Clear Thinking

The Disparity Between Donor Trust and Consideration to Give

I was recently asked by a client to conduct a market assessment. Part of that assessment involved reviewing the organisation’s relative position against similar organisations. There are several longitudinal reports and studies available providing rich seams of data to mine.

One report* I reviewed, tracked a variety of general public opinions about UK charities. I was particularly interested in determining if levels of trust in charities changed depending on the cause of the charity (see fig 1).


Fig 1

As has been widely covered in the media, public trust in UK charities took a battering in 2015/6. The signs of recovery are starting to show, with 2017 trust levels at around 63.7%. Not quite at 2013 levels, but getting there.

Only one cause – Children – has marginally increased levels of trust since 2013. All other causes have declined significantly in their levels of public trust.

The data indicates that certain causes are perceived to be trusted more than others. Medical Research, Disability and Healthcare causes all appear to be trusted more than Animals, Children and Overseas causes.

The reasons for this difference are not immediately clear. But the same report I was reviewing provided an interesting insight into the general public’s willingness to consider donating to specific causes (see fig 2).


Fig 2

Across all causes, the data indicated that the public would consider making a donation to all causes more so in 2017 than in 2013. For sure, the UK economy has gone through some turbulent times and it wasn’t until 2015 that GDP returned to pre-recession (2008) levels. This could help explain some of the increase in consideration to donate in 2017.

But what was interesting to see is that the change in trust levels from 2013-2017 were largely negative whilst the changes in consideration to donate were all positive (see fig 3).


Fig 3

Most fundraisers in the UK would not dispute that trust is absolutely fundamental to building strong relationships between charities and donors. But if we are to build trust with donors and turn consideration to donate into action, we need to recognise that donors support charities in order to achieve their own personal missions, not just the charity’s mission.

Beth Breeze, at the Centre for Charitable Giving and Philanthropy, has produced an excellent study How Donors Choose Charities which makes for fascinating reading. The study observes that:

…donors find it difficult to make decisions about charitable recipients, and that they use a range of strategies to assist their decision making, including:
a) Constructing self made classifications and ‘mental maps’ to help cope with the complexity of the charity sector.
b) Using heuristics, or ‘rules of thumb’, to filter potential charitable recipients.
c) Pre assigning certain causes as intrinsically ‘worthy’ or ‘unworthy’ of support.

As fundraisers, we need to take a much more donor-centric approach to building relationships. This isn’t glib code meaning ‘send a nice welcome pack’. A donor-centric approach to fundraising represents a fundamental change in the way the charity sector operates and measures success.

The key influencers on great supporter experiences should not just be restricted to donating – activities such as campaigning, volunteering and advocating all play an important role in delivering charitable missions.

If we are to genuinely build trust with the public we need to, far more effectively, understand our supporters’ (and potential supporters’) personal missions – that is, what they want to achieve in life. If we understand that, we may be in with a chance of showing how our causes can help them achieve their life goals.

By making an effort to find out about our donor’s personal missions we will strengthen levels of trust which will lead to stronger, more sustainable donor relationships in the future.

* Source: Charity Brand Index Report 2017, produced by Harris Interactive in association with Third Sector Research

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