McCracken Consultancy
Strategic Consultancy for charities and third sector organisations
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McCracken Consultancy

Forgiving the promiscuous donor

61% people in the UK donated to charity in the last year, but only 25% did so on a monthly basis, despite no doubt having been approached a number of times throughout the year to ‘sign up to a  Direct Debit’.  Why is that? Can really only 15% of the population afford to commit to £2 a month?

Clearly many more than 15% of the population are able to give a small amount on a monthly basis without discernibly affecting their lifestyle.  So why don’t they? Are they simply so selfish that they don’t genuinely care that much about anybody or anything outside the immediacy or their own or their family’s needs?  That is the seemingly logical conclusion and it is intensely disappointing and irritating for charity staff and volunteers as the charity struggles to deliver the services they passionately believe are desperately needed….and people who work at charities are passionate about the needs of their client group.  Staff are generally on a salary very much lower than they would command in the private sector (or even the public sector), they have little job stability working predominantly on short-term contracts, and are reliant on the goodwill of volunteers who are well-trained to perform higher-level work wherever possible; there isn’t a lot wasted.  All the charity is asking for is £2 a month!

But I would suggest this analysis is not enlightening or a beneficial backdrop to creating successful fundraising campaigns.  Levels of overall giving and volunteering suggest that most people do feel compassion and empathy more broadly, but also that most people simply don’t like being tied down in a regular relationship with just one charity. 

Research, and frankly general observation, suggests the main barriers to entering a committed relationship with a charity are:

1.       Lack of Trust that the proposition is as it seems, and that money is spent effectively, without waste and reaches the clients the donor is most concerned about in the ways they intend

2.       Feeling overwhelmed by the competing requests for that special relationship.  How do you choose? The default position is not committing by putting money in various pots ‘as and when’ you are moved to do so throughout the year.  A different cause may grab your heart at any time. How many charity Direct Debits can you have running at one time before it seems a little out of hand?

3.       Fear of request for an ever-increasing commitment. Those phone calls Direct Debit donors dread “we’d like to say how appreciative we are of your support, we were just wondering if you would consider raising……” New GDPR regulations should improve this situation, but it is unproven in practice as yet, and public confidence takes time to build.

In the case of reason 1 – ‘trust’ - this obviously applies to one-off donations also, but a one-off donation represents a lesser risk in absolute terms – no broken hearts here, compared to creating a long-term relationship with an organisation which may not deliver on its promise.  Donating small amounts to many charities, in effect, spreads risk.

In summary being a promiscuous donor subconsciously feels a less risky option, and requires fewer decisions and choices, it doesn’t mean a cold heart…clearly.  It is entirely understandable behaviour.  Charities – don’t judge promiscuous donors.  Understand them and take it from there.

Natasha McCracken