The Aid Attitudes Tracker analysis, undertaken by University College London and University of Texas Dallas, has identified underlying perceptions which drive engagement with global poverty.

A social norm of engagement with global poverty

As perceptions change, propensity to engage with global poverty increases or decreases. When audience members’ increase their perception that other people are engaging and that other people admire those who engage with global poverty they become more likely to engage themselves. This perception that others are engaging and admiration of those who engage is known as a ‘social norm’.

A key question which tests whether individuals hold this social norm asks whether people agree or disagree that “Working with others to deal with issues of poverty in poor countries is a worthwhile way to spend time.” In Britain 26% agree, 32% in the USA, 28% in Germany and 36% in France, so in all of these countries there is significant room for improvement.

This driver, a social norm of engaging with global poverty, is an important driver for all audiences – whether a person has never done anything active to contribute to change or spends all their spare time volunteering, fundraising, and campaigning they are likely to be motivated, at least in part, by the idea that others are getting involved and that their participation is admired.

What does this insight mean for your communications?

There are particular techniques which you can use to encourage the development of a social norm:

  • Use an image of people who look like your target audience, or if you are targeting a wide range of audience types or a diverse audience show an image or use images which show that diversity
  • Show that other people are getting involved  – tell stories to audiences that demonstrate that others are donating, fundraising, campaigning and volunteering (as a general rule of thumb a story about an individual, fmaily or team will be more persuasive that a fact about X,000 people getting involved)
  • Messages and imagery about collective action and achievement makes people feel part of a community, or the opportunity to be part of something bigger than themselves

Good examples:

As part of the Aid Attitudes Tracker we worked with YouGov to test various pieces of communications for their influence on people’s perceptions of a social norm for engagement with global poverty and found that two pieces of communications worked particularly well.

Oxfam’s “Together” TV Advert, from 2015, did particularly well emphasising that collective action could achieve results. It showed ‘ordinary’ people in an Oxfam shop and a pub saying that together they wouldn’t put up with poverty and together would work to end it. Interestingly, and fairly unusually for TV Ad’s about global poverty, it also showed people benefiting from programmes as active participants holding ownership of their own destinies and showed British audiences that these active participants as absolutely part of the movement to end poverty. This made focus group participants say that they felt like they too could get involved and feel connected to the real tangible programmes. The ringing repetition of ‘Together’ clearly developed a sense of a social norm for the focus group participants. This ad worked particularly well for marginally engaged audiences as there was no barrier to entry – no high cost ask, no request to run a marathon, or walk 50 miles or whatever. Check it out…

We also tested a few pages of Save the Children’s Fundraising Kit which focus on who can get involved. Demonstrating the effectiveness of Save the Children’s message that there’s something for everyone, communicated through the images and individual stories they tell, one focus group participant said “Whether your skill is running or baking there’s something for everybody to get involved and actually make a difference.” Unsurprisingly, we found that the kit worked particularly well for audiences who were already more engaged and much less well with audiences who were only marginally engaged and who saw the effort or amount of money used in examples as too high for them to actually do something, despite the fact that they were’s necessarily willing to do something themselves we still observed that even for this group the materials encouraged them to feel more of a sense of a social norm in seeing others doing things and being celebrated.


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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