A boost for impact-based giving

By Matilda Macduff 15 February 2011

Why do people give to particular charities, and not to others? In an ideal world, we’d love everyone to make informed decisions which take into account the impact charities are having. But as we’ve discussed before, people’s giving choices are often irrational or spontaneous responses to a tug on their heartstrings.

2010’s Guardian and Observer Christmas Appeal struck a perfect balance between giving based on impact, and giving based on emotion. It enabled donors to give on the basis of their emotional responses to the stories of individual people charities work with, safe in the knowledge that their money would have a real impact, because the charities had already been assessed based on what they could tell us about their results.

The appeal focused on charities working with disadvantaged young people across the UK. NPC spent a lot of time sifting through the hundreds of applications—we wanted to find charities that could talk about what they are actually achieving, rather than just talking about their good intentions. The 21 charities we shortlisted and put forward to the Guardian’s panel all provided excellent evidence of the positive changes they make to people’s lives. If you want to see the kind of things we were (and weren’t) looking for, you can read our 2010 report Talking about results, which was the basis for our methodology.

The Guardian appeal forced charities to talk about the outcomes they are achieving, and how this furthers their overall mission. But too few charities talk about their results in this way in their day to day communications. Discerning donors keen to do their research and find effective organisations to donate to often can’t find the information they want, and have little to go on when making their decisions.

The appeal raised a fantastic £428,000, to be split equally between the ten chosen charities. Hugh Rayment-Pickard, Director of Communications at IntoUniversity, told us that the impact of the appeal on the charities goes far beyond the face value of the funds they will receive. IntoUniversity has gained extensive coverage in the national media, and has seen an increase in independent donations from new donors. Existing supporters welcomed the appeal as an endorsement of their choice of charity, and staff and volunteers see it as validation of their hard work. Since the appeal launched, IntoUniversity has been approached by potential collaborators—including an academic keen to expand the scheme to new areas, and the Vice Chancellor of a leading university outside London.

Without the appeal, these people might not have heard of IntoUniversity. But because of the appeal, they not only know about its existence—they also know that its approach works, and that the charity can prove it.