This week I spoke to two wonderful major donors on behalf of a charity looking to improve their donor communications. Many of the questions I had drafted were about the projects the charity ran and their respective impact on beneficiaries. Many of these questions soon went out of the window.

After a few preliminary responses the first lady stopped me with the question “why do charities seem so desperate to prove to me that what they are doing is worthwhile?” I explained that there was a push for greater transparency and a focus on impact in the sector at the moment, partly due to increasing scrutiny and partly due to demanding reporting requirements.

“I’m not interested in their evidence”, she responded, “I give because I care. I already know that they do a good job.” This reminded me of a recent Stephen Pigeon talk about connecting with a donor ’emotionally’ first and foremost; that giving is an emotional response, not inspired by facts and figures. Stephen’s quote that ’emotions lead to actions, reasons lead to conclusions’ never seemed truer. This was followed by the great line “we’re in the action business.”

The second lady also seemed relatively disinterested in the charity’s evidence of impact. She felt that this was navel-gazing and self-justification, leading to a language of jargon and spin. As an older generation giver she gave because ‘it felt like it was the right thing to do’, again advocating emotional and moral giving.

Both ladies got me thinking that there is a danger of charities losing the emotion of their cause in their donor communications, in a drive to prove their worth through statistics on outputs, outcomes and incremental or transformational change, disengaging donors in the process. For some funders this approach is entirely appropriate, statutory and trust funders spring to mind, but even then emotions must come into the decision making process.

I concluded that a shift to transparency does not mean a shift to introspection and self-justification; that donors still want to give because they care and want to do the right thing, not because of a charities historical output; that different generations of donors can have different cause to give and that making a difference cannot always be measured in numbers.

We often talk of winning hearts and minds. There is clearly a balance to be achieved in a competitive sector – charities must prove their worth with measurable impact, whilst conveying the good they do in non-numerical form – lose the emotion and lose the donor.



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