What kind of oaks grow from small acorns?

I worked as an in-house fundraiser before moving into researching giving, so never had much to do with fundraising agencies, though I was aware of the big names and gurus that populate that world. One agency I just can’t seem to avoid these days is Bluefrog – good name, sticks in the memory – and they also seem to have a very energetic staff team who pop up everywhere.

This morning I read a blog by one Bluefrogger (http://parkeslife.blogspot.com/2009/04/from-1-pack-to-25m-legacy.html) advocating for ‘poundpacks’ – the device whereby a charity requests a tiny donation, eg £1, and then encourages the toe-dipping donor to plunge right in. Two amazing examples are given, where poundland donors left a £2.5m legacy and a £0.5m legacy, despite no other interaction with the charity between these mini and major gifts.

I’m currently doing telephone interviews with committed donors about how they choose which charities to support. Almost every interviewee makes unprompted comments on charity fundraising techniques – donors clearly worry about overheads and ‘waste’, but they also question the honesty of appeals that say “give us £2 to save the X”, and then when they respond to what sounds like an altruistic bargain, they get an immediate follow-up letter or call saying, “actually we need a lot more than £2, and on a regular basis, and can you please leave us your earthly belongings too”.

Perhaps my interviewees are atypical, and clearly they are not aware that the techniques are tested and (hopefully) cost-effective. But – as cleverer people than me have pointed out before – even a 12% response rate to an appeal means that 88% of people rejected the request, and we have no way of knowing what underlying harm is being done both by the normalisation of rejecting requests for help and to the general trust in charities when we keep shifting the goal posts for those that do respond: “Did I say give us a quid? Sorry, I meant to say a million”.

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