Fundraising is about raising money not changing behaviour

Nice to see New Philanthropy Capital’s blog about our research on How Donors Choose Charities, which argues that charitable giving is more often ‘taste based’ than ‘needs based’.

Jane Thomas, the author of the NPC blog post, raises an interesting question about what that finding means for fundraisers. She asks: “Does it mean that fundraisers should be putting more focus on tapping into donors’ personal preferences in their fundraising material, rather than pushing the message on ‘needs’? It ultimately raises the question of whether fundraisers should be looking to change behaviour, (ie, by getting donors to think more about need), or should be catering for existing behaviour (ie, focusing on donor’s passions and personal interests).”

My answer to her question is that it means the latter because the job of the fundraiser is to raise as much money as possible for their cause. Bringing about behavioural change amongst donors – and indeed the wider public – is important, but cannot be the responsibility of those charged with raising the funds to keep the charity going. When I worked as a fundraiser my targets were all financial, not behavioural. I don’t think the charity chief exec would have been overly impressed if I’d said, “sorry not to have raised enough money to cover our outgoings, but you’ll be glad to hear our supporters are thinking much more clearly about need”.

The next research project I’m working on is looking at another dimension of this problem. We’ve been running focus groups with charity users to ask their opinion on whether fundraising literature ought to use the most accurate and authentic images of beneficiaries, or ought to use the images most likely to raise the largest sums of money. On the whole, charity users seem to take a pragmatic approach. A typical comment being: “The money’s the main thing… If the organisations haven’t got their money in the first place to help you then the whole system breaks down… Just get the money, by hook or by crook”.

We’ll be presenting the interim findings of this research at the NCVO/VSSN conference, which takes place on the 6th & 7th September in Leeds. Further info about the conference is online here.

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