Over the last 20 years, an awful lot of the British public have started give to charity because some fundraiser or other persuaded them to donate a very small monthly amount. It might only be £2 or £3, but it’s fair to say that the widespread promotion of this type of giving has transformed both the fortunes of many charities and the number of people who give regularly.
There is now a backlash against this type of giving. For some time, fundraisers have been tending to ask for ever greater amounts of money. Part of the reason for increasing the ask is that the economics of giving mean asking for as little £2 a month makes getting a decent payback quite hard.
Street fundraisers are typically asking for £10 a month as their opening bid. One told me I couldn’t give less than £13 a month – and sure enough, his form wouldn’t let me. Telephone fundraisers are no different. One call took my breath away when the fundraiser asked for £66 a month! To be fair, the programme had simply tripled my existing donation. So you’ll hunt high and low for an opening ask of £2 a month, although paper-based requests will sometimes still ask for that amount.
There are other more ideological reasons against £2 a month. A number of prominent fundraising directors have said that this level of donation gives donors a misleading impression about what their money can do. The argument goes that telling people how much their £2 monthly donation will do makes them think they can solve all of the world’s problems on next to nothing.
However, this argument is quite frankly nonsense. The idea that £2 a month makes no difference, but £5 or £10 a month will change the world doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Indeed, there is no amount that all but the richest people can give that will make a real difference. £2 million a month maybe, but not £2. But the idea that we shouldn’t promote £2 a month because it will mislead people is about as watertight as a sieve. It is the collective amount that matters.
Starting people off giving £2 a month has a lot going for it in both fundraising and psychological terms. The higher the amount fundraisers ask for, the greater the hurdle they create in getting people to give at all, not least because so many people give to several charities, not just one. £2 a month (or less) is an easy starting point in a donor development journey which gradually sees engagement, interest and generosity increase.
It is also powerful because it allows for step-free, scalable donation increases. In other words, if you ask somebody for £25 once a year and later want to double their donation, you need them to make a single donation of £50 - quite a dent in that month’s money. Yet if they give £25 over the year by donating a small amount every month, you only need to increase that by £2.
Many years ago I went to a talk by a fundraising consultant who said he made a good living by going into charities, asking them to tell him all the fundraising appeals they had made in the last decade and then getting them to redo the one that had worked the best.
As the fundraising world asks for ever higher amounts of money, perhaps it is time to go back to asking for £2 a month. Then we can see how we can encourage a new generation of people to start giving on the very first rung of the regulation donation ladder.