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Indifference to aggravation; are fundraisers capable of both maximising income and minimising irritation?

Fundraisers are being subjected to a form of torture. On the one hand, they are highly dependent on fundraising techniques which cause a high degree of aggravation. On the other hand, it is those very fundraising techniques which are the most effective in raising money.

Fundraisers are being subjected to a form of torture. On the one hand, they are highly dependent on fundraising techniques which cause a high degree of aggravation. On the other hand, it is those very fundraising techniques which are the most effective in raising money. They are pulled in these two different directions; the need to raise money and the pressure to reduce annoyance and irritation.

While I have sympathy with their dilemma, I have little with fundraisers’ response to it. The standard position is denial that they have a problem with public aggravation. If only we researchers asked the questions a bit differently, they say, then the answers would be different. If only we stopped being so ‘negative’ in our approach, the problem would disappear. There really isn’t a problem with the levels of annoyance caused by fundraising, just with the way ‘chatterati’ of the sector like me talk about things.

Fundraisers can look like they are indifferent to aggravation, behaving as if public unhappiness is just collateral damage in their struggle to raise more money.

So what is in our new research that has re-ignited this argument?

We asked people which fundraising techniques they find ‘very annoying’, which they think are ‘effective ways to raise money’ and which they are ‘happy to be asked to donate’ via. The results showed that over half of the British public found telephone and doorstep fundraising ‘very annoying’. Their preferred forms of fundraising were TV adverts and cash collections, with around 30% saying they were happy to be asked in these ways.

After this research was published, I got an email from the MD of one the door-to-door agencies to say:

The negative-leaning nature of the questions without any follow up to provide the context makes it inevitable that dialogue channels will fare badly.

How they reached this conclusion I’m not sure. There was no giant arrow in the survey saying “be rude about this type of fundraising.” The options were also randomised so that none were favoured.

Peter Lewis of the Institute of Fundraising said in a recent blog:

a large amount of this is coming from those who seem to me to be doing their utmost to create a wholly negative fug around the sector, and how much it is trusted.” The way we apparently do this is by “creating yet more poor quality survey reports with leading questions asking people what charities do badly, without asking them what charities do well.

Does he mean our research? I think he does.

This ‘indifference to aggravation’ is shooting the messenger rather than hearing the message. In our research, the public could very easily have declared themselves ‘happy’ with all the types of fundraising and found none of them ‘annoying’. We also asked them which types of fundraising they thought were effective. They had plenty of opportunity to say how much they liked fundraising and how none of the methods used annoyed them.

But they didn’t. Nope. Half said they find doorstep fundraising ‘very annoying’ because they find it, well, very annoying. The MD who emailed just can’t admit the fundraising their company does annoys people. It’s all the fault of researchers apparently.

The fundraising community is happier to blame researchers than actually re-engineer the self-regulation system. Yet the Institute of Fundraising sets the standards and those standards aren’t reducing the aggravation. There is no voice of the donor on the Institute’s standard committee. The Institute’s self-regulation standards are not tackling the high levels of public annoyance about fundraising.

The polarisation of these responses is unhelpful. As I have said many times before, there are plenty of simple solutions to reduce aggravation. Here are just three:

  • Charities should agree that ‘no cold calling’ stickers on a front door apply to them as well
  • Charities should ask their supporters if they are happy to be telephoned and if there are good times and bad times to call
  • Charities should ask their supporters once a year if they would like to hear from them more or less frequently

Stephen George, the Vice-Chair of the Institute of Fundraising, wrote a blog on bad habits that fundraisers should avoid and his number 1 was ‘not listening to the donor’. It’s excellent advice. Our research is all about listening to donors, no matter how awkward the things they say. It’s what the sector bodies and agencies that look after self-regulation should do as well.

The first step in tackling this problem is for the fundraising community is to admit there is one.

 

Nodding? Shaking? Leave us a comment below.

You can see our research, including free slides, here. If you like to see Joe present this data in our latest 5 minute nfpSoundbite, click here.

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