Do donors care about impact? Why we need six answers.

Martin Brookes of NPC wrote last week about the results of a YouGov poll, which showed that while donors care about how well (or badly) the charities they support are doing, they don’t necessarily want to hear about who’s performing best. Sean Stannard-Stockton picked up on this over on his Tactical Philanthropy blog, making some important points about what this all means, and Jacob Harold, Philanthropy Program Officer at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation added his thoughts too.

To recap: most donors say they care about how well charities are achieving the impact they aim to achieve; but most do not seek out research to help them give to effective charities. Sean believes that donors are more interested in getting help to achieve their personal philanthropic goals than in being told who to give to. Jacob points out that sometimes people don’t know that they want something until it’s offered to them (like philanthropy advice). And even helping the minority of donors who might already be interested in seeking out data to inform their giving, he argues, can influence huge flows of capital.

My experience at NPC resonates with all these points. Giving is driven by the heart, not by the head. Either we can try to make people more rational (unless we can find people who are basically Vulcans, this doesn’t sound too promising) or we can find ways of incorporating impact and effectiveness into people’s existing motivations for giving. In other words, we find ways of making effective giving a default behaviour.

For example, giving vehicles like Donor Advised Funds, Community Foundations, and online giving marketplaces could incorporate due diligence to ensure a certain level of effectiveness of all the programmes donors fund through them. Philanthropy advisers could provide a standard level of reviewing impact in all their work. We could even look at philanthropy from the other side and suggest that all charities should answer some basic questions about their impact in their public communications.

Recent research from Hope Consulting sheds some light on the subject of donor motivations, and gives us some fascinating insights. It finds that wealthy donors are not different from regular donors – in contrast to what’s often written about wealthy donors caring more about the impact of their donations. It says all donors can be characterised as one of six types of givers: Repayer, Casual Giver, Faith Based, See The Difference, Personal Ties or High Impact. And High Impact makes up just 16% of all donors.

What’s my point? Well, it sometimes seems like the effective philanthropy movement is trying to make all donors change their motivations for giving so we end up with 100% High Impact donors. Instead, I believe we need six different strategies, finding ways of incorporating impact and effectiveness into the motivations of these different giving segments.

How do we make Casual Givers more effective? Maybe through payroll giving programmes that include incorporate effectiveness as the default option. How do we make See The Difference donors more effective? Maybe by helping them learn how to spot signs of high impact and high performance in local charities they visit. How to build impact into Personal Ties giving? Maybe a club for donors to meet high impact charities.

One thing’s clear – in the drive to make philanthropy more effective, one size definitely doesn’t fit all.

Do you have ideas about how to fuse impact into giving for any of these segments? Or even thoughts about segmenting those that aren’t currently giving? I’d love to hear from you – please post your thoughts below.