Money for Good: The value of practical research

By Rob Abercrombie 8 April 2013

On Friday Adrian Sergeant posted a blog on the Institute of Fundraising website responding to the recent launch of NPC’s Money for Good UK research, and highlighting some issues he has with the approach we took. Adrian is an interesting thinker in the fundraising area, and we share many objectives. But in this case I think his criticisms are misplaced and his concerns about the methodological approach colours his view of the whole project. We—and our many knowledgeable and respected partners in Money for Good UK—welcome debate and indeed we want to encourage it. But that means we need constructive criticism even if people take different approaches, as they will always do in an area like this.

Adrian’s main criticism that the research “tells us nothing that we did not know” is somewhat undermined by his final question, “why aren’t funders looking for that expertise [of ‘subject specialists’ to generate high quality research]?” The problem is that, from our experience, many charities struggle to translate decades of research by subject specialists into practical steps—and indeed such research tends to be hidden behind academic paywalls.

Money for Good UK looks at donor motivation from a different perspective to traditional academic research. Our literature review identified a number of gaps in existing research. There are a number of existing attitudinal segmentations of high-net-worth donors, based on a relatively small number of interviews (mainly in the US). But the UK lacked an attitudinal segmentation of donors, which covered the mainstream donor market, and also lacked high sample size research into high-income (but not necessarily high-net-worth) donors. It was these gaps we sought to fill. We have been highly conscious of the range of stakeholders with an interest in this research and have worked in partnership with many of them so as to provide value for all. We believe the research has gone a long way to achieving this  and the positive response we have received from practitioners in both the academic and fundraising worlds confirms this belief.

Adrian expresses concern about the “lack of theoretical underpinnings” and points to four different theories, none of which were “tested in their entirety ” But the point of the research is to show that different donors behave in different ways that no universal model or theory can explain. The segmentation of donors recognises this and provides an alternative way for charities to think about their donors.

Another criticism is that the segments are not rigorous. As with all market segmentation, our seven donor profiles are necessarily a simplification rather than a perfect description of reality. All research methodologies involve some compromise to the realities of budget, the accessibility of respondents, and the willingness of respondents to reach the end of the survey. We took a broad rather than deep approach to looking at donor motivations, to allow us to cover the range of subject matter which we knew was valuable to those who supported the research.

We are not clear why Adrian thinks that the sector will be so damaged by the report. In particular, we are puzzled by his point that charities that followed the recommendations could “conceivably reduce giving to a specific appeal by as much as 75%”.  Since we make no specific recommendations that charities are expected to follow uncritically in the report, we are unsure what basis Adrian could have for calculating such a figure. Furthermore, we make very clear in the report that it is our intention to test its findings in practice, working with the Institute of Fundraising (IoF) and fundraising charities to find out what works and what doesn’t, a transparent approach that makes the risk of damage remote.

Finally, Adrian is not keen on research that incorporates an advisory group. On this matter we have to disagree. Throughout the project, NPC has believed that we can deliver research that is valuable to the sector, but that if we tried to do so alone we would fail. From the beginning we have sought the input of academics working in this field, the IoF, and fundraisers working on the ground—to ensure that the work is rigorous and produces insights which are of interest to those who may be implementing its findings. We partnered with Ipsos MORI to conduct a statistically robust segmentation, and also worked with Hope Consulting. We see this involvement as hugely beneficial to the project and have been grateful to those who have provided feedback throughout, including Adrian himself.

Money for Good UK cannot provide all the answers to fundraising questions. We are eager to hear critiques and comments, and to engage in constructive discussions about how the work can be used to the best advantage of the sector. We are making the full dataset available to all those who want to delve into it further and conduct their own analysis. We’re also very aware that self-reported behaviour is not the same as actual behaviour and the next stage is to test this research on the ground with fundraising charities.

We believe Money for Good UK offers valuable and new insights, and a strong starting point for the essential next phase of work. We look forward to working with Adrian and others as we go forward.