pound coins stacked

Rock vs a hard place

By Rob Abercrombie 19 June 2014

Fundraisers are stuck between a rock and a hard place, as I’ve argued in previous blogs. The direct marketing techniques they routinely employ are seeing diminishing returns and are unpopular with the public, but suitable alternatives are not immediately obvious. The position of fundraisers is made especially tricky because public trust in charities is under threat and there is misunderstanding, and even suspicion, of the professionalised model of charities.

Indeed, fundraising itself can reinforce these suspicions. For example, Comic Relief’s promise that 100% of donations will go to the frontline may help their fundraising, but this can damage charities in general by perpetuating the myth that overheads are not essential. The common theme is that the individual interests of fundraising charities are, too often, working against the collective interests of the charity sector as a whole.

I would also argue, however, that fundraising cannot be a peripheral activity for charities—it is fundamental. Some in the fundraising profession have criticised charity leaders for dismissing fundraising as an inconvenient, dark art. And they have a point. Fundraising in the UK is a huge success story. Without the income it generates the sector would be smaller and weaker and would achieve far less. The fundraising profession should be seen as central to what a charity does—it should be well integrated with other functions, and Chief Executives should understand and engage with it.

It follows then, that if fundraising is a fundamental rather than peripheral activity, it must fit with a charity’s values and its brand. The truth is that aggressive direct marketing and complicity in public misunderstanding, are not a good fit with charitable goals. And new approaches are badly needed.

The thinking behind NPC’s Money for Good UK research into donor attitude and motivation, first published in 2013, is that a better understanding of the reasons donors give needs to be part of that picture. With this insight, charities can be more targeted in their messaging, and speak to donors in terms that will connect with them. We have heard of major fundraising charities sending out mail pieces to prospective donors containing ten different messages in the hope one sticks. That seems a crazy way of carrying on, and if that charity knows the prospective donor better it shouldn’t be necessary. That was the reason we undertook a significant piece of research with Ipsos MORI, producing an attitudinal segmentation of higher income charity donors.

Today, we publish a follow-up paper, Fundraising Perspectives: Donor Segmentation & Money for Good UK . This reflects on what we have learnt from fundraising charities over the last 18 months about how to apply our findings on donor motivation. Our conclusion is that the Money for Good UK study provides a rich source of insight into donors which fundraisers can apply, for example in major donor fundraising, but that applying generic attitudinal segmentation is still work in progress.

Although we have no current plans for further work around Money for Good UK, we look forward to continuing our dialogue with those charities applying our research in different ways, and will continue to be interested in your views and experiences. So please do keep in touch. And thank you to all the inspirational fundraisers we have met along the way, to those who have contributed to this programme of work, and to the funders who have supported it, in particular the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Unity Trust Bank.

We hope that we’ve added to the debate on the tricky choices that fundraising charities face.