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Find out what the most forward-thinking leaders in the sector think should happen to grow giving.

Interview: Unlocking the social value of fundraising. Joe Jenkins, Executive Director of Social Impact, The Children’s Society talks about how to generate income and social impact simultaneously.


How do we grow giving?

Mark Phillips, Owner, Bluefrog Fundraising Limited shares insights directly from donors on why they give and how fundraising can be re-imagined.

One of the principles that guides my approach to fundraising comes from the world of anthropology.  

Dorothea C. Leighton was living with a First Nation group in Canada when she highlighted a simple human fact. No matter what society we live in or at what time, we all share a need to feel ‘a worthwhile member of a worthwhile group’.  It’s a phrase that has stuck with me ever since. And now, many years on, it has become part of Bluefrog’s operating culture. 

But what does it mean? And how does it help us answer the question of how we grow giving? 

It emphasises that giving has a transactional element. Though it is often meant to be selfless, the act of giving rarely is. On a rational level, when we give, we want to feel that our donations have made a difference. And at a deeper, emotional level, giving to charities helps satisfy our underlying psychological needs. 

And that is the crux of the problem. If giving to charity is reciprocal in nature, why should we expect generosity to grow when donors don’t receive that much in return for their support? 

If, when a donor gives, the result is the arrival of a formulaic thank you email within a few seconds of them hitting the donate button, how does that deliver a sense of purpose or satisfaction?  

Of course, that might not matter if the donor received a personal thank you a few days later. And if that were followed, when appropriate, with a report showing them how their gift made a difference, which also emphasised how much their gift was appreciated. 

But taking into consideration the hundreds of conversations we have with donors every year, this sort of stewardship is incredibly rare.    

The result is a continuing sense of disconnect between donors and charities. It was neatly summed up by a conversation we had when we were conducting qualitative research into why people lapse. The donor stopped us halfway through the interview and said: 

You keep saying this thing lapsed. Lapsed from what? [When I stopped giving] I never really felt that I was giving anything up.

It’s a sentiment that we still repeatedly hear in our research today. Many donors, particularly the most valuable ones, tend to give in spite of how they are treated by the charities they support rather than because of it. 

It’s worrying, but the fact is the majority of donors have come to expect very little in return for their support. To manage the dissonance this creates, they regularly resort to making excuses on behalf of the charities they give to. As one donor put it recently: 

I can’t tell you what they did with my gift. I expect they were up to their armpits (in work).

The result is that time after time, we find that giving is constrained by fundraisers’ actions (or the lack of them), with two key doubts that are regularly raised as to why people limit the amount they give: 

  • They don’t know what their gift has made possible – if anything. 

  • They don’t know whether a gift is appreciated. 

When these concerns remain unaddressed, it elevates a sense of learned helplessness.  The thought that ‘nothing can be done’ in the face of a problem relegates giving to charity to a peripheral activity rather than reinforcing the sense that a donor is part of a movement for change. 

Take global poverty for instance. Even though we know that extreme poverty fell dramatically across the world from 1990 to 2019, very few people realise the extent of what the concerted action of INGOs supported by many thousands of donors across the world actually achieved.  

As one donor surmised: 

I’m seeing the same ads for sending money abroad for 20 years and it doesn’t seem to have changed anything.

But it’s not just the development sector where this is an issue. It runs across all charities - particularly the larger ones. It’s a real indictment of how we communicate with donors.  

Yet, as the charity ads often say, it doesn’t have to be this way. 

Sense, the charity working with children and adults with complex disabilities, focused on addressing the two fundamental doubts as part of their strategic plan to grow income. This resulted in the development of a communication programme that concentrated on showing donors what their gifts had made possible. It also incorporated a dynamic thanking model where real efforts were made to give donors a sense of appreciation. The number of responsive donors grew by almost 150% within just a couple of years – with income boosted by over 170%. And the trajectory shows no signs of slowing down. 

But just as importantly, this type of communication strategy doesn’t only increase the income of the charity that implements it. It can have a positive impact on broader attitudes to giving that goes far beyond a relationship with one organisation. The power of this emotional boost was summed up by another donor when they told us: 

It makes you feel like you’re part of something bigger. You look outwards and start thinking what else can I do?

In this respect, growing giving is in our own hands. But it needs a change of approach. Fundraising isn’t just about demonstrating need in ever more creative ways or looking how to get someone to simply engage with us, so we have their contact details to exploit. It’s about showing people what can be achieved through giving as a part of group of people who have a shared desire to tackle some of the most serious problems that society faces.  

That means one thing – to grow giving we need to be re-imagine fundraising to more effetively take into account the needs of donors as well as those that we serve. It’s a task that was perhaps best summed up by Alex Hyde-Smith of Alzheimer’s Society when he shared another great insight into how fundraising should function. It had profound influence on me and I think it’s worth repeating here as it presents a vision of the sector that we should all embrace if growth is to become the norm: 

We can only grow fundraising if charities focus on their mission of delivering what society needs and values. We can’t keep trying to get more if we are not seen to be offering great value in return.

Why are fewer people giving to charity?

It is by now well-rehearsed that the headlines trumpeting annual increases in the amount of money being donated to charity have been masking a decline in the number of people giving.  This hollowing out of the civic core should be a grave concern to any charity that either does not have a well-established programme of giving from ultra-high net worth donors (one of the only segments of the market that seems to be generating absolute growth in donations) or that will not have solved the problem for which it was established within the foreseeable future.  In other words, this decline in donor numbers is a problem for “the 99%” of charities.  But what’s behind the drop in donor numbers? 

It seems clear to me that the decline in giving is not down to a decline in generosity.  Indeed, we’ve seen an extraordinary response to recent emergencies – following the tragic fire at Grenfell Towers, and more recently in response to the outbreak of COVID-19 and the war in Ukraine.  So what gives?

One simple explanation is that there is a lot less asking – especially of mass market donors – taking place than before.  Tighter data protection rules have shifted the default away from charities being to contact most donors, and the decline in the ability for charities to contact donors by telephone has been particularly pronounced.  Not being able to ring donors to invite them to make a regular gift or to upgrade their existing donation (especially important in this period of severe inflation) has had a knock-on effect of rendering many previously fruitful recruitment channels unprofitable, which has in turn driven many suppliers out of the market, increasing pressure further. 

The impact of these changes has been undeniable: comparing the volume of contacts by channel in the 2013 FRSB Annual Complaints Return with the 2021-22 report from Fundraising Regulator shows that the volume of fundraising contacts by telephone, addressed direct mail and door-to-door fundraising had declined by 84%, 67%, and 58%, respectively.  That’s over 172m fewer invitations each year for a donor to further her relationship with a charity. 

And we know from research that the majority of people ultimately give in response to an ask (the most oft-cited figure I’ve seen is that 80% of gifts are in direct response to an ask), so it’s not surprising that with fewer people being nudged to give by fundraisers, we’re seeing fewer people following through on their generous intentions.    

At the same time that charities have been able to ask less, I think often those asks have started to become less compelling.  As charities have (rightly) become more professional and, through consolidation, bigger and less closely connected to local communities, it makes it easier for narratives about charities being too big and “corporate” (and, by implication, not a worthy recipient of donations) to take hold, which puts a damper on giving. 

I also think that, over time, many people have become increasingly disconnected from the local institutions (Scouts, churches, village organisations, etc.) that used to attract donations.  In many ways, giving begets giving (the behaviour of giving reinforces an identity of “being a giver,” which in turn encourages more giving), so it stands to reason that if fewer people are developing the reflexive “muscle memory” of giving, this will have a knock-on effect in the future. 

And crucially, I don’t think charities have done enough to make giving more attractive to those donors who have not already developed the habit of giving regularly to charity.  Charities want donors to make long-term, unrestricted “set it and forget it” commitments, but that is clearly not the most emotionally fulfilling way for donors to give, and charities have struggled to develop new and rewarding donor experiences.   

So how can charities respond?  I think the current environment demands that fundraisers leverage new skills (in addition to the essentials like data analysis and emotional storytelling that will always be critical).  In an environment where contacting donors was cheap, legal and easy, fundraisers could focus on maximising the efficiency of their portfolios and capturing market share.  Now we need to focus on driving effectiveness: how do we “grow the pie” by creating offers that inspire new audiences to support our organisations?  And how do we convincing finance directors and boards – that rarely include a trustee with fundraising experience – of the need to invest in fundraising, including trying new approaches that may not yield success? 

The heartening news is that the public remains generous and keen to help create a better world: it’s up to fundraisers to show them the way.

Meredith Niles
Meredith Niles
Fundraiser and charity trustee. She currently serves as Chair of SOFII.
Finding new supporters by re-engaging with cold direct mail

In this blog, Suzanne Lewis, Founder and Managing Director, Arc Data talks about the role direct mail (DM) can play in building relationships with new and existing supporters, and tips on how charities can navigate data regulations when launching DM campaigns.

In fundraising we know how well direct mail gives us the space and time to tell a compelling story and engage an audience. But its use doesn’t have to be restricted to communications with existing supporters. In fact, It provides a clear one-to-one marketing approach, enabling you to send a personalised message to an individual. 

One of the things we find makes cold direct mail stands out is that it delivers long term return on investment (ROI). A really strong creative pack can pay huge dividends as they tend to be looked at for longer than any other channel – recipients hold on to mailings and reread them later or share them, they get seen by more people and often stimulate discussions.  

In fact, Royal Mail has found that, when asked, 80% of people remember seeing or reading something sent to them during the previous month, while 60% say mail puts the sender front of mind. JICMAIL (the Joint Industry Committee for Mail) data suggests direct mail tends to stay in the house for up to a week

As a result, it fuels informed decisions and brings in supporters who are more likely to stay long-term. We are currently seeing campaign response rates average anything from 0.75% to 2.3%. These figures are strongly influenced by creative treatment, prompt levels, as well as the type of engagement that is being encouraged. For example, raffles and lotteries tend to receive higher response rates than packs for high cash asks and Direct Debits.  

So, if you are considering launching a cold DM campaign, here are some key tips on regulations and how to engage supporters:


When considering cold mail for the first time or after a break, it’s not unusual to have concerns around falling foul of GDPR. With cold data, you can contact people under legitimate interests. If you’re using this legal basis, you must undertake a Legitimate Interest Assessment, the ICO has a very useful template. You must also be clear on who you’re contacting and why, as well as giving people an opt-out option with every mailing. You will also need to do your due diligence to ensure that your data supplier is compliant with the law. 

And the work doesn’t stop when the mailing goes out. You should be prepared to respond to a consumer who may contact you with a query or complaint.  You need to be able to answer promptly any questions around the provenance of your data; and do always suggest they contact the MPS if they are looking to stop contact from third party mailers. Managed this way it’s rare for a phone call to end badly.  

Deciding your audience 

Understanding who you can reach with cold mail is important. Generally, most of the data comes from lifestyle, mail order files, and the Electoral Roll open register. This means these people generally do not find direct mail intrusive, as they are receiving and responding to communications and offers through this medium already.  

If your organisation has used cold direct mail at some point in the past, it can also be really useful to look at what it has done before: what dataset you mailed, what creative was used and who the creative was written for. Not to mention how it performed – not just initially but are the respondents still supporters? – all this detail will provide insight you can apply to your new activity.  

Data sourcing  

Once you’ve worked out who you want to reach and with what messaging, the next key step is sourcing the data. It is possible to do this yourself by approaching data owners directly. Alternatively, and an easier option, you can use a list broker. This tends to be the route most charities take, not only will they provide a wide and impartial view of what data’s available and know where to find it, but they will also take care of the due diligence for you.   

Tighter targeting 

Thanks to the high standard of today’s cold data and the rules under which we’re allowed to use it, you won’t need to source huge volumes – which also of course keeps down your production costs. How big a universe of names you test and then mail will depend on your resources and objectives, but a key thing to remember is that rather than being about numbers, successful data sourcing is about identifying the right lists. And within them, the data selections with the greatest potential for your cause.  

Cold direct mail really is a valuable addition to the fundraising mix. Not only does it enable you to find new receptive audiences interested in your cause, but with people also receiving less mail than they used to, it stands out on the doormat. So, if for charities seeking new ways of growing your supporter base to bring in more income, it’s certainly worth a look.  

Innovation Case Study: Fundraising Has Never Been More Fun with Charity Sweepstakes and Fantasy Mini-Leagues

In this blog, Sebastian Lewis, Co-founder, Plucky talks about how they adapted to changing donor habits to create new giving products.

In the evolving fundraising landscape, innovation stands at the forefront, fostering new connections between philanthropy and digital engagement. One such innovation lies in charity sweepstakes and the recent introduction of a Fantasy Football-based fundraising product, which opens up philanthropy to broader audiences.

With the advent of remote working and online interactions, digital fundraising methods have seen a significant surge in popularity. Recognising this trend, Plucky embarked on an ambitious journey to merge this form of engagement with charity work, resulting in an accessible and exciting giving experience.

Plucky’s co-founder, Sebastian Lewis, encapsulates the essence of these initiatives:

The role of innovation in reaching new audiences is pivotal. Our vision is to create more engaging, innovative, and fun ways to contribute to important causes. We're committed to using the power of friendly competition and an engaging experience that resonates with the digital generation to drive meaningful change.

Plucky’s charity sweepstake platform means no more fumbling with pint glasses or bits of paper - just a few clicks and you're off! Plucky's user-friendly interface lets you create sweepstakes effortlessly on major sporting and TV events such as 'The Grand National', 'Strictly Come Dancing ' and 'I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here!', creating a fun giving process that resonates with donors of all ages and digital proficiency levels.

But Plucky didn't stop there. Building on this success, Plucky introduced an innovative Fantasy Football mini-leagues product for charities. It is estimated that over £250M is exchanged between friends and colleagues each year based on their fantasy mini-league standings. Plucky has begun work with multiple fantasy game providers, enabling managers to play in their mini-leagues for money, offering a safe and secure method to pool funds and guarantee engagement throughout the season.

During the setup of a cash mini-league, Plucky provides the option to support a charity. This means that a percentage of the prize pot can be allocated to a chosen charity, thereby creating a new revenue stream.

Just like the sweepstakes platform, Plucky Fantasy focuses on user experience, offering a seamless process to challenge your mates, and partake in the excitement of fantasy mini-leagues while supporting worthy causes.

The new product has been launched in time for the 23/24 football season, initially with payouts on overall season-long performance. However, there are future plans for weekly and monthly leagues, bespoke league rules, and spot prizes.

Charlotte Weatherley, Growing Giving Policy and Partnerships Manager, adds:

Finding low-cost and accessible ways to give could be a crucial next step in growing charitable giving. Emerging products like this could be a hugely effective way for fundraisers to connect with new supporters- and also have some fun!

The success of these innovative platforms has been remarkable, with substantial increases in engagement and donations.

For more information you can contact Plucky's fundraising team at or visit their website

Sebastian Lewis
Sebastian Lewis
Co-founder of Plucky
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