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How to find — and keep — individual donors

Originally published: January 2017

Donations from the public make up about a third of fundraising charities' income in the U.K., with citizens giving about 1 percent of their income to charity — an estimated £9.5 billion annually. But individual donors are valuable not only in monetary terms. Fundraising helps build brand awareness and connects your charity to the community in which you operate.

In addition, tracking donations can be a useful feedback mechanism for how your charity is perceived or how you're performing. Many charities are proud to be entirely funded by voluntary donations.

If individual donors are a significant part of your fundraising strategy, you'll need to know what makes them tick. Where should you start?

Understand how people see charities

British citizens have a strong tradition of charitable giving, with the U.K. recently ranked among the top 10 countries in proportion and actual number of citizens giving to charity. Many charities are household names, partly thanks to the presence of their high street shops. According to a 2016 survey, 86 percent of Brits have bought something in a charity shop. The international #GivingTuesday campaign, which was first launched in the U.K. in 2014, reported a significant increase in the total amount donated just a year later.

But while the vast majority of the public agree that charities still play an important or even essential role in society, trust has been badly damaged in recent years. A 2016 study on behalf of the Charity Commission reported some common concerns.

For example, more than half of those surveyed said they know very little about how charities are run and managed. Across the public as a whole, three quarters agreed that some fundraising methods make them feel uncomfortable and two thirds believed that charities spend too much on salaries and administration. Respondents also said they are put off by high-pressure fundraising approaches such as persistent phone calls, adverts that manipulate emotional responses and street fundraising (chugging).

What does all this mean for your organization? A strategy focused on individual donors can be a viable one, but earning (and keeping) people's trust is crucial. Stick to ethical guidelines on fundraising, such as those produced by the Institute of Fundraising, and ensure your team understands the importance of these.

On transparency, consider going beyond just what's required of you by law — for example, by publishing clearly on your website how much you pay your chief executive. Explain how you spend your overheads, and why that's crucial to the work you do.

Use the research

The Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) publishes an annual report looking at how much is donated, who the donors are, where donations go and the trends over time. Their 2017 report found that the most popular cause is medical research, with 26 percent of those surveyed saying they had given to this in the past four weeks, closely followed by animal welfare and children and young people.

Other companies provide more specific analysis. For example, a 2016 report from Charity Financials found that animal causes receive the most legacies — with 15.8 percent of all legacy income to the top 5,000 charities going to this group. Use research like this to find out if there's a particular market of potential donors you could tap into.

On donors themselves, CAF has found that more than half of all donations now come from those age 60 or older, while the proportion of donations made by the under-30s has more than halved since the 1980s. Could you target older people more effectively? Could you do more to engage young people in your cause now, since some, after all, may become donors as they grow older and earn more?

While some charities use donor segmentation — categorizing donors by behavior or characteristics to better understand and therefore communicate with them — some say the focus should be on trying to inspire all donors. Word of mouth and personal recommendation are major factors in choosing to support a charitable cause. For charities such as SolarAid (cited by Charity Choice), a strong purpose and a simple, inspirational story that's easily shared is arguably the most important donor engagement strategy.

Could you do more with your case studies — for example, picking out different angles for different audiences and using case studies across multiple channels?

Make giving fun — and easy

What are some of the most lucrative fundraising efforts? In 2014, Cancer Research UK raised £8 million in just six days by capitalising on the #nomakeupselfie social media trend, according to the Guardian. Other events with low participation barriers and an emphasis on fun or community have had huge success. Race for Life, World's Biggest Coffee Morning and Movember were the top earners in 2014.

Could you create a fun campaign in your local area? A competition? Ask your volunteers and staff members for their ideas.

As for how people give, cash is still the most popular option. Almost half of donors make cash gifts including in pubs, shops, churches and club collections and through face-to-face fundraising, tins in street collections, sponsorships and fundraising events, according to NCVO. (Payroll giving — where donations are automatically deducted from pay before tax is paid — is still one of the least common methods, with only 3 percent of the workforce donating in this way.)

But if cash is king, amounts tend to be small. Cash brings in only 18 percent of the total value of donations. Most charities will need to offer cashless giving to keep up with changes in the personal finance sector more broadly. Could your organization follow the lead of some early adopters and offer "tap to give" technology at events, shops, hospices or other physical locations?

Those surveyed for the 2016 Charity Commission study on trust also highlighted other ways to give, such as by sending goods rather than money, or by guaranteeing a one-off, no-reply interaction. And other new ideas are springing up, both from charities and from other ventures, to make giving easier or more appealing — from linking donations to your individual fitness goals (such as Diabetes UK's 1 Million Step Challenge) to donating the small change from your supermarket bill at the till.

To maximize fundraising efforts, make sure you're up to speed on all the ways you could attract donations.



MissionBox editorial content is offered as guidance only, and is not meant, nor should it be construed as, a replacement for certified, professional expertise.



NCVO: An introduction to individual giving

Charities Aid Foundation: CAF UK Giving Report 2017

NCVO: UK Civil Society Almanac 2016: Income from individuals (2016)

Charities Aid Foundation: World Giving Index 2015: A global view of giving trends (2015)

Charities Aid Foundation: Britain is a nation of charity shop lovers (2016)

Populus/Charity Commission: Public trust and confidence in charities (2016)

Charity Financials: Charity Causes Spotlight: Annual report (2016)

Civil Society: #Giving Tuesday 'biggest ever day of giving' in the UK by Hugh Radojev (2015)

Charities Aid Foundation: Growing Giving

Institute of Fundraising: Code of Fundraising Practice

Third Sector: Tap to give is a trend charities can't ignore by Kirsty Marrins (2016)

Charity Choice: Data segmentation: using data to join the dots by Jenny Ramage (2014)

The Guardian: No-makeup selfies raise £8m for Cancer Research UK in six days (2014)

Third Force News: The ten most successful charity fundraising events by Paul Cardwell (2015)

The UK Cards Association: Monthly contactless spend passes £1.5 billion (2016)



Writer/editor focusing on all things nonprofit and social enterprise. Youth media trainer. Storyteller through words and pictures.