Want to know more about what turns your donors on and off? A recent report ‘The 21st Century Donor’ by UK-based research firm nfpSynergy, sheds some light. In this extract, Michele Madden and Joe Saxton explore emerging cultural and social trends driving donor attitudes and behaviours.

Want to know more about what turns your donors on and off? A recent report ‘The 21st Century Donor’ by UK-based research firm nfpSynergy, sheds some light. In this extract, Michele Madden and Joe Saxton explore emerging cultural and social trends driving donor attitudes and behaviours.
Culture Shift 1: The Growth Of Irrationality And The Cult Of The Individual

The world is not as rational as we would like to believe, where facts and importance set the agenda for our media consumption. We live in an irrational world where brands, fashion, celebrities, emotions, nosy-ness and huge choice drive our daily lives and viewing habits. We are governed by our hearts not our heads.

A generation ago, what we consumed in news terms was limited to a handful of TV stations and newspapers. Now there has been an explosion in news. In 1982 it would have taken just 18 hours to consume all the TV and radio output of news for a single day. Today it would take three weeks.

The growth has not been in hard-edged foreign reporting or sharp political insights, but in soft news: celebrities, sport, fashion and entertainment. Witness the mainstream media’s intoxication with Paris Hilton or the fate of one missing child (the terrible story of Madeleine McCann).

This style of media has implications for the world of donors and fundraising. Charities tend to believe that their appeals must be rational, with the more people helped the greater the appeal. Far from it – some studies have shown that facts are a turn-off for donors – a single compelling case study is often far more powerful. The way society produces and consumes media has a profound impact on the way that donors will consume information about charities. If charity appeals are too boring, too dry, too factual and too passionless, many consumers are likely to be disinterested and disenfranchised.

Culture Shift 2: The Rise Of Mass Affluence, Free Time And The Importance Of Feeling Good

There are more and more people who are mass affluent – as defined by liquid (non-property) assets of more than ?50,000. Not only are the mass affluent on the increase, but so is the wealth of the population as a whole. Disposable income has doubled since the early 1980s, and the cost of housing, groceries, transport and leisure has fallen in real terms.

Alongside this increase in wealth (and decrease in costs) is a freeing up of people’s time. The amount of time spent (particularly by women) on domestic chores has fallen dramatically over the last 40 years (farewell twin tub, hello ready meals).

The net result of all this is a significant portion of the population has more money and more time than ever before. And much of this time and money is spent on leisure and experiences: more overseas holidays, more plasma TVs, more Play Stations and all that.

So the rise of mass affluence presents both challenges and opportunities. The opportunity is to persuade people with surplus money to spend it on a cause they care deeply about. The challenge is that competition between charities is negligible compared to competition with the other ways that people can spend their money. When even the richest households spend 99.5% of their wealth on anything but charities, the 0.5% for giving is a tiny portion of the whole.

The good news is that evidence indicates people who have extra money are increasingly interested in spending it in a way that makes them feel good about themselves, and realises their dreams about who they are, and the world in which they live.

So the challenge for fundraisers is simple. Giving money needs to be as rewarding and satisfying as the overseas holiday, the home cinema system or the new car. Giving money to a charity needs to do as much for tomorrow’s generation as leaving wealth to grandchildren. Giving money needs to say something as powerful about the type of person they are or want to be, as buying a Gucci handbag or wearing a Rolex watch. Charity brands will only need to become more powerful and more distinctive – because the commercial brands they compete with are just that.

Culture Shift 3: The Expectation Of Choice And The Need For Instant Gratification

Choice is increasing in every area of our lives. We have massive choice every time we go to the supermarket, browse the internet, buy a mobile phone, pick a holiday, choose a book and just about every aspect of our lives. Despite all this increase in choice most of us are comfortable with the level of choice we have – though older people are more likely to want limited choice.

We all have our own strategies for dealing with choice. We buy the brands we know and love. We shop on price. We listen to friends’ recommendations. We use advisors to help mediate our purchase decisions (Which? Magazine, newspaper reviews). We pick at random or on superficial choices like colour or style. We stick with the choices we made before. In short, as a result of the mushrooming of choice over the last ten years we, as a society, are not just used to choice – we now expect it.

Ironically although charities tend to fret about the 180,000 charities to compete with, this rarely delivers choice for the giving public. We survive the choice in our commercial buying because we understand how to differentiate between those choices (with the possible exception of washing powders). We use price or brand or prior experience or recommendations or Fairtrade or a host of other methods to help us navigate the volume of products we have to deal with on a daily basis.

The second insidious effect that the rise of choice brings is its impact on what punters expect their money will do. Go shopping on the internet or in a supermarket and there are decisions about the best value return ?20 will deliver – and whether the purchase is worth it.

Go giving to a charity and not only is there rarely instant gratification of seeing a job well done, but charities will often have many caveats about the effectiveness of their work: it takes time; it’s very complicated; we will spend it in a basket of ways and so on.

Nowhere is the disparity more keenly felt than on some of the biggest issues that face the planet. If you want to tackle climate change, HIV/AIDS, trade inequalities or third world debt there are numerous agencies who would love to take your money. But whether your donation will be effective is totally uncertain – the issues are so huge, so complicated, so long-term and so hard to tackle.

It’s no wonder that many people feel a sense of learned helplessness when confronted with donating money to tackle these issues. ?20 spent on a couple of DVDs may not stop climate change – but at least it will definitely provide a couple of evening’s entertainment.

Culture Shift 4: The Rise Of The Baby Boomer And The Demise Of The World War II Generation

The baby boomers are coming. That burst of population born roughly between 1947 and 1960: a response to years of Second World War hardship and post-war austerity. But baby boomers aren’t just about a spike in population numbers. They are also about a change in attitudes compared to the generation that came before them.

Baby boomers are more independent – liberal in their social attitudes they came of age in the swinging sixties. But they are also more demanding. Baby boomers tend not to accept authority in the way their parents did. They tend to expect the world to be the way they want it to be. They have less of a sense of duty compared to their parents.

As baby boomers creep towards retirement they will have more disposable income (perhaps the last generation for a while to have full pensions), be healthier and want to engage with charities in a way that impacts their lives.

Culture Shift 5: The Importance Of The Internet – But Not In A Starring Role

The commercial world has been revolutionised by the internet. The world of contacting and finding out about charities has been massively changed. But the world of fundraising and donors remains largely unchanged. There are a few charities that benefit hugely from the internet – those who deal with disasters and emergencies overseas or anybody who has substantial numbers of runners in events like the London Marathon.

But since the internet was created we have heard talk of a revolution in giving. We don’t believe that revolution has come yet – and we don’t believe it ever will. There are several reasons for this.

Firstly, giving is not a rational activity. People don’t decide who to give to on the basis of facts and ratios. They decide who to give to based on the causes they care about or the charity brands they know and trust. Indeed some people give not because of any affiliation with the cause, but because they were asked by the right person at the right time. Face-to-face fundraising on the street works partly because of personal chemistry and attraction. As one fundraising director told us – “with an all male recruitment team, the number of young women donors we have recruited has gone up.”

The corollary of this is that few people go off and search all the financial details of a charity before deciding to give to it. Giving is not like pensions or cars or washing machines. Not only is it much harder to compare the features of a charity but most people don’t want to work that hard. As somebody said in one of our focus groups “If they are a big name charity they are a brand. I just trust them to do a good job.” However no charity can afford to take this for granted.

Secondly giving is all about asking. Few people wake up in the morning and think I must give today. So they don’t go and seek out the perfect charity to meet their needs. Indeed most people give because somebody asked them. That doesn’t mean they were cajoled against their will into giving, merely that asking for a donation, like going on a first date, is a vital part of beginning a relationship – and somebody has to do the asking.

Joe Saxton is the Founder and Michele Madden is a Senior Consultant with nfpSynergy. The 21st Century Donor report is available to download for free from www.nfpSynergy.net