Full article published in April’s edition of Charities Management:
JANET SNEDDEN, deputy managing director of agency AMAZE ONE, explains how research shows that charities have to engage with donors and that such engagement will produce significantly improved fundraising results.
“Scandal hit charities need a strong regulator.” – The Guardian, September 2015.
“Charity fundraising techniques ‘a scandal’” – BBC, Sept 2015.
“A sweeping crackdown on charity sharks who prey on elderly and vulnerable” – Daily Mail, Sept 2015.
This piece is not about charities’ moral obligations. Nor is it an assessment of the degree to which the above headlines represented a “just desserts” following charities’ actions, or an indefensible criticism of them. But there can be no denying that, reputationally, charities have had a bruising year. Irrespective of the justification for that battering, the charity sector needs to look again at the way it drives donations if it is to rebuild its reputation, and protect its income.
That change does not have to be painful. New research suggests that a less antagonistic, less guilt-laden approach is likely to generate sustained and improved results.
So this article poses a very simple question: if you change the nature of charitable engagement, can you change the nature of charitable giving? Alternatively, to put it another way, if charities stop hunting their donors and start farming them, can they achieve better results and fewer adverse headlines?
What is engagement?
Steven Dodds of research group Harvest describes engagement like this: “Supporter engagement is any activity that causes a supporter to invest in a charity – cognitively, emotionally, behaviourally – so that their lifetime value increases.”
In August 2015, researchers Harvest and Boy on a Beach launched a survey, via CreateConvo and ResearchNow, of 1,000 UK charity donors. Each donor supported at least one of the UK’s top 50 charities (as ranked by CBI) and had given to charity in the last 12 months via at least two methods.
Donors were asked about their levels of engagement, their attitudes and behaviours.
What and how we give
By far the most common way of giving was through a one off donation (71%), followed by buying raffle tickets (65%) and mail order catalogues (45%). Less than half of the sample – and bear in mind that the sample consisted of annually active charity donors – donated by direct debit. 32% of supporters said that they had been supporting their chosen charity for more than 10 years.
If this doesn’t exactly sound like a bubbling cauldron of charitable excitement, that’s because, overwhelmingly, it isn’t. When supporters were asked how close they felt to their chosen charities, neutrality was by far the most dominant emotion (79%).
The neutral stance was one that appeared largely unaffected by charity type. Children’s charity supporters were 81% neutral. Supporters of health and medical charities were 77% neutral. Armed Forces charities fared better only in a relative sense, with 67% neutrality.