How charities can maximise fundraising online | Prashan Paramanathan

People are almost twice as likely to trust smaller charities as big ones. Here’s what donors say encourages them to keep on giving

  • Prashan Paramanathan is chief executive of crowdfunder Chuffed

What do donors want from charities?

Buried deep in the Charity Commission’s 2016 report (pdf) is a clue. People are almost twice as likely to trust smaller charities as they are big charities. What are small charities doing that big charities could learn from?

At Chuffed, where thousands of small charities and nonprofits crowdfund online, we’ve interviewed donors who’ve given to more than 20 campaigns, to understand what keeps them coming back time and again. This is what they said they want.

1. A direct connection with projects

Donors want to follow what happens with the projects they support. They aren’t after stylised impact stories; they want direct updates from the people they’ve given money to. As one stated, “If you donate to a big charity, you donate and it’s done. With crowdfunding, I get interaction, feedback, updates ... ”

When Darren Hougham went to Dunkirk to build a school in the refugee camp, for example, he filmed short videos on his phone. Back in the UK, he would use the videos in a short update for his donors, and each time he posted a new burst of donations would come through that ultimately raised £15,000.

2. Personalised messages

When big charity fundraisers are recruiting wealthy donors, their approach is all about personalisation. They only contact donors they know are interested in their issue and the message is entirely customised to them.

When it comes to ordinary donors though, big charities use a “spray-and-pray” approach, broadcasting the same message in the same way to as many people as they can. If I’m passionate about animals, I still get targeted by dementia, international affairs and medical research charities.

Small charities have a way of personalising things for even their smallest donors – by getting their fans to spread the message for them.

When Rob Caslick created an urban rooftop garden on top of his local church, he recruited a dozen “foot soldiers” – people with a particular passion for his project – who could help him spread the word. They helped design the campaign, got an early release of the campaign video and were given email templates to send out. When the campaign launched, these people were the first to donate and they also sent out hundreds of messages to friends encouraging them to donate. The result: Rob raised his $15,000 target in 50 hours.

3. See donors as individuals, not a demographic

As we were doing our interviews, we noticed that many of these donors weren’t young. While many charities see crowdfunding as a way to engage millennials, our data reveals that people over the age of 65 give more frequently online than 20 year olds. Rather than making assumptions about how they like to interact, smaller charities were simply treating everybody as individuals.

4. Plausible projects

Most donors we spoke to enjoy taking their time to assess the plausibility of a project. One explained their reasons for not supporting a project in an area they were passionate about: “the campaign had raised just five dollars out of a $100,000 target after a week – there’s no way they were going to raise the total in 36 days”. It didn’t help that the Australian campaign was fundraising for a project in Thailand. “There’s no way I can tell that the money is going to get to where it’s meant to. It doesn’t pass the sniff test.”

Successful campaigns that do pass the sniff test have a clear target that matches up with the scope of the intended activities, and they signal their trustworthiness using shares and comments – proof that other people think it’s worthwhile.

In 2016, when Duke the Bullock cow and his animal friends at CALF Sanctuary needed a new home, potential donors could see that 2,600 people had already donated, there were more than 7,000 shares on social media and 190 comments reviewing the campaign were available to read.

This is the major advantage of online giving that charities must exploit more. If I’m approached on the street, there is rarely enough time to assess the plausibility of a campaign or identify whether other people trust the organisation. Donors are shopping for charities the same way they shop online – they want to read the reviews first and see what other people think before committing.

5. Fit in with donors’ livesOur research indicated that donors want to do this online research at times that are convenient to them and at their own pace. The usual pattern showed them checking the campaign page at work, then again on the commute home, and then finally again before bed. Contrast this with the experience of big charity fundraising, where telemarketers or door-knockers dictate when and how donors are approached.

If charities want to regain public trust, there is a way forward. Create direct connections with projects, involve donors and let them do their homework in their own time – way fundraising might become something that builds trust, rather than spends it.

Prashan Paramanathan is chief executive of Chuffed

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Prashan Paramanathan

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