Giving on a Prayer; could charities really put awareness above fundraising and hope for the best?

I’ve done it once before - been temporarily immobilised, on crutches and all of a sudden started sparing a thought for those where this is reality.

I’ve done it once before - been temporarily immobilised, on crutches and all of a sudden started sparing a thought for those where this is reality. Recently, I got sideswiped on my bike and it again got me thinking how I took my active lifestyle and mobility for granted before that Great Cycle Highway Pile-up of 2013. My bandage-laden pondering led me to thinking: "is this how charities acquire most of their donors?" Let me explain…

I imagine a lot of people feel this way when they’re deprived of something (or even of someone) they’ve always had. You become acutely aware of what this is like for others. My wandering wondering then took me onto how much support for a charity comes from people being directly affected by the affliction/situation that charity is set up to combat.

A quick Google search throws up countless examples of people who did something sponsored or even set up a charity because they, or someone they care about, had personal experience of something serious. Indeed, our data seems to back this up.

When we asked people about what makes people support their favourite charities, 41% said that “events in their life led them to decide issues were important”. A third said they “already felt strongly about issues and searched for a charity supporting them”. The personal experience is powerful.

The key stat though, for me, is that just 7% said they support a charity because a charity asked them to. Considering the public believe charities spend 25% of their income on fundraising and say 22% is acceptable, surely there’s an imbalance. 22% of money to get 7% of donors?

Charities obviously rely on donors and fundraising. The public clearly see it as acceptable for charities to spend money on fundraising, but do most of the people who volunteer, give and fundraise do so because of that fundraising? The data indicates no. So then, given there are often so many different charities for the same cause, how and why do people choose one?

Take football clubs as an example. Premier League grounds welcome around 13.5m visitors a year, paying through the nose to watch their team. Teams don’t actively advertise or recruit fans. Many fans dedicate at least some part of their lives to their team because of where they’re from, or their Dad’s preference, or because of a personal experience. The club’s success, profile, presence in people’s lives and sheer reach is what wins them fans.

Assuming people don’t set a charity up themselves, they’re likely to pick one they’ve heard of, be it a huge national (or international) one or a local one that’s big in the community. In the day and age where charities can chat to millions for free on social media, is awareness-raising becoming more profitable than fundraising?

I’m not suggesting that charities should give up spending money on fundraising, or even retrench. For me, fundraising is a bit like the Royal Family. It costs money, sometimes appears extravagant and certain activities might lose money, but as long as it makes a profit overall it helps make steps towards achieving the overall goal and it’s worth it. But it’s crucial to remember there are many charity ‘fans’ that need directing, rather than persuading to give. Our data shows this is unlikely to change.

So are a charity’s donations inevitable? Some of them are I’m sure. Can charities sit on their laurels, save their fundraising money, focus purely on awareness and expect to be sustained financially? None could ever take the risk!

But for as long as your cause exists, people’s lives will continue to be affected by it and so many people will give. With new modern channels and methods of communication, the key concern might no longer be ‘persuading people to give’. It could become how to persuade people to give to you. It’s a world of uncertainty.

What is certain is that life is unfortunately rife with personal tragedy and loss. It’s just heart-warming and reassuring to know something good still comes out of it.


Have we gone up the gears to agreement? Or should we get on our bike? Leave us a comment below.


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