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Notes from the Fundraising Research Thinktank Meeting

Yesterday I attended a forum organised by the Institute of Fundraising to discuss fundraising research and the setting up of a research body to improve the dissemination and quality of fundraising research.

The main aim was to gather feedback on what the priorities for such a group would be and to learn more about the areas that people thought needed greater research.

There was a good mix of fundraising practitioners, agencies, suppliers and academics and it made for an interesting and lively discussion.

One of the first points that was more or less unanimously agreed on was that there was a need for this body to try and bring together all the existing fundraising research into one place and to act as a sign post for fundraisers to find useful research. However, a lot of work needs to be done on deciding on how to judge what constitutes good or bad research.

Ahead of the meeting people were asked to submit their thoughts on possible areas of research and below is my thoughts on the types of research I would like to see:

My suggested research:

  • Research on increasing total philanthropic giving (not just to individual charities) as studies showing that the number of people donating to charities is falling.
  • Long term impact on giving of various ‘stewardship’ tools e.g. how do various good/bad practices impact on giving in the long term. Would want to do this across a range of charities and over a 5/10 year period and measure various things like repeat gifts, average donations and legacies.
  • Measuring ‘negative’ impacts. What doesn’t happen because of various activities? We are very good at measuring the positives, but what doesn’t happen because someone receives numerous phone calls / lots of direct mail / has a bad experience with a F2F fundraiser i.e. do people give less/stop giving because of these experiences?
  • How fundraisers can (ethically) use behavioural economics to encourage people to give. Similar to Adrian Sargeant’s recent research on donations to a public radio station in the U.S.

It was pleasing to hear Martin Brookes of New Philanthropy Capital say how important the ‘negative’ impacts research was and he emphasised how many people have stopped giving to charity over the last decade.

Of the other research suggested, I would group it into the following categories:

  • How do you improve loyalty, engagement and connection with an individual charity. (Though personally I think there is already a lot of good work in this area)
  • The importance and impact of transparency.
  • How to…guides e.g. upgrades. Lot’s of calls for social media/digital marketing research.
  • How/why do donors switch charities?
  • Donor incentives and motivations. Attitudinal data to giving.
  • Trend spotting / monitoring innovation etc
  • Best practice in various areas (Beth Breeze of the University of Kent rightly pointed out that Sofii is already doing some of this signposting work)
  • Combining data across charities to get a better understanding of sector.
  • Benchmarking data across fundraising disciplines and sectors.


I’m a big believer in using research to help make decisions, formulate strategies and using it as the foundation of a successful fundraising programme.  However, I was surprised at how many people want hand holding and how they expect research to somehow provide an answer to all fundraising problems. It’s important but it’s no magic wand!

I was also surprised at what seemed to be the lack of awareness of much of the research and academic writing that is already available.  It really highlighted to me how important the signposting function is.

Overall a really interesting meeting and credit to the Iof for organising the discussion. I look forward to hearing what happens next.