The give and take in appeals for donations

A survey commissioned by Marketing Week shows people prefer less intrusive methods of fundraising, but charities must balance this with the most effective means of securing donations.


In these cash-strapped times, convincing people to part with their money in aid of a charity could be harder than ever, according to a report commissioned by Marketing Week.

Twenty-three per cent of the 1,000 respondents to the study, carried out by Lightspeed Research, say they are donating less money to charity this year than last, while 45% say they are giving the same amount as before.

Appeals for donations made on television are most popular among respondents. Sixty-three per cent say TV appeals work best, followed by street collecting with 46%, radio requests for donations with 44% and 28% for appeals made by post.

Email campaigns are also relatively popular, with 27% happy to be contacted this way, followed by 11% for door-to-door collecting. A quarter say they would prefer not to be approached by charities at all.

Most people feel that cold-calling is the least attractive method for charities to use, with only 4% saying they think phone calls are appropriate.

Lightspeed’s EMEA marketing director, Ralph Risk, says phone calls are often seen as intrusive: “Cold-calling is the least liked way for people to be contacted. It is going into their personal space when people actually haven’t asked for it. I think most charities want people to sign up or indicate that they want to be contacted.”

But people can request not to be contacted by phone by charities, through the Telephone Preference Service (TPS), as Paul Vanags, head of supporter acquisition and innovation at Oxfam points out. “The TPS is a pretty fundamental mechanism in the industry. Anybody can register with it and opt not to receive any calls at home. Agencies and organisations involved in telemarketing use that information to screen people out,” he says (see The Frontline, below).

While street collecting, sometimes referred to as ’chugging’ or ’charity mugging’ is still a relatively popular way for consumers to be approached by charities (46%), it is down 14 percentage points from when the survey was last done in 2008. Charities are reviewing whether to use this collection method, with Oxfam holding back due to budgets. However, Vanags says he has “nothing against” using street collectors.


Four out of five respondents say they have been approached for donations on the high street or in a shopping centre, with almost one-quarter saying it happens most times they go shopping.

Women and 18to 34-year-olds are the group most likely to report being approached on shopping trips. Men and people aged between 35 and 54 are least likely to stop, as are those respondents questioned in the Midlands.

Out of all those who have been stopped to talk to charity representatives, 77% were asked to fill in a form to make direct debit donations to the charity. One in ten were asked for their phone number so a charity representative could call to discuss donation.

Only 4% of all respondents said they would give a charity representative on the street their bank details; the rest prefer to do this online or via the telephone. Most respondents who had been stopped in the street or shopping centre and asked for direct debit details are not in favour of this method, finding it too pushy, annoying or intrusive.

Of the respondents who refused to fill in a direct debit form for the charity, 41% say they were asked for their phone number instead.

However intrusive people find it, street collecting is an effective way of signing up donors, with 20% of those who stop to talk to street collectors providing their details for regular direct debits, with women and 18to 34-year-olds most likely to do so.

Women are also the most likely to make donations by direct debit in general along with people aged between 55 and 64. Just over a quarter of all respondents (27%) are likely to make regular contributions by direct debit.

“Women tend to have more empathy towards charitable causes and are usually more open to stopping on the street. It may be that the male psyche tends to block it out more. It could also be that charity collectors target women more because they find it easier talking to them,” says Lightspeed’s Risk.


“There are a lot of different dynamics that make women more likely to donate.” People may associate a charity with their own experience or someone they know, which prompts them to give. “Older people also give because they may have more disposable income and they may have more time and empathy,” he adds.

Respondents who already contribute to a charity via direct debit were asked what they thought about additional appeals. Around 40% feel they get too many of these from charities they already donate to, although just over half think the number is about right.

Around 16% of 18to 34-year-olds say they are happy to be approached by charities more than they currently are, while those aged 35 and over are much more likely to say they get asked too much.

And of those who do not regularly give to particular charities, 38% say they get approached by phone, email or letter at least once a month. One in five say they have never been contacted by charities for donations in this way.

More than half of non-regular donors (58%) feel they get too many appeals, and only 3% say they would like to receive more.

There is regional disparity in how people feel about charitable requests. People in the Midlands are more likely than average to say they get too many additional appeals, with just 7% saying they would be happy to receive more approaches from charities they donate to regularly.

Risk says: “In the Midlands, it seems people feel they receive too many calls for charitable requests. They like to be contacted less often if they are already donating.”

JustGiving’s head of marketing Romain Bertrand points out that people have different preferences for being contacted and for donating. The charity is looking into mobile donations (see The Frontline, below) and has recently set up corporate donations, after realising that a large number of people currently giving supplied their company address.

And while Oxfam is not currently using street collectors, Vanags at the charity says it should be done “well and respectfully” for success.

Risk agrees, saying there is a balance to be had between the more intrusive but effective collection methods and those that are more passive. He says: “The study shows that television ads are the most popular way to make charitable requests, and this is probably because it is the least intrusive way of getting the message across.

“But how effective is it compared to stopping people in the street? It may be less intrusive and not intrude on people’s personal space so much, but it is probably quite an expensive way of getting a message across. Charities have to make sure the returns justify it.”


Paul Vanags
Head of supporter acquisition and innovation


There are clearly some communications channels consumers prefer, but there are different preferences for different people. Some tend to like channels which interrupt them less.

It is easy to avoid somebody calling at home or somebody approaching you on the street. If donation requests are done well and respectfully, and if fundraisers have been given training, then there is certainly nothing wrong with those channels and they are quite effective.

Oxfam is not doing street fundraising for the moment. This is more for commercial reasons than having anything against the method. The research results are consistent with what we see, in that television and street collecting are how people prefer to be approached.

However, I am surprised that the least popular method is cold-calling. When we talk to people on the phone, we don’t get many hanging up straightaway. Most are happy to have some kind of conversation. We don’t use pure cold-calling – the people we call have generally indicated that they are open to be called about subjects we ring them about.


Romain Bertrand
Head of marketing


The preferred methods right now are the traditional ones like TV and street collections. Our role has been to offer new ways for charities to raise money and for the public to give, for example through mobile.

But not everybody wants the same approach. Some people are happy to be stopped in the street and give their mobile details or set up a direct debit. Then there are some who need time to make a decision and want to do some research.

So we are trying to move away from just one way of raising money. JustGiving working through corporates is another new idea. When we looked through our database of 30 million people in the UK, we found a large portion of them work for corporates, shown by their email addresses. So we looked at those companies that try to do a lot of fundraising and approached businesses such as John Lewis, Barclays and KPMG – usually through their HR managers. We have had a lot of interest through this strategy; a lot of companies are now pushing their colleagues to participate in fundraising.


Karen Sorab

Beyond Autism

We do not cold-call. As a general rule, I think cold-calling is distasteful. I’d never donate to a charity that had cold-called me, so why would I do it to others?

We’re quite a small charity (we have a £1.5m turnover per year) so we don’t use television or large-scale advertising. Take That group member Mark Owen is a patron of our charity but using celebrities is just one way of raising a charity’s profile. It is not the only way and not always the best way. But it is fantastic if you do get a celebrity involved; it gives you a wider audience for a start.

Large charities will have a very different perspective on these study findings than we do. Our website is a major marketing tool for us. Other ways we market ourselves include going to trade relations shows. We don’t advertise, partly because the cost is so prohibitive. We do use Twitter, Facebook and we send out targeted direct marketing.

People who donate to our website are predominantly female. We’re a charity that deals with young children who are affected by severe autism, so I think we’re more likely to appeal to women.

Our donors also tend to be in their 30s, so if they have children themselves they might relate to us more.







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