measured in thousands of people and millions of pounds is likely to put people off unless they are already on-side. Instead communications should show how individual engagement leads to impact at a scale which people are familiar with – a classroom, a clinic or an individual’s life. The connection between the individual contribution and the impact also needs to meet a sort of ‘common sense’ criteria; audiences assess whether the logic made in the call to action makes sense or not.

Choice of messenger

Using a messenger who is perceived as warm and competent, such as frontline workers and experienced volunteers, will also help to improve audiences’ trust that they can have an impact.

A good example for engaged audiences:

Oxfam’s South Sudan Appeal ad’ from 2014 is a good example of a piece of communication which presented audiences with a really tangible call to action and route to impact. Engaged audiences in particular felt that they could make a difference because the ask was affordable, they could actually see items being put into boxes and see how it would make a difference.

A good example for disengaged audiences:

A year after the devastating earthquake in Nepal in 2015 VSO placed a story with the Daily Mail online explaining how a young British doctor was working in Nepal providing care to children and training local staff. This article worked particularly well for less engaged audiences showing them with pictures and first hand accounts how a British person was delivering really tangible and vital care for a victim of the earthquake. The piece will not be to the taste of many in the sector, the Doctor is described as a ‘hero’ and the focus of the story is on the direct care he was providing, rather than VSO’s usual sustainable development approach,  however for audiences who were sceptical about aid and not engaged with global poverty organisations the story showed how a British person could make a difference. Had the story also mentioned how people could contribute to VSO’s work by donating this would also have helped as a few focus group participants felt like they lacked the skills, time and finance to volunteer abroad.




About the author(s)

Will Tucker

Will is a communications and advocacy consultant. He leads partner and sector engagement with the Aid Attitudes Tracker in the UK and works on behaviour change, public attitudes and advocacy strategy and delivery with a range of charities and philanthropic clients.


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