I recently had the pleasure of reading Beth Breeze’s research paper on 'How Donors choose charities'.
I decided to send Beth some follow up questions on the research and she has kindly agreed to share her answers.
One of the key findings of the research was for charities to clearly demonstrate that they are ‘in need’.
Do you have any thoughts on how charities can better portray this in their communications and messages?
I think I'd rather that charities were more honest about where need does and doesn't exist, and cease trying to inject a sense of urgency and 'neediness' into their appeals when it doesn't exist.
Not only would that be more honest (for example, do we 'need' another new orchestra or would it just be really nice?), but the evidence is that donors are more likely to respond to how a cause 'clicks' with their personal experience.
The example I used in an article I wrote for Third Sector magazine, is to float the idea that heritage charities could say:
'Do you like trooping round stately homes, having a nice cream tea and browsing the gift shop? Then join us!'
'We urgently need you to save the fabric of the nation'
I think donors know the difference between meeting needs and pursuing their own tastes, and might appreciate a more honestly framed request.
I noticed that there was decidedly more males than females in the survey. Are you worried about any gender biases?
Also, without being sexist, would it be fair to assume that you spoke to the gent (as the CAF account was in their name for gift aid purposes), but their wife also has an impact on the decision making?
The main concern in my sampling was to reach committed, proactive givers, as opposed to those who describe themselves as donors but in reality just reactively chuck the odd coin in a tin.
This is why I approached CAF account holders, but the down side is they tend to be older, male, live in the South etc - though if these are the backbone of charity funders then they are the right people to speak to!
You're quite right that the named account holder may not be the sole decision maker, and often the wife did chip in in the background, which was endearing and funny to listen to "No dear, we gave up the donkeys years ago"!!
Am I being too harsh in the conclusion that the findings from your study shows that comparison sites, like Intelligent Giving, (which I’m a big fan of), will never greatly influence giving?
That is my current conclusion I'm afraid, much as I can see the logic in providing good information to donors, there just doesn't seem to be the appetite to actually read it or act on it. But I'm open to changing my mind if new evidence emerges, e.g. it may be that people making bigger donations are more likely to do the research. Although recent research from Hope Consulting in the U.S.A. finds this isn't the case.
How do you cut through the marketing clutter? How can you use heuristics/binary distinctions/satisficing etc in your own favour? How can fundraisers get a better understanding of them?
Empathising with donors and understanding that the process by which they make decisions is not only (or even largely) about the charity, but about themselves - their own needs, personal experiences, tastes etc. I wrote about this in a think piece for the NCVO Funding Commission, in which I argue:
“By 2020 the relationship between donors and charities needs to be turned on its head so that givers become the centre of the charity universe.
"As Paul Schervish has suggested, the accepted wisdom that charities need donors in order to help them achieve their organisational mission, ought to be replaced by an understanding that donors choose to support charities in order to achieve their personal missions.
"The nature of this transformation has been compared by Canadian philanthropist Charles Bronfman, to Copernicus’ revelation that displaced the earth from the centre of the universe.
"In this analogy, the donor, not the charity, is the sun around which all else must revolve. This donor-centred universe will be a far cry from the current widely-held attitude that the people with the cash are a necessary evil who must be recruited at minimum expense and kept happy with minimum fuss so they are ready for maximum tapping when required.
"Once the charity sector’s version of the Copernican revolution takes place, the implications will affect all aspects of the fundraising profession.”
Does social media offer opportunities to harness supporters networks to raise money?
Yes, and the reason this works is because people are swayed by being asked by people they know, and by seeing how much others give.
The genius of JustGiving-type sites is the sharing of this information, which prompts others to think "If he gave £x, I'd better give at least £y.
Are you worried that what people say and what they do are different things?
Does the fact that people say they don’t like glossy appeals/flashy communications/free gifts etc, but the reason fundraisers use them is because they work and increase response concern you? The largest and most successful fundraising charities generally have the glossiest comms.
You're right, people are deeply inconsistent and contradictory in this regard. I constantly meet people who berate fundraiser's methods and yet respond to them!
I don't know what the answer to this is - do we carry on pissing people off because it works, or do we change tactics and make people feel more fondly of charities but potentially reduce income?
My interim answer is the former - commercial companies don't worry about annoying customers (think of how irritating many of their ad campaigns are), so long as it boosts their bottom line, and I think charities might have to settle for being less loved but better funded.
On page 37 of the research, you talk about some donors preference for small, local charities. How can small charities tap into the apparent bias towards them?
Small charities should shout about the fact they are small, non-bureaucratic, have a personal touch, rely on volunteers, work hard to keep overheads low etc etc - donors who prefer to support the big boys won't want to support the tiddlers no matter what they say, but those who feel their money is better spent by smaller organisations will respond to these kind of messages.
If donors are so entrenched in their giving choices, then how can charities attract new donors?
As people like Adrian Sargeant have long argued, we should be prioritising the retention of existing donors rather than recruiting new ones.
I once read that most advertising by car companies is aimed at reassuring people who have already bought one of their cars, rather than trying to tempt people to switch from Volvos to Fords.
I think the same is true of cigarette advertising.
My hunch is that charities share something with these sectors, a deep-running customer loyalty that means people will stick with their original decision (be it Volvos, Marlboros or the RNLI) until they're given a reason to leave - so focusing on not pissing off donors is a better investment than trying to win new ones.
Thanks for your time Beth and for providing further insight into how donors choose charities.