A bit more honesty in fundraising might be refreshing

By Jane Thomas 18 August 2010

A month or so after release, I’ve finally got round to reading Beth Breeze’s (the researcher at The Centre for Charitable Giving and Philanthropy) interesting paper on ‘How donors choose charities.’

Breeze interviewed a number of donors in her report. Overwhelmingly the donors she spoke to said the people that they thought charities should help were those who were ‘in need’, or words to that effect. Yet confusingly, this definition did not bear a strong distinction on how these donors made choices about which charities to support. The concluding message was that, while people say they want to help ‘needy’ people, the causes they support are more often based on issues they like or ones where they have a personal connection.

This isn’t that surprising. But the interesting question Breeze raises is what this means for fundraisers. Does it, she asks, mean that fundraisers should be putting more focus on tapping into donors’ personal preferences in their fundraising material, rather than pushing the message on ‘needs’? It ultimately raises the question of whether fundraisers should be looking to change behaviour, (ie, by getting donors to think more about need), or should be catering for existing behaviour (ie, focusing on donor’s passions and personal interests).

This shift in fundraising could obviously lead to some issues for certain charities. How should those charities that tackle causes which are perhaps less relevant to donors market themselves? (I would hazard a guess for example, that more donors have experience of someone they know having dementia rather than someone going to prison).

If anything I think Breeze’s report could lead to a bit more variety in fundraising. As she says, what would happen if heritage organisations said ‘join us if you like trooping round gardens’ rather than demanding people fight to preserve heritage? People want to feel good about giving. Donors have become adept at glossing over charity’s more ‘worthy’ campaigns. A bit more honesty and a bit more candid approach might be refreshing.