Why do charities ignore millions of donors?

Despite my giving £200 to Cancer Research UK through JustGiving when a friend did a
sponsored something, I never heard a bean from Cancer Research UK about it. A year later, I gave £100 to another charity when another friend did a sponsored something. Heard nothing. And last month, I gave to a third charity when a third friend did a sponsored something. Again heard nothing. 

What a dreadful experience.

And what idiotic behaviour by those charities. They act as though they had no interest in me or my money or support. I’ve not given to any of them again, though as it happens, I’m passionate about cancer and would have given loads more since then if only they’d asked.

Maybe JustGiving is deterring half the nation’s donors

Nearly half of donors in the UK give through the sponsorship website JustGiving*. I wonder whether they all have as thankless and uninspiring an experience as I did.

Charities claim to be terribly keen to get new donors, and know that recruiting new donors costs five times as much as retaining existing donors. Given the chatter in Charity Land about increasing giving and recruiting new donors, charities should surely be focusing hard on sponsorship because it’s such a good entry point – sponsoring a friend is very natural and very popular. Half the nation doesn’t give at all, and charities need to do much better than this to encourage them to start.

What should happen

“I’m so glad I did that. I’m really going to make sure that I do it again” is how charities should leave donors feeling. So at the very least, charities need to:

  • Thank donors for the donation
  • Give some indication of what they can do with that amount of money (“Your £200 will enable us to answer 57 calls to our helpline from people concerned about cancer”, or somesuch)
  • Offer to stay in touch in future, preferably with inspiring good news stories about what they’re achieving

It would be clever of them also to tell me about the number of other people who also give to that charity:  social norming is strong and I want to feel that I‘m part of some big club. They should have their letter written or ghosted by some celebrity or somebody whom the charity’s helped, so the donor feels a personal connection (“I was so worried when my dad got cancer last year. He was cured of it, and I’m so grateful to people like you who’ve given to support Cancer Research UK’s work who found how to cure him. Together we can beat this…” or something).

Does JustGiving make this hard?

Maybe it’s difficult for charities to contact donors through JustGiving. I don’t know: perhaps it only lets charities ‘see’ the marathon runners (or whatever) but not the friends who sponsor them. In which case, charities need to better arm their marathon runners to pass on thanks to their donors.

Have you had similar or better experiences with sponsorship?

I’m very interested in whether my three dismal experiences are typical and there’s a systemic problem, or whether the sponsorship experience is generally better.

When you’ve sponsored people, have you heard from the charities? Nicely? Did it encourage you to give again?


*JustGiving claims to have channelled donations from 13 million people. NCVO/CAF think that 28 million adults give in a typical month.

Sources: http://www.justgiving.com/about-us/press/latest-news/facts-and-figures, http://www.cafonline.org/pdf/UK%20Giving%202010_101210.pdf

Chatter about increasing giving: The Cabinet Office’s Green Paper, The Philanthropy Review, The Giving Pledge etc etc.

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14 Responses to Why do charities ignore millions of donors?

  1. WiredCause says:

    I agree that a bit of acknowledgement would be appreciated, however small it may be, an indication of how useful the donations will be for the charity. Anything!
    This is just a thought. Could the reason for the lack of communications be down the cost of contacting the donors? If they had to contact millions of donors to thank them, wouldn’t it cost them more money? Whether it’s sending letters, emails, texts, etc, maybe they think that the money should be used more wisely. But I might be wrong.

    What do you think?

  2. The cost is trivial – particularly relative to the cost of recruiting a new donor. For comparison, as I was constructing this article this morning, I made a donation to another charity (Anthony Nolan Trust actually) through their website. On the ‘payment journey’, they told me what they could do with £5, £25, £100 etc., and then once I had given, I got an option to hear more from them and a lovely email about how grateful they are and what they do with the money. It’s obviously automated – but I don’t care. The fact is that I know what difference I’ve made. Surely that’s possible through JustGiving too.

    The really striking thing is that I had UTTERLY FORGOTTEN about the Cancer Research UK donation. That’s how dull the experience was. Like doing an online tax return. Solo, fast, silent, dull. Nothing to remember – nothing to be excited about – no reason to think about repeating it, and CR UK hadn’t been in touch to prompt me.

  3. WiredCause says:

    I see your point. It would be nice to be given the option of whether you would like to be kept in touch or not. Some don’t, others like yourself would like to be involved more deeply and understand the charity more. Can’t blame you.

    I, on other hand, am very impressed with the various donations that you have been making. It’s definitely going to go a long way. I hope this experience will not deter you in making further donations in the future, though I don’t expect that it will.

  4. Andrew says:

    My sense is that it’s the problem of the intermediary. The person with the actual stake in the charity is the person doing the run/walk/swim/&c., and the charity clearly has an interaction with that person. When people donate to help out the person engaged in the charity event, they’re usually donating not so much to the cause as to the person, I suspect. You could substitute just about any non-radical charity as a sponsor and you’d get largely the same results. People are donating money to help their friend succeed, not to help the charity succeed.

    But you make an excellent point that charities ought to take advantage of that moment of mediated closeness to a much larger donor pool, because whether they know it or not, the contributors-once-removed have helped the charity and have become donors.

  5. Caroline Fiennes says:

    Precisely. If I give to Charity X because my mate does a run, Charity X has every right to tell me what they do & maybe I get interested.
    Actually, I’d argue that Charity X has an OBLIGATION (as well as every incentive) to give me a good experience because these sponsorships may be my sole interaction with charities, and if it’s dead dull, I’m unlikely to ever proactively give.

  6. Rosemary says:

    I’m not sure how far this is fixable, because I think it depends on whether the donor ticks the boxes to allow further contact from the charity and/or JustGiving. A lot of people will leave these blank to avoid being spammed for donations for ever more, but I’m not clear whether it also blocks the automatic thank-you message.

    Our automatic JustGiving thanks message suggests that the donor might like to look at our online blog to get an idea of how we’ll spend the money, but I’d be a bit reluctant to start emailing out periodic updates for fear of alienating more people than it pleased.

  7. Caroline Fiennes says:

    I’ve just checked, by trying to make another donation through JG. There doesn’t seem to be a ‘pls don’t contact me’ box. Therefore:
    – the donor can’t ask to be contacted by the charity even if they want to be
    – the non-contacting seems to be the charities’ fault.

  8. Rosemary says:

    Could it be that there’s some preference setting that gets saved very early on in the process of setting up a JG donor account and thereafter stops the “I’m happy to be contacted by…” box being offered to the donor?

    I definitely got it (and an electronic thank you message) last time I tested our JG donation page, and I got a generic thanks (hadn’t realised I could set a customised message) when I tested the new text donation option yesterday.

    It might be better if the thank-you was sent separately from the message that just indicates the donation process worked.

    It took me a while to realise it was possible to dig further into the financial report sent to the charity and get more information about contact details for donors. Now I’ve got that sussed I usually try to check it and send a personal thank-you to anyone who’s donated a substantial amount or where it’s a donation from a child. One difficulty with this is that there’s a time-lag before the charity gets the report which may not matter to adult major donors but is probably a bit of a disappointment to a child who organised a fundraising event.

  9. Jamie says:

    Fascinating article Caroline – I hope you don’t mind someone from JustGiving taking the time to respond given the questions that have been raised to date?

    Firstly, I’m Jamie, the Charity Product Manager at JustGiving. It is my responsibility to lead the design, development and deployment of the products that we think will have the most positive impact on behalf of our charity clients.

    If I can, let me try and address some of the points you raise one at a time.

    1. How do sponsors share their details?
    Through JustGiving they can, so long as the donor OPTS IN to hear comms from the charity. At the end of the sponsorship donation and direct donation flows we offer three tick boxes under a section called “Contact Preferences
    (a) I’m happy for FUNDRAISER X to see my email address so that they can thank me
    (b) I’m happy for CHARITY Y to keep in touch, so they can thank me and let me kow how my support as made a difference
    (c) I’m happy for JustGiving to see my contact details so they can send me inspiring fundraiser stories, news and competitions

    In the case of a straight donation to the charity just cases (b) and (c) are displayed.

    We ask that people opt in, because we’ve always maintained that that’s what sponsors want. The appeal of JustGiving – as relayed in numerous surveys we collect every month – is that people want to be able to sponsor anonomously and that they want to control the relationship they have with the charity. As some of you have stated, it is not uncommon for the sponsor to only be interested in the fundraiser and that their original motivation for digging deep was to help a friend or colleague rather to support a particular cause.

    Naturally, charities would like us to choose OPT OUT which I understand to be the norm across charitable websites, but we have to date resisted that temptation because we aim to serve our sponsor’s needs.

    2. Some donors don’t want to hear from charities. Period.

    It happens. We have to accept that. The following blog post, whilst not wholly illustrative, points to some of the frustration that many donors feel.

    I think JustGiving’s product at the moment, in terms of opt in’s gives people on both sides of the argument the opportunity to take the path they desire. Furthermore the preferences are clearly set and logical – who can say that is always the case across the sector?

    3. How can charities highlight how a donation is spent?

    A really fair question and frankly one that we don’t do a great job of facilitating at JustGiving…but not for long. In the coming days you’ll see us unveil a new feature that allows charities to upload donation prompts and case studies to their direct donation page. This page can be found at, for example, http://www.justgiving.com/warchild/donate

    I have led the development of that product feature and in a nutshell we want to inspire and then surface more copy and content from charities around how donation money is spent. Each charity will be able to upload a case study, pictures, video and the aforementioned donation prompts (ie £50 buys a shelter box). I hope that this meets some of your unmet needs?

    The next challenge will be to then, once charities have started to enter their content, to surface that in new and inspiring places. For example, after sponsoring a friend, wouldn’t it be cool to see a video from the charity that page is associated with? Of alternatively when deciding how much to sponsor your friend on their marathon run, would it help to know that £25 buys a week’s worth of food for an orphan? Would that motivate you to sponsor more?

    Look out for more on that product soon if you are a JustGiving Charity Member. You can track things like that on our blog at http://www.justgiving.com/blog

    4. Auto Thanking

    We do offer an auto thanking feature. It fires an email to the donor after a direct donation is made, copying in text from that charity, that they have previously saved on their JustGiving profile. It lands after the donation is made so is instant and timely but I have to admit the email is text based and lacks vitality or inspiration. If there are ways you think we can improve that then I’m all ears!

    5. JustGiving Annonomises Data

    Is that a word? Hmmm. Anyway, when a donor/sponsor opts OUT of comms with the charity we annonomise their details in the Donation and Payment Reports that the charity can download from their account. That means you don;’t receive the address and contact information of that individual. You can still report on that data, but you can’t market on it. If we are to help charities increase the number of people who opt in, then yes, I concede we need to improve the way we help charities share information and context on our site. Equally, charities need to prove that they treat these individuals details accordingly and that they do indeed follow up and thank them.

    As someone who rode coast to coast last year, raising £1000 and received not one word of thanks I know just how a frustrated and angry fundraiser feels. I certainly won’t be motivated to dig deep for them in the future which is a crying shame.

    I hope this has been of help to you? Caroline, thank you for kick starting the debate.

    • Caroline Fiennes says:


      Thanks for taking the time to write all that! Delighted to have your view.

      As you’ll gather, I’m concerned that donors have good experiences of giving – good enough that they will come back for more.

      A few thoughts:

      1. Contact preferences
      Great that you have those. Maybe they could be more obvious? I’ve obviously managed to not see them on several occasions of sponsoring people (as have other sponsors) so unless we’re atypically stupid, might be worth making that more obvious.

      You’re right about opting in, not opting out.

      2. Prompting the fundraiser to thank their donors, and/or prompting charities to prompt their fundraisers to thank their donors. And prompting charities to thank their fundraisers.

      It’s obviously uber-crucial that donors get thanked, at a minimum. And clearly lots aren’t being thanked, which is bad.
      Maybe JG could be more proactive about this, somehow prompting fundraisers (the person doing the run/swim) to remember to thank their donors and giving them some suggested wordings. Maybe make more obvious to the fundraisers (and charities) that the donor may not receive a squeak unless they ask for it. I did a sponsored something through JG and don’t recall seeing anything about that – and therefore probably did a poor job of thanking my donors.
      You could also prompt the charities to ensure that their fundraisers thank their donors, and ask the charities to give fundraisers good info for those letters.

      I know that charities have every incentive to do this themselves, but it’s clearly falling through the net and you could automate it.

      3. Highlighting how charities use the money
      Great. The sponsor should hear about that both before & after they give. BUT IT MUST NEVER BE ABOUT ADMIN COSTS – OMG, what a waste of time those are. The charity should talk about what it can achieve with xyz amount of money – ie, output, not input measures like its cost breakdown.
      Please don’t EVER ask (or even accept) charities posting up their admin or fundraising %s.

      Thanks, C.

  10. Ama Atteen says:

    We found your piece really interesting and thought you might like to hear from the perspective of a charity that does things differently.

    AfriKids pride themselves on the level of feedback we provide, you raise some valid points and there are certainly areas to be considered in respect of how Just Giving donors should be thanked. When one of our donors does a sponsored event we always provide personalised feedback demonstrating the impact their fundraising will have and we do ask that donors forward this on to their sponsors. Many people that give in this way do not wish to be contacted further by the charity but are happy to receive information on how their money has been used from the person they have sponsored.

    I also wanted to draw your attention to some of the positive ways in which we have developed relationships with donors. Check out this blog, ‘The challenge of giving’ by Patrick Andrews- http://musingsofanitinerantlawyer.wordpress.com/

  11. Nick Georgiadis says:

    Caroline. Thanks for the post and sorry for the delay in responding. Supporters are at the heart of everything we do at Cancer Research UK and everyone who donates to us via Just Giving is thanked via the email people have spoken about. It’s key that our supporters know how important every donation is to us, especially as we receive no government funding for our research.

    On the Just Giving website people making donations are given the option to opt in for further contact with us. If they do we send them a monthly e-newsletter which tells them all about the impact of their donation and underlines how grateful we are for their support. Unfortunately, only about 15% of people currently opt in to further contact.

    Where it is cost effective, we also contact certain groups of supporters offline to tell them more about our work and ask them to donate regularly.

    All that said, we are aware that, although we get in touch with the vast majority of people, we don’t manage to communicate with everyone. We realise that this is far from ideal and are working hard to rectify this.

    We’d love to keep you updated with the life saving research you’ve helped to fund through your sponsorship. So if you’d like to drop me a line, we can make sure you we keep you up to date and let you know how you can get involved.

    Nick Georgiadis, Head of Direct Giving, Cancer Research UK

  12. Dear Nick
    Thanks for this reply. That’s good to hear.

    15% is indeed very low for an opt-in. As mentioned above, I suspect that donors don’t realise that the opt-in option is there and/or fear that they will opt in to being deluged with requests.

  13. Pingback: Why do charities ignore millions of donors? | Giving Evidence

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