Four out of five charity donors rate their level of engagement with the organisations they support as ‘neutral’, new research finds.
With the sector’s “intrusive” direct marketing heavily criticised by government regulator the Charity Commission last week, charities have a responsibility to make donors feel inspired to part with their cash rather than being pressured into it, according to the study conducted by agencies Amaze One and Harvest together with market research consultancy Boy on a Beach.
The survey is based on the views of 1,000 people that support at least one of the UK’s top 50 charities and have donated in the past 12 months by at least two methods.
Only 19% of respondents describe the relationship with the charities they support as ‘engaged’, suggesting organisations need to do more to turn people into advocates, particularly as this lack of engagement is costing charities dearly. The research finds that engaged supporters donate 50% more per year on average than those that class themselves as neutral.
“Put simply, those supporters that feel very engaged donate more,” says Janet Snedden, deputy managing director at Amaze One. “There is a direct correlation between being immersed in a charity and close to the cause and actually donating more.”
While neutral supporters donate an average of £60.57 a year, those who are engaged with an organisation donate £91.53. Furthermore, 10% of engaged supporters say they plan to give more this year, compared to only 3% of neutral supporters.
“It sounds obvious,” adds Steven Dodds, founder and planning partner at Harvest, “but it’s something the charitable world isn’t good at measuring. They haven’t used that central idea to drive their fundraising activity. They have tended to have a narrow, channel-centric, transactional perspective of how they get value out of people rather than looking for a relationship between emotional response and actions.”
Under a tenth (9%) of supporters make up two-thirds of all donations to charities in the UK, meaning the other 91% contribute just a third of funds.
The research finds that the most engaged supporters are women aged 35 to 54 in the C2DE socio-economic group, and tend to be lottery players, animal lovers and donate by text, while the least engaged are ABC1 men aged over 65 who give via direct debit or cash in collection buckets.
Face-to-face interaction makes a difference to supporters’ engagement levels, as the research finds that engaged donors are 94% more likely to have had an interpersonal experience with a charity, such as attending an event or having a particularly impressive conversation with staff.
Those with a high level of engagement are 78% more likely to use a charity’s digital touchpoints, and 29% more likely to have had personal connection with the charity; whether that is being thanked for their support, having seen the charity’s work first-hand or perhaps knowing someone at the charity.
The research shows that the most successful charities are also able to reinforce and develop supporters’ sense of self-worth. Dodds says: “What is it that charities have to give people, because they don’t have a product in the traditional sense? You get a warm, fluffy feeling from donating but it’s got to go beyond that. The most engaging charities and charitable sectors understand how their donors want to see themselves and be represented to their families and communities.”
The charities that do it best, according to Dodds, are those that have closely connected brand and fundraising teams, such as Macmillan Cancer Support and Greenpeace.
“These are the sorts of charities that people want to be associated with and define themselves by,” says Dodds. “People are proud to say they are a Greenpeace supporter, for example, because it says something about them.”
The feelings evoked by supporting an organisation are also enhanced among those who class themselves as engaged. Indeed, engaged supporters are 135% more likely to feel driven, 117% more likely to feel passionate, 60% more likely to feel involved and 40% more likely to feel proud of the fact they support the charity.
Charities that effectively bridge the gap between branding and fundraising will also have a far better chance of engaging supporters in the long term, but working out the value of different types of communication is an issue, so Snedden suggests the measurement framework has to evolve.
“Part of what has been preventing charities from doing softer engagement in their communications, instead of hard fundraising asks, is the fact they measure campaign return on investment. But if you’re only looking at the monetary value of a single activity and not taking into account the supporter experience or outcome, then it’s a short-term measure.”
Consumers have lost substantial trust in charities over the past year following the suicide of fundraiser Olive Cooke and the financial collapse of Kids Company. In order to build long-term relationships with supporters and regain that trust, charities need to develop an integrated approach to communication that encourages a more personal connection.