New report reveals comms challenge for charities

The final report from the Commission on the Donor Experience has revealed the reputation communications challenge charities face when developing fundraising strategy and tactics.

The Commission on the Donor Experience was launched in March 2016 in response to media scrutiny of fundraising practice. At its heart was one simple idea – to place donors at the heart of fundraising.

Research conducted by the Commission found that the quality of fundraising activities can be very inconsistent, with people reporting varying degrees of positive and negative experiences.

While 90% of respondents had an example of “best experience” fundraising, a similar number also had experiences of poor contact from charities, including almost a quarter (23%) feeling “emotionally blackmailed.”

In addition, YouGov focus groups found that participants were quick to report stories about charities that they had heard in the media. Most of these stories painted the charities in a negative light, concentrating on bad practice that in some way related to spend (often around staff salaries) or an aggressive or inappropriate fundraising technique.

As part of the Commission’s recommendations, principles for PR and communications staff to follow have been set out. These include better communication of the positive nature of charity work, engagement with grassroots and being decisive in taking action to address poor practice in fundraising.

The PR & Communications element of the Commission’s work was overseen by Copper Digital boss and former Ogilvy director, Tim Kitchin, who passed away in January this year.

Simon Francis, Chair of the Public Relations & Communications Association’s (PRCA) Charity and Not-For-Profit Group and Founder Member of Campaign Collective, commented:

The research from the Commission just underlines the importance of its work and why it’s essential that fundraisers act now to implement the principles of good practice the Commission has identified in its exhaustive work.

Those that build and protect the reputation of charities must be at the top table when it comes to decision making about fundraising strategy for an organisation. We also need to see fundraising and communications less as separate disciplines, responsible for different outputs, but as part of the same donor experience.

The recommendations for PR and comms teams set out by the late Tim Kitchin serve as a positive legacy to this great man’s talent and passion for the charity sector and should be implemented by all charity PRs. At the PRCA we will be doing all we can to embed these principles in training and support for our members going forward.

PRCA members are already covered by a wide-ranging Professional Charter and Code of Conduct and that these principles sit neatly with best practice. Authentic voices, media collaborations, and decisive actions sit at the heart of good campaigning guided by this ethical framework.

Sir Martyn Lewis, chair of the Commission, said:

Our research shows that profound change is needed and that charities need to give supporters genuine choices. It is time we stopped thinking about what not to do, and started thinking about what to do better, ensuring that donors feel really great about their giving. That is why the Commission is making this call to action to charities and asking them to think seriously about the promise they can make to donors.

The Commission on the Donor Experience has brought together the results of this research, along with the insight and experience of more than 1,000 people from across the voluntary sector, to create a vast body of resources that includes 28 projects, 526 ideas for change and 250 case histories.

Featured image by Dominic Alves via Flickr/Creative Commons

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