OPINION: For beneficiaries’ sakes, don’t allow people to opt out of even being asked to help them

Ian copySir Stuart Etherington’s review, published today, recommends allowing donors to opt out en masse from being asked to make a donation. Ian MacQuillin, rather unsurprisingly, thinks this is a bad idea.

 

It’s September 2017 and there is a massive disaster somewhere in the world, something on the scale of the Asian Tsunami of 2004. You need to gear up your fundraising for a massive drive to raise the extra millions you need to provide emergency relief. One snag. You are not allowed to contact a huge number, perhaps a majority, perhaps the vast majority, of the people who might give to your appeal.

This is because two years from now, there might be in operation a Fundraising Preference Service (FPS) – proposed in Sir Stuart Etherington’s review of self-regulation of fundraising that was published today.Etherington review

Under the proposals, any person would be able to register with the FPS, and then no charity would be able to contact them to ask them for a donation via direct marketing again. NCVO says the FPS would act as a ‘reset’ button for people who think they receive too much fundraising communications. They can opt out of all charities at a stroke without the “inconvenience” of having to contact each one individually.

This will override any existing permissions for charities to contact them so that once a donor registers with the FPS, any charity they currently give to can no longer ask them for further donations – no upgrades, no Christmas appeal, no raffle tickets, no emergency appeal. And it would kill stewardship programmes – what’s the point of spending money sending people non-ask comms if you can’t recoup that investment by asking them for money at the end of the process? People who registered with the FPS would very likely just never hear from their charities again.

Of course, this doesn’t only apply to low value individuals giving; it could wipe out prospect research at a stroke, making finding major donor prospects even more difficult and time consuming than it already is (but I guess that all depends on how you define ‘fundraising communication’ – perhaps inviting someone to a fundraising event won’t count).

‘It is inconvenient having to contact all the charities that are sending you letters and calling you. However, relative to the lot of beneficiaries, it’s not all that inconvenient at all (dare I say that it’s a First World Problem).’

There is a lot that’s quite good in Sir Stuart’s review relating to the establishment of the new regulator in place of the FRSB (a bit harsh, but can see the reasoning), which will also take over responsibility for developing the code from the IoF (I would have preferred a new body along the lines of the Committee for Fundraising Practice, but this should work). NCVO says the committee at the new regulator that will write the code will also contain “fundraising expertise”, and this must strike an “appropriate balance” with “donor and public representation”, so let’s see how this plays out and just what this balance is.

Inevitably though, I’m going to focus on what’s not so good in the code. Partly that’s because the good bits would probably have been good anyway. It doesn’t matter who writes the code of practice as long as fundraisers – who are the repositories of our sector’s professional knowledge – make the major contribution to it (so let’s see how this works out in detail). It doesn’t matter who regulates the code provided a) they do it well and b) it isn’t the government (which is a matter of wider democracy, as the government has no business telling the third sector what it can and can’t do).

 

If you don’t ask, you don’t get – duh!

But the less good bits have the potential to be quite bad. They show a real lack of understanding about what is at fundraising’s core – that if you don’t ask people, they won’t give. And it appears as if this recommendation has been made to satisfy current public and political opinion that something has to be done about intrusive fundraising – even though this is only a bigger issue than last year because people have been so regularly primed to think about: if Olive Cooke hadn’t committed suicide in May (fundraising has not been implicated her death by her family or the coroner), none of this would have followed.

Fundraising is not like other forms of marketing. In a nutshell, most marketing tries to get you to buy something for yourself so that the marketer’s profits will increase. If the marketer is prevented from marketing to you, but you still want the thing they are selling (a new car, a holiday, a curry delivered to your flat at 11.45 on a Friday evening), you’ll probably go and find it yourself (if you don’t have restaurant flyers around the house because you have a ‘no junk mail’ sign on your front door, then you’ll search online for the nearest Indian, won’t you?).

Mosquito net

If you don’t know someone needs a mosquito net, you’re unlikely to buy it for them

Fundraising on the other hand tries to get you to buy something for someone else. But if you don’t know that other person needs the thing the charity wants you to buy for them – be it a mosquito net, a vaccine, a guide dog, or research into a terrible disease – then you are not very likely to go and find it out yourself.

Everyone knows that most people give because they are asked to do so. Academic and market research confirms this time and again. Market research by the Institute of Fundraising a few years ago put the figure at 66 per cent (seems rather low to me), while academic research has placed it as high as 86 per cent (see p23 of this literature review by René Bekkers and Pamela Wiepking).

The proposal for the FPS has the potential to remove whole swathes of potential donors from within the reach of charities (and through them their beneficiaries). Moreover, it reinforces the notion that fundraising is somehow an irrelevance because if you want to give, then you will do so without having to be asked (but you won’t).

 

Fundraising as a service for donors (but not beneficiaries)

It also suggests that fundraising is a service for donors, a service they can avail themselves of to discharge whatever kind of philanthropic duty they believe they have. If you don’t wish to avail yourself of such a service that allows you to donate, then you should not have to endure requests for you use it, in the same way that if you don’t want to go on a foreign holiday, you shouldn’t be badgered by travel companies.

‘The proposal for the FPS reinforces the notion that fundraising is somehow an irrelevance because if you want to give, then you will do so without having to be asked (but you won’t).’

What this conception of fundraising ignores is that while it can provide this service for donors, it is also a service for beneficiaries that seeks to fund the services they need. The two are not equal. A charity could fundraise without providing a service to donors (probably not as well is if it did); but it could not exist if it provided a service to donors at the expense of fulfilling its role of raising money for beneficiaries.

The FPS proposal emphasises donor service to the exclusion of beneficiary service. In other words this proposal is ethically unbalanced as it does not adequately balance the needs and rights of donors with the needs and rights of beneficiaries. Donors quite clearly take priority.

Just look at the language used by NCVO:

It would mean the public could opt out of fundraising requests from multiple charities without the inconvenience of contacting them separately.

Looked at in isolation, it is inconvenient having to contact all the charities that are sending you letters and calling you (less inconvenient at having to unsubscribe from their emails, but still a bit of a chore). However, relative to the lot of beneficiaries, it’s not all that inconvenient at all (dare I say that it’s a First World Problem).

The risk of not establishing the FPS is that some people are inconvenienced by receiving too many fundraising requests and some people will feel some kind of guilt about having to decline some, perhaps most of, those requests. The risk of establishing the FPS is that charities will not be able to raise the money they need to provide services for their beneficiaries and so those lives will be seriously inconvenienced.

 

Disproportionate, inconsistent, untargeted

As a form of regulation, the FPS doesn’t comply with the five principles of better regulation (see p25) as established by the Better Regulation Task Force. These are:

Proportionality Regulators should intervene only when necessary. Remedies should be appropriate to the risk posed, and costs identified and minimised.

Accountability Regulators should be able to justify decisions and be subject to public scrutiny.

Consistency Rules and standards must be joined up and implemented fairly.

Transparency Regulators should be open, and keep regulations simple and user-friendly.

Targeting Regulation should be focused on the problem and minimise side effects.

The FPS fails the criteria of proportionality, consistency and targeting.

As explained above, the risks to establishing the FPS are not minimised and, taken across the whole of humanity – not just the donating (or maybe non-donating) British public – they do not outweigh the benefits.

It is not consistent or fair. If members of the public can opt out of one type of marketing in its entirety – rather than opt out a particular marketing channel as they can through the preference services for telephone and mail – then why should other sectors be allowed to contact people with impunity? As a matter of consistency, we should allow people to opt out entirely of receiving all commercial marketing and marketing from political parties and educational establishments.

‘The problem nut we have to crack is not a small one. But the proposed sledgehammer of the Fundraising Preference Service is way, way too big for the job. In fact it’s not a sledgehammer; it’s a pile driver.’

And it is not targeted, not really. Some people might feel they receive too much charity marketing to the point that it is genuinely inconveniencing their lives, people such as Olive Cooke, perhaps, though from what I have read about her, I doubt that she was the type of person who would have signed up to such as monster as the Fundraising Preference Service. I suspect that the FPS would be used not just by people who really are on the receiving end of such a deluge of fundraising material that it was making their lives a misery; but more by people who want to spare themselves the difficult choice of deciding how to respond to a donation request, and the guilt and cognitive dissonance that results when they say no.

 

If you think the FPS is a good idea, please think again

NCVO has said that (some) members of the public are unhappy with the level of intrusion that fundraising brings and that something had to be done to redress that dissatisfaction. Yet there are other ways to address this problem, some of which Rogare will be exploring through our projects on public engagement and professional ethics, others will be explored though the likes of the Burnett-Pegram commission on the donor experience, or could be achieved by more polycentric self-regulation as exemplified by the Public Fundraising [Regulatory] Association (which is now going to merge with the Institute at a time when PFRAs are being set up in Australia and USA to complement the one that already exists in New Zealand).

The problem nut we have to crack through these initiatives is not a small one. But the proposed sledgehammer of the Fundraising Preference Service is way, way too big for the job. In fact it’s not a sledgehammer; it’s a pile driver.

I implore anyone who thinks this is a good idea, especially those with the power and authority to make it a reality, to reconsider their position. This is a behemoth with the potential to cause massive damage to the lives of charity beneficiaries. And once it is built, you won’t be able to take it down.

Charities will not succeed in their missions if they are prevented from asking people to fund those missions.

Associate Members 2

22 comments for “OPINION: For beneficiaries’ sakes, don’t allow people to opt out of even being asked to help them

  1. Daniel Porter-Jones
    September 23, 2015 at 2:38 pm

    Great article. I think it could do with a greater emphasis on the other sectors who are being let off entirely. This has identified the need for much greater protection of our data and has given a kick along to address our data in the digital environment – which has sadly been ignored. Is the work of charities any different to the wealth of targeted advertising which we get on social media, in our emails and generally online? There would be too strong a case for charities to claim discrimination if this same preferential service were not also applied to all sectors and as you say, political communications and education as well. Of equal concern is the levy being proposed and the impact this will have on resources for even small charities as £100k when including salaries is not much at all. Companies will cut staff and budgets to come under the £100k and avoid the levy, and subsequently raise far less money for those in need.

    • Karl Wilding
      September 24, 2015 at 1:47 pm

      Daniel
      A common argument we’ve come across is that these rules don’t apply to other sectors. I would respond by arguing that charities are not the market. We are for the public benefit, not private gain, and in return we have privileges the market does not. That means higher standards.

      On the levy: I find it difficult to see that 2,000 charities large enough to pay it would go to the trouble of asking accountants (and auditors) to produce accounts in such a way as to avoid the cost of paying the levy. I would suggest that for small charities, the cost of asking an accountant to make the necessary adjustment would be greater than the levy. I would also note that the same charities are already paying for the FRSB.

      • Adrian Sargeant
        September 24, 2015 at 3:02 pm

        The problem Karl is that we do already have higher standards and plans are afoot to tighten them yet further. It would be far more sensible to give those moves a chance before introducing Draconian change. The switch to opt-in should make a huge difference. Why go further until we see how that plays out?

        You’ve also (forgive me) forgotten what the purpose of our sector is. Charities save lives. Charities enhance lives. They serve the needs of the most disadvantaged and often those on the margin of our society. At one stroke here you’re proposing that those vulnerable people will no longer have the right to have someone ask for help on their behalf.

        And how in the world do any of us know what the biggest needs will be in the coming year, let alone the coming decade, So what possible sense does it make for anyone to opt out? Are you really suggesting that individuals should say – “no – no matter what happens in the world I never want to be asked again to support a vulnerable person. EVER?”

        • Karl Wilding
          September 24, 2015 at 5:56 pm

          Adrian
          We’ll publish more details about the proposed service tomorrow, but the comment above rather suggests that you are stretching to the proposal as thus far outlined to its absolute extreme in order to defend your argument.

          Anyone signing up for the FPS would not be stopped from giving to charity again. That is scaremongering nonsense. They would simply do so in a way that did not lead to them giving their personal details to the charity involved – look at, for example, Adrian Salmon’s reference to why text messaging is popular. For some – not all – of the public, the right to be left alone, or in the case of the web the right to be forgotten, is important. We have to acknowledge that some people want to be able to do this.

          I want to charities to succeed. Nothing would give me more pleasure than a future where more people give, and give more, and feel that a Fundraising Preference Service is irrelevant.

          • Ian MacQuillin
            September 24, 2015 at 8:19 pm

            Adrian doesn’t say that people would be stopped from giving to charity. Who in their right mind would stop people making a charity donation? He says they would be prevented form being be ASKED to give to charity. There is a world of difference.

      • Ian MacQuillin
        September 24, 2015 at 3:56 pm

        I don’t buy this ‘charities should have higher standards than other sectors’ argument.

        Another way to phrase this is that it’s acceptable for other sectors to have lower standards than charities. Or it’s acceptable for businesses to behave less ethically than charities.

        Really? We should have two levels of ethical standards. One for charities who are supposed to behave like saints; and another for everyone else, who are allowed to behave less well simply because they are NOT charities.

        Take the case of Simon Rae, the retired army officer who suffered from dementia and was scammed by criminals out of £35,000 after his personal details were sold perfectly legally by charities.

        The biggest wrong here seems to be not that this man was conned and lost a substantial amount of money, but that he was conned because charities sold his personal details. But if another company had done it, well that would have been perfectly OK.

        It is this simple. If it is wrong for charities to conduct their marketing in a certain manner, then it is wrong for everyone else too. If it is acceptable everyone else to conduct their marketing in a certain manner; then it is acceptable for charities as well.

        Now, this doesn’t mean that charities can’t elect to have higher standards if they wish. But it also means they haven’t done anything wrong if they don’t and can’t be blamed for behaving exactly the same way as everyone else is permitted to behave.

        However, one might argue that because charities work for public benefit in a way that commercial marketers do not, charities actually do have special privileges that commercial marketers don’t: privileges that exempt them from some of the tougher regulation so that charities are required to adhere to lower standards than companies (to facilitate the public good they bring about).

        I don’t actually think that that this should be so. I’m making this hypothetical argument to point out the reverse shouldn’t be the case – that commercial marketers should be allowed to ‘get away’ with practices that would be considered unethical if they were performed by a charity.

        • Kathy Roddy
          September 25, 2015 at 9:10 am

          Totally, totally agree. Also, why have charities been slated and named for (legally) selling the data, when the scam companies haven’t? It’s the scamming companies that have committed the crime here, not charities, so why is the spotlight on the charities? It’s complete double standards and is utterly wrong.

  2. September 24, 2015 at 11:25 am

    Excuse the cross post – this is the comment I’ve posted on Ian’s other blog on UK Fundraising just now – and it’s by way of playing devil’s advocate.

    I was talking about the FPS with my partner, who isn’t a fundraiser (although of course we talk *a lot* about it), this morning. Her take on it mirrors comments I’ve heard from many non-fundraiser friends, over the last couple of years especially:

    “When I make a donation because I think something’s important, I don’t really want the charity to get in touch with me straight away and ask for another. So I think the FPS could be a good thing for people like me, to stop me worrying that I’m going to get a lot of extra contact I don’t want, just because I chose to give.”

    Now whether she would actually go to the trouble of signing up for the FPS if it existed, I don’t know. But she certainly saw it as something she would regard as a valuable service, putting her back in control of when and how she chose to give.

    Mark Phillips also says the following in one of his blog posts about people who donate via text:

    “Mobile donors tell us that they value the ease with which they can skip and stop. They also value the anonymity it offers them. It is ironic, but they value the fact that they can use their mobile to keep charities at arm’s length.”

    My evidence is of course very anecdotal, but I suspect Mark’s is more robust. There may be a lot of people out there who want to do arm’s length charity.

    So I hope lots of people don’t sign up to the FPS. But if they do, I think that makes the new Commission on the Donor Experience that is being proposed by Ken Burnett and Giles Pegram a very important initiative. How has it come to this – that the communications we make intending to promote loyalty in donors may in fact engender a desire in them to push us away?

    • Ian MacQuillin
      September 24, 2015 at 2:21 pm

      Interesting points, Adrian.

      It would be better if we could move the culture of fundraising to the point where fundraisers didn’t feel they needed to nor wanted to ask for a second donation so soon after the first. As you and I have discussed before, we need to get out of the culture of short-term targets. If boards would authorise investment in relationship fundraising rather than insisting that fundraisers reach ambitious annual targets, then fundraisers would be able to work on a five-year timescale for engaging their donors and maximising their donations rather than a 12-month target.

      That’s what I think is slightly ironic in Sir Stuart’s review – it is calling for better and more engaging relationship building, yet it’s NCVO’s members – boards and trustees – that have not authorised investment that would have brought this about. And because of boards’ insistence on ever-increasing annual income targets, a problem of over-asking has arisen.

      Yet the solution proposed is not to invest in fundraising that will deliver long-term relationships but to eliminate short-term relationships (so on what will the long-term relationships be built?).

  3. September 24, 2015 at 11:59 am

    Ian I could not agree more with the mantra that ‘if you don’t ask, you don’t get’, however is it too late to amend these sweeping regulations? Ultimately it will be the beneficiary that will suffer as a result.

    • Karl Wilding
      September 24, 2015 at 1:42 pm

      Harpreet, I worked as part of the secretariat for the Review. You may wish to note that the Review has made recommendations. It is not able to lay down regulations. And reading the review may give you a sense of what we say about the relationship between asking and getting.

      Karl Wilding

  4. Zoe Woods
    September 24, 2015 at 12:10 pm

    Thanks Ian, it is imperative that we continue to explore this debate balance accorded to the beneficiary, as well as the donor.

    In my view, we must understand more fully how motivation to give impacts on our discussions here. The fundraising organisation is a conduit in the gift relationship (albeit a very important facilitator of amazing service delivery). However is it a desire to act or duty to act which motivates our donors, and how do these two different motivations affect the gift relationship.

    Whilst we wrangle over the text of yesterday’s review, published by Sir Stuart, I wonder how charity beneficiaries are feeling. If they feel the gift was given out of duty, rather than freely given from desire, this may change how beneficiaries regard themselves in the gift relationship and as end users of our services. We need to ensure beneficiaries are regarded as valued agents and not simply worthy agents of our gifts and services.

    The review showed little sign of consultation with end users, although some of the 92 charities listed in the appendix may have taken time to speak with their beneficiaries.

  5. Zoe Bunter
    September 24, 2015 at 2:44 pm

    My concern in this whole debate is the absence of the voice of the beneficiary – the person who needed help of some sort and was given it because another person gave in a spirit of compassion. The proposed FPS doesn’t harm fundraising, or charities – but people in (often immense) need – people without a home, food to eat, clean water; people with cancer, diabetes, HIV; people who are suicidal, addicted to alcohol or drugs, children being abused or neglected. Charities and their fundraising are merely a bridge between someone needing help, and someone giving it. But without that bridge those who can help, and those who need help become islands – separated from one another. The proposed FPS is like a wrecking ball – smashing down the bridge of giving and receiving.

    • Ian MacQuillin
      September 24, 2015 at 3:37 pm

      I think the point you have made, Zoe, along with Adrian in the comment above, is key: it is beneficiaries who will be harmed if substantial numbers register with the FPS. If a charity closes because it can’t raise sufficient income, 20 or so people in London will lose their jobs and 50,000 people in sub-Saharan Africa won’t get fresh drinking water. The people in London will find other jobs…

      Ever since the FRSB was formed, everyone has assumed that fundraising regulation is a direct analogue of other types of consumer protection. Consumers need to be protected from marketers who might otherwise exploit them to increase their profits, such as sell them substandard goods (a car with fraudulent emissions monitoring, for example). Donors don’t need this protection because charities cannot exploit them in this way. They require a much more sophisticated form or regulatory protection.

      The FRSB, however, always saw itself as a consumer protection agency, putting the rights of the customer (in this case, donors) above all else, and because of that it never seized the opportunity to create a bespoke form of regulation that protected donors from excessive fundraising while simultaneously protecting the needs of beneficiaries to have someone ask for help on their behalf (which is what Rogare’s review of professional ethics is attempting to do). Charity beneficiaries were simply invisible to the FRSB.

      I think Sir Stuart’s review was quite harsh on the FRSB. However, this was FRSB’s signal failure. It could have created something that hadn’t been seen anywhere else in the world yet, it choose to be a poor imitation of the ASA. And now it’s paid the price.

      The Fundraising Regulator should not make the same mistake.

      • Rohan Putter
        September 25, 2015 at 8:18 am

        Like many others I am still reeling from the FPS bombshell in what was otherwise a (sadly) necessary and well reasoned report.

        How on earth this operational measure was plonked in the middle of a review that that was meant to be “strategic in its focus”I do not know. Reading the Terms of Reference, it could very tenuously be linked to “The relationship between the fundraising sector and the public” but what a stretch!

        Instead of identifying the issues with frequency of communication, and highlighting that these should be the first priority of review, the report makes the most damaging declaration on what the solution should be.

        Ian and others are right in asking why this, and why now? It is not only that we should we be assessing the impact of the move to opt-in consent (even the prospect is changing the mindset in fundraisers I know). Many of the issues we have had are the result of unclear standards and guidance, compounded by weak regulation and the lack of meaningful sanctions or penalties. So why jump straight to the FPS now?

        Looking at the FPS itself, two key issues stand out to me:
        — Its a terrifying zero-sum game. 180,000 players who all need to behave themselves and if one of us decides to go for the quick buck, the short-cut or even if they simply make a mistake and send irrelevant or poor quality content, they will likely nudge the person straight to the FPS and then its game over.
        — Adoption will be furiously quick – with the issue above and in a new digital age, it is not inconceivable that 50% of the UK population is registered within 5 years and that we are looking at the similar 70-80% registration to TPS in 10 years.

        The sector has two challenges:

        Firstly, we must challenge the FPS with every ounce of strength we have, devising a way for NCVO and Government to retreat while saving face. Whether that is watering it down or, more appropriately, charging the Fundraising Regulator to look at the issue once formed.

        Secondly, we must change the way we look at communications, acquisition and donor loyalty. Its not just the hugely important issue of public trust and perception, we have to do it if any of us want to actually make money for our causes.

    • Kathy Roddy
      September 25, 2015 at 9:14 am

      Couldn’t agree more!

  6. Art Held
    October 8, 2015 at 3:58 pm

    A note from the colonies:
    In the US the biggest complaint I have (and hear) is not that an organization I have given to asks again; Our “Can Spam” act makes it easy to unsubscribe from an individual organization. The big problems are first the chain reaction from a gift – I give to one group and six other organizations solicit me, and second, the “cold” calling and emailing from purchased lists that have used my browsing history, purchases, appearance on donor lists, etc., to identify me as a potential donor. (Because of these practices I have personally stopped donations to all national charities except one.)

    Perhaps a compromise would be a ban on buying/selling/exchanging lists. YES, I know, it limits new donor recruitment. But which is less painful? A TOTAL opt-out? Or a more aggressive respect for privacy? It would move focus from junk email to public awareness through news and information. The goal becomes engaging the portion of the public that WANTS to donate to YOUR SPECIFIC CHARITY.

  7. January 20, 2016 at 12:05 pm

    I think this fails to address the wider point that charities to some extent share the donor pool – and that aggressive or otherwise unpopular tactics used by one organisation can have ramifications (in terms of decreased *general* propensity to give) for the entire sector. My data (published on my blog) suggest that a significant proportion of people who were dissatisfied with one charity’s fundraising approach then effectively remove themselves from the donor pool entirely (by not giving to other charities either). I’m not saying this is desirable but it is nevertheless true – and it is an inconvenient truth that fundraisers and charities need to wake up to. Aggressive short-term tactics might yield shot-term gains but in the long-run they might damage the sector quite badly.

  8. Ian MacQuillin
    January 21, 2016 at 11:36 am

    Hi Nichola

    Thanks for your comment.

    The first thing I’d respond to is that I am well aware of the issue of the collective impact of charities activities, as I explained in an earlier blog about the implications of Olive Cooke’s suicide. I say in this blog that individual charities probably did little wrong in the volume of mailings they sent but the collective total volume was overwhelming (it turns out that most charities actually did plenty wrong in not offering her a way to opt out of receiving mailings).

    Charities have proved adept at tackling one type of potential ‘tragedy of the commons’ scenario in how they have regulated street fundraising, where the Public Fundraising Association (PFRA) is almost a model of how to manage a common pool resource. See this blog.

    And that brings me to your second point – ‘chuggers’, whom I know you don’t like following our chat at the JustGiving awards a couple of years ago.

    You say in your blog that we need to be “careful about the inferences we draw” from your stats – and we really do.

    For a start, you say that a significant number of people stop giving to all charities because of their negative experiences at the hands street or telephone fundraisers. But that isn’t what your data actually say (at least not how your blog describes it). They say that 20 per cent of your survey respondents said they were ‘unlikely to give to any another charity’. That’s a long way from ‘I have stopped giving to any other charity’. What people say they will do and what they actually do do are not always the same thing.

    I’d also ask if this seems a plausible conclusion. 99 per cent of your sample gave to charity at least once a year. Is it really likely that if they are unhappy at being asked to convert their SMS donation to a Direct Debit, all of them will never, ever give to charity again? No coins in a collecting tin? No donation to Children in Need? No poppy on Remembrance Day?

    Another point about this is a cost-benefit analysis. It may be that the people who remove themselves from the donor pool (if that is indeed what they do) are actually worth less in terms of life-time value (LTV) than those who are recruited through street and telephone conversions. If that’s the case, then arguably charities would be failing in their duty to their beneficiaries to raise sufficient money to provide them with services.

    On balance, it may still be that charities raise more money through donor upgrades/conversions, even though some people stop giving entirely, than if they didn’t try to upgrade them.

    But I think the biggest problem you have is that you simply have a biased sample. We can see this if we compare your results with research that used a representative sample to look at a similar subject.

    About six years ago, the PFRA carried out some market research with YouGov, based on a representative sample of 2,000 UK adults.

    This survey found that 86 per cent of people had encountered a street fundraiser. That’s probably not significantly different from your 93 per cent.

    But, the PFRA/YouGov survey found that only seven per cent of people had actually become donors through their encounter with a street fundraiser compared to the 30 per cent or so in your sample (if 30 per cent of people who encountered street fundraisers really did become donors as a result, many charities’ worries about where their money was going to come from would be over).

    Also, in the YouGov research, 47 per cent of people disliked or strongly disliked the idea of being approached by a street fundraisers compared to 75 per cent of your sample.

    What this suggests to me is that your survey is over-represented by people who have signed up to a street fundraiser. I’m not sure how you went about assembling your sample, but if it was self-selected, then I suspect the reason that they’ve participated is because they’ve had a bad experience (e.g. they felt ‘guilty’ at the prospect of not giving) that they wanted to share.

    That doesn’t in any way diminish how they feel about that experience, but it perhaps does suggest it shouldn’t be used as saying much about the scale of the problem.

  9. Nichola Raihani
    January 21, 2016 at 2:02 pm

    Hi Ian

    Thanks for your response. A few things to add here.

    You raise the question, how representative is the survey sample, and voice doubt regarding the validity of the results. Obviously I have a much smaller sample size here than the YouGov study you mention. Indeed, I acknowledge this upfront in my blog post. Nevertheless, there is no reason (that I am aware of) to suspect the data I gathered are systematically biased in any way. I used a well-known crowdsourcing website to collect these data, where the demographic of the workforce is pretty diverse. I had a reasonable proportion of males and females and an age range spanning 16 to 71 years of age. Other studies done on these sorts of websites indicate that they capture intentions and attitudes to the sme extent that other trusted laboratory methods do (point taken about attitudes and intentions versus real behaviour: this study clearly needs to be done). Essentially, I see no reason *not* to trust these data, or at lest take them into consideration alongside the bigger study.

    With that in mind, it is fairly alarming that fewer than 5 % of people (from my survey) had a postive reaction to street fundraisers. Even if you only accept the YouGov poll, then 1 in 2 people don’t like being approached in this way which is still pretty worrying. Similarly, we should be feeling concerned that such a sizeable proportion of donors (to street fundraisers) did not feel happy about their decision. This should be the bare minimum charities are aiming to achieve. No matter what the ends, I don’t think it is ethical or defensible to pressure people into giving to the extent that they are not happy with their decision. It’s not because I prioritise donor welfare over that of the beneficiaries (although that is clearly a factor to consider). It is that these tactics are unsustainable and potentially damaging for the sector as a whole. Show me convincing data that refute this and I will change my mind.

    You raise the point that donors are not being removed from the pool. I think actually the conclusion is a bit more nuanced than that. From the (admittedly few) comments people wrote, it seems as though people dissatisfied with their donor experience in one context – let’s say a text donation – are then unlikely to give in that context again. They may still do things like take clothes to a charity shop or drop coins in a bucket, but they become wary of situations where their personal details are going to be passed to the charity, with good cause it seems.

    It isn’t good enough to just dismiss people who say they dislike one form of fundraising or another as uncharitable or uncaring as you did when we met. This is half of the potential donor base we are talking about, maybe more. Simply dismissing them as ‘worth less in life time value’ sends the wrong message to people who already feel like charities see them as a pot of money and not a human being. Perhaps donors could be made ‘worth more in life time value’ with better stewardship and approaches to fundraising that carefully consider and try to enhance the giving experience. Then again maybe not. Without data and experimentation, who knows?

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