Are donors really giving all they can?

The headline in yesterday’s Third Sector news made depressing news: ‘Almost half of donors are giving all they can, says Institute of Fundraising survey’. Really? Do monthly gifts of £11 (the median monthly donation reported in UK Giving 2011) really represent around half the nation at full altruistic stretch? Is it true that so many of us can afford 37p a day and not a penny more, to support all the good work being done by charities up and down the country and around the world? Surely not. Fortunately, things are unlikely to be as clear cut as the headline suggests.

For a start – and it’s not the IoF’s fault as they presumably didn’t write the headline – it should have read: ‘Almost half of donors claim that they are giving all they can’. There is a big difference, because this is attitudinal rather than behavioural research, based on what people say about what they do, don’t do, might do, won’t do – rather than research into reportable actions and tangible behaviours. Attitudinal research is notoriously inaccurate as there is a great gulf between thinking and doing.

As an interesting anti-market research argument notes: it’s widely accepted that what people say they’ll do is often very different from what they actually do. Observational research – watching what consumers do and analysing their behaviour – yields more useful data. In this case, donors might think they have nothing to spare, but the year-on-year increase in funds raised by many charities tells a different story. When faced with a persuasive ask, made  by a credible and trustworthy organisation, it turns out people can dig a little deeper.

Just look at the money that will come flooding in this weekend to Sport Relief – times are still tough post-recession, and the government’s cuts are starting to hurt, but the fundraising genius’ at Sport Relief will undoubtedly generate yet another impressive sum.


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