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Academics look at how best to increase charitable giving

Academics look at how best to increase charitable giving

Paper raises question of best means to increase charitable giving

A new academic paper has questioned the means by which charitable giving can best be increased, with the onus on understanding why some people do not contribute, and focussing on compassion rather than compliance.

The views of Dr Sally Hibbert of the University of Nottingham and Dr Tom Farsides of the University of Sussex were laid out in a booklet published by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), Charitable Giving and Donor Motivations.

In it, Hibbert argues that fund-raisers must counter techniques used by non-donors to avoid feelings of guilt, and that charities may be able to tap into new and different sources of funds if they can understand how people rationalise ‘not giving’ to their particular cause.

She says: “Some non-donors question whether it is an individual’s responsibility to help, rather than that of the government, older people or others with more money. Or someone may feel it is good to give to charity, but be unwilling to sacrifice the money. By arguing ‘the amount I can afford to give won’t make any difference’, they avoid personal conflict or guilt.”

The challenge for charities and policy makers, she says, is to find acceptable ways of countering these techniques.

Meanwhile, Farsides says charities can seek either compliance or compassion from their donors, which he points out are broadly mutually exclusive. If increased charitable giving is the goal, Farsides argues that charities would be better served nurturing compassion than demanding compliance from their supporters. Charities looking for compliant donors, he says, offer to ‘exchange’ something – i.e. a trek to Peru or a clean conscience – in return for donations.

Farsides argues that there are limitations to this: “Both sides know it’s a buyers’ market, so charities are under pressure to invest in customer loyalty, while donors can walk away at any time. Even when they stay, donors are likely to remain suspicious and constantly on the alert for evidence that charities are ‘taking advantage’ or ‘neglecting’ their needs.

The alternative aspect is when people believe that charities value their assistance in pursuing shared altruistic goals. When people want to help others, they are grateful for charities that offer them the chance to do so. Their support is voluntary and ongoing: it does not need to be bought.

“When charities present themselves as communal and altruistic but appear selfish and duplicitous, it is likely they will seriously undermine altruism and commitment to giving generally. Most people want to help others, and charities might do well to offer them that opportunity – and present it as such.”

Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the National Council of Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), added: “Giving is a way in which people can engage with the sector, and can be seen as an indication of the level of trust that the general public have in charities. Because giving is so important to the public policy agenda, it is vital that we understand donors’ motivations in order for us to get policies right.”

Howard Lake is a digital fundraising entrepreneur. Publisher of UK Fundraising, the world's first web resource for professional fundraisers, since 1994. Trainer and consultant in digital fundraising. Founder of Fundraising Camp.

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