Trust – survey says…

OSCR (the Scottish Charity Regulator) recently published the results of two surveys about public support for charities in Scotland; one survey asked Joe Public, the other charities themselves. I’m not so interested in how charities perceive OSCR and its work, so let’s look at the survey of the lovely public, and see what can be gleaned from their answers.

Overall, it looks pretty good! As this infographic shows:

oscr infographic
(Someone should maybe tell OSCR to simplify a little bit though.)

Looking at the headlines, 91% of the 1,000 people surveyed said they’d given time, money or goods to charities. Hooray, thanks lovely public, you’re awesome! A personal connection to the cause or charity was very important for a high number of people. *nods head sagely* Yup, that strikes a chord with my own experience.

So far, so good. So then I took a look at the detailed results and- oh.

oscr detail
Trust in meeeeee…..

This slide definitely caught my attention. If you’ve ever had to ask/beg to send a newsletter or update that’s just that – no ask – you’ll know what I’m on about.

Top of the “builds trust” list: Knowing where the money goes. Second: Seeing evidence of where money goes. Third: Having contact with a charity. If that’s not a deafening shout in favour of better stewardship, I don’t know what is!

Great, that we can do! We can find good stories from our students and researchers, and tell our donors what they’re gifts are achieving! Hooray, positive again!

Then we look at the “breaks trust” list. The things that stand out most to me are: Money spent on admin, Being asked to increase regular donations, and Wasting money on gimmicky gifts or marketing.

Ok, money spent on admin. Yes, I understand that we want every penny to go towards the cause. But spending a little on admin makes us better. It makes us more efficient, as we have better systems in place to manage our income and outgoings. It makes us more transparent; because we have better systems, we can report directly what donations are doing – we can track how it’s spent and make sure it’s spent in the right way, according to the donor’s wishes. If we spend enough on admin to help us improve things like this, we can raise more and thus more goes towards the cause.

That could be a good thing, right? If we actually told donors what we do and why we do it like that? If we took some of the mystery out of it, would that help? Maybe.

Moving on to being asked to increase regular donations. Now, this one, I get. As it says in the presentation, it can be damaging to a relationship to ask someone to give a little bit more on top of what they already give. But people give because they’re asked, a lot of the time. So if we treat it sensitively, acknowledge that everyone’s circumstances are different and above all, thank them for what they already do give, maybe we can turn this one around a little too.

Screen-Shot-2014-04-09-at-14.55.15Which brings us to gimmicky gifts and marketing. And here’s where I get more cynical.

Because testing and research shows that sometimes what the public say they don’t like and what they actually respond to can be very different things.*

The only way I can see to get an accurate picture of how donors feel about freebies and gimmicks is to test it. After all, that’s what’s really important, isn’t it? How donors to your charity feel about these things.

I love reading surveys and research about donor behaviour. It helps me think about my own approaches to what I’m doing, and it can help me make the case to anyone who’s uncertain that sending a letter with no ask is a good idea; we have to think long-term as well as short.

But it’s just a guideline, because people say and do different things. And what’s true for your donors when they think of one charity might not be true across all their giving. I know I’m definitely guilty of forgetting sometimes that the folks who very kindly support our students probably also support several other causes that are close to their hearts too.

I guess my point, in a very long-winded way, is that surveys can be very useful to help guide our thinking as fundraisers, but we mustn’t ever forget that our donors are more than survey respondents. Or flagged as a possible upgrade ask in our appeal segmentation. Or ID numbers in a database that we can use to see exactly where their gift is going, so we can report back to them in a heartfelt letter.

Our donors are people, we should keep talking to them like they’re people. And remember that people are at the heart of what we try to achieve together.


Here’s the link to that very interesting OSCR research.  Thanks OSCR!

*I’m utterly convinced there’s a scientific name for this, but I can’t for the life of me figure out what it is. Bonus points to anyone who can enlighten me. 



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