Isn’t it just a little too easy to opt out of charitable giving?

Published by Emma Jhita on

Surely we all want to be charitable, to make a difference with the small amount of money we can spare each month? It’s not even that it’s a selfless gift… signing-up to donate to charity on a regular basis makes us feel good and, provided it’s a cause we’re aligned to, provides a whole new area for research, reflection and discussion (who knows, we may even encourage our friends and family to commit to the cause too).

So why do donors, especially the young donors for whose future giving concern has so recently been raised (Third Sector – 21 September 2012), find it so easy to cancel that direct debit? As times become tougher, and headlines about the dire state of the economy in so many parts of the world seem unrelenting, upon analysing the bank statement and realising the account balance is not looking so healthy, why is it that the £10 monthly direct debit to that worthwhile cause is the payment we stop? Sure, we might also cut back on nights out and premium coffees, even start bring lunch into the office… but this is seldom long-lived whilst that regular charitable donation remains stopped (possibly until the next chance encounter with a charming face-to-face Fundraiser!) Isn’t it just a little too easy to opt out of charitable giving?

Like a gym membership?

On working to establish a fundraising programme in a new market some time ago our banking risk was initially deemed ‘high’. The type of payments to be requested – high volume, low value (typical of regular gifts from an individual) were compared by our bank’s account manager to gym membership payments. I would love to see what kind of gym can be joined for €15 a month… hopefully one that also works to effect positive global change!! Despite appropriate briefings our bank contact then expressed surprise at the number of potential failed payments (in fundraising terms an acceptable no-show rate) as “this isn’t something seen in the commercial world”. No, and that would be because for gym memberships, TV and energy subscriptions, etc, consumers are tied into a contract – very often for as long as 18-24 months – and, as consumers, we accept this long-term commitment based on anticipated service provision (which in my experience very often falls far short). Charities do not have this luxury. There is no contract, much to the frustration of many finance managers I am sure, only a simple pledge form confirming the practical payment details. Our ‘contract’ with the supporter is based on their verbal agreement to the gift, their acceptance and buy-in to the pitch delivered by the fundraiser.

Develop an irresistible user experience  

Whilst it is tempting to imagine a world where fundraising consists of products that donors can sign up for and enter into a contract over a given period (the RSPCA’s new mobile phone service may have taken the first steps down this road: this is not the recognisable philanthropic model). Our objective as charities is surely not purely to develop the most innovative, engaging and ‘of the moment’ product but to develop an irresistible user experience. One which brings the donor closer to the charity and enables them to feel they’re playing a significant part in the charity’s mission. Able to shape and influence, even to the tiniest extent, the charity’s activities and in the knowledge that donations are being spent wisely and having the greatest possible impact. This was brilliantly articulated by Dan Pallotta who delivered the inspirational closing plenary of the Resource Alliance’s 2011, and is author of the inspirational book “Uncharitable”. (Still much discussed at the recent 2012 IFC)

It is the groundwork that counts

Amid the current wave of NGO and INGO re-structures and internal development appears to be a real shift in focus towards both innovation (necessary investment in) and also the supporter experience – often a re-shaping of the supporter retention or development team. Whilst this shift is both admirable and exciting (both for charities and the donors themselves) the donor experience doesn’t start when recruits are handed over from acquisition but way before recruitment even takes place. Information communicated about the charity, both above and below the line, and the recruitment channel, the ‘product’, the fundraisers themselves… all contribute massively to that initial (and ongoing) donor experience. It is this groundwork – where we work hard to engage our supporters, prove our effectiveness as a charity and act as an enabler for the donors passion for the cause – that then forms the foundations for a lifetime’s engagement, and hopefully even a legacy gift after the donor’s lifetime. Surely we as fundraisers, and working more widely with campaigns and within our organisations as a whole – can show our donors that this is a more sound investment than a few well-intentioned gym sessions followed by monthly payments that effect no change whatsoever?

Emma Jhita

Emma Jhita is a fundraiser working for the global animal welfare charity WSPA. Having championed marketing and fundraising for non-profits as diverse as the Royal British Legion, London's Design Museum and the Cultural Industries Development Agency, Emma has broad experience of many and varied fundraising channels and approaches, and has raised funds for both revenue and capital programmes, nationally and internationally.

1 Comment

Peter Gorbert · December 5, 2012 at 16:12

I think you make some interesting point. as a young donor (and fundraiser) myself I have recently cancelled all but one of my regular monthly donations, not because I wanted to save money, but because I was tired of being continually asked by the charities I support for more money with no indication of where the money I gave went.
I think the problem with direct debits is not that they’re so easy to cancel, but that people are getting persuaded into agreeing to a direct debit for a cause they don’t really believe in. I think a cultural change away from donating being a task you get forced into by clipboard wielding young girls and boys on the street, and towards a cultural of regular giving for the pleasure of improving lives and making a difference is what’s needed.
Also I don’t think having some form of contract is the answer either, as this can lead to long term bad will and a stronger aversion to signing up to direct debits. I personally had a gym membership that I couldn’t get out of, I didn’t use it and in the end it cost be a lot of time and money to get out of. I’m very unlikely to sign up to a gym membership in the future and if charity donations were the same I’d be unlikely to do that too.

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