In the previous post, I made a few predictions about how I thought people might feel about different fundraising tactics; and why this might be problematic for charities. I thought it might be nice to supplement those earlier predictions with some data.
To this end, I posted a survey online, using Prolific Academic (a surprisingly user-friendly and efficient data collection tool - and maybe a viable alternative to MTurk; more on this in a later post). I recruited 205 UK-based adults to answer a short survey about their own charitable behaviour, and how they feel about different fundraising tactics. Admittedly, this is a small sample size and based on self-reported judgements and intentions, so we have to be careful about the inferences we draw. Nevertheless, the responses from these participants revealed some interesting patterns.
Let's start with the good news. At least of the people I surveyed, we seem to be a fairly charitable bunch. Of the 205 people asked, only two said they never give to charity. Everyone else gives at least once per year, with the most common category being the monthly donors (31 % of the respondents). As the figure below shows, people give in many and varied ways, with sponsoring a friend and giving to fundraisers being the two most common donation methods.
But what I really wanted to know was: how do people actually feel about different fundraising approaches?
First off, consider one of the most controversial methods currently used by charities: street fundraisers. These are the people you might see standing outside on the high street or outside the train station, wielding a clipboard and trying to engage passers-by in conversation. Some people also call them chuggers ('charity-muggers') but, perhaps understandably, the fundraisers aren't keen on this label. A whopping 93.1 % of respondents in my survey reported having encountered a street fundraiser at some point or other and, perhaps unsurprisingly, most people don't like it. Over 3 / 4 of the respondents stated that they either strongly dislike or dislike being approached by street fundraisers (with a mere 5 % of the respondents saying that they like or strongly like it). Nevertheless, the tactic is at least somewhat effective. Almost a third of those who had encountered a street fundraiser said they subsequently ended up becoming a regular donor to the charity.
Good news? Perhaps not.
More important than how people feel about street fundraisers is how people feel about giving to street fundraisers. For this to be a sustainable fundraising strategy, people should - by and large - enjoy giving when asked by a street fundraiser. Here is where the results should start to worry us. Of those who donated, fewer than half were satisfied with their decision, while a worrying 25 % were manifestly dissatisfied. Common complaints from the disgruntled included feeling pressured into giving, or feeling like they had no choice.
How respondents feel about street fundraising and donor upgrading tactics
Let's park those results for a moment and briefly consider a different fundraising tactic - donor upgrading. This happens when charities contact an individual who made a one-off donation (or did an event for them) to ask them to make another donation or to become a regular donor. Of the 122 people in my survey who said they had made a one-off donation to (or done an event for) a charity, around half reported that they were subsequently contacted again by the charity, usually to ask them to make an additional or a regular donation. As with street fundraisers, people do not like being contacted by charities asking for more money: 37 % of respondents reported being unhappy (or extremely unhappy) that the charity contacted them and a quarter report they would not give to that charity again in the future. Worryingly, this antipathy towards donating seems to spillover into attitudes towards other charities: almost one in five people who charities try to 'upgrade' in this way report that they are unlikely to give to any other charity again. It's not the 4 in 5 I predicted in the last post - but potentially losing 20 % of the donor base is concerning nevertheless.
There is a potential silver lining for charities looking to maintain contact with donors without unintentionally aggravating them. One of the consistent themes coming through in the donor comments was that they like being contacted by charities, when the purpose of the contact is to inform how their efforts have made a difference to the appeal. Positive feedback is, as we all know, rewarding. Perhaps more surprisingly is the finding that people might often be happy to be asked for money once in a while, so long as the ask is not too aggressive. Being asked face to face or on the phone seems to make people feel backed into a corner, or pressured. Of the people who said they didn't mind being asked to give, almost all said they preferred if this was done indirectly - via email - rather than direct face to face or phone methods. Although I didn't explore why this is the case in the current survey, it may be that responding to an email ask feels more like a voluntary donation - and therefore is more likely to elicit warm glow - that more confrontational methods, where the donor feels they have no choice but to give.
The implications of the data collected here seem to generally support the idea that some fundraising tactics might have hidden costs, in terms of losing donors from the shared pool. This further strengthens the claim that charities are - to some extent - in a social dilemma with other charities, competing for their share of a limited supply of donors. Some of the current fundraising tactics seem to be obviously unsustainable, in that they remove donors from the pool altogether. To improve the sustainability of the entire sector, cooperation is the key.