A tragic story has appeared in the press about a 92 year old woman found dead in the Avon Gorge, with claims that being bombarded with messages requesting donations from a range of charities had taken its toll on her mental health. Whilst this is an extreme case (and one which should certainly be open to scrutiny), it highlights the importance of an ethical approach to fundraising from individuals.
It has been made abundantly clear to us as fellows that donor engagement is not just simply ensuring that people give you money: it is about building strong, positive relationships which are mutually beneficial.
Isn’t this always the case? Some charities have been criticised for their activities, both in the forms of street fundraising and cold calling campaigns. This highlights the necessity to be aware of our responsibilities as fundraisers.
But surely the most important thing is ensuring that we raise funds for our charitable activities? Well, evidence suggests that treating donor relationships with respect is actually highly beneficial to us as fundraisers, and a lack of care could well lose us funding.
A case in point: I was approached on the street by a fundraiser for a major UK charity. Usually, I avoid giving in these situations, as signing up to a monthly direct debit is often the only option, which seems like a hefty commitment at the first point of engagement. However, in this instance they asked that I text to give a donation £5, which I was more than happy to do.
However, less than fifteen minutes later I received a phone call from the charity requesting a monthly donation. Whilst they thanked me for my gift, they made it abundantly clear that their charity needed ongoing support to function. When I told them that I appreciated this but wasn’t in a position to commit, the conversation became pushy. I felt that my donation was worthless to the charity, I felt undervalued and angry. Had they called me to thank me at a later date, and told me what my donation had contributed towards, perhaps this ask would have been successful.
We have a responsibility to act ethically as charities. Ensuring that donors feel appreciated is essential, not only because we have a duty of care, but also because we are likely to reap the rewards of strong, positive relationships.
So what does this mean in terms of fundraising? David Burgess, writes an excellent blog emphasising the importance of relationships in creating a ‘giving culture’ in the arts, stating that the key is asking, thanking and engaging. So why are these strong relationships so integral to fundraising success? As he puts it:
‘A lot of organisations focus the majority of their time and resource on recruiting new donors and don’t think enough about retaining the supporters they have. However, it has often been proven that retaining donors is far more cost effective than recruiting donors.
In addition to the cost saving, the amount of money donated is also likely to be higher. A 2001 study found that a 10% improvement in retention rates can lead to a 200% increase in projected income, as donors increase the size of their gift, support your work in a number of ways, leave a legacy and encourage their friends and family to also support.’
In the arts, we are in a position of great strength when building relationships with existing and potential donors. Where other charities may have to build a network out of street, door-to-door, telephone fundraising and expensive marketing campaigns, we are often lucky enough to have an existing ‘audience’. The relationships should prove stronger for it: people who give don’t necessarily just engage as a donor, they buy tickets to your events and know your work on an immediate level. They are direct beneficiaries of your charitable activity and therefore the very reason we raise funds. We have a variety of opportunities to demonstrate the impact of their gifts, making them understand how significant their contribution is. As fundraisers, we owe it to our donors to give them a positive experience and to make arts fundraising a two-way street; when both parties are happy, arts fundraising is sure to flourish.
What do you think? We’d love to hear your views.