Understanding how donors feel 'will be next big thing', says academic

Adrian Sargeant tells a Fundraising Week conference that charities should focus on building a connection with donors, and money will follow

Adrian Sargeant
Adrian Sargeant

How charities make their donors feel when they communicate with them will be the next big thing in fundraising, according to Adrian Sargeant, professor of fundraising at the University of Plymouth.

Speaking at Third Sector’s Annual Fundraising Conference yesterday, Sargeant said it was important that charities focused on building a sense of connection with donors and giving them a personal bond with the charity.

He said: "The next big thing in fundraising is thinking about how we make our donors feel when we communicate with them. The goal is not money: the goal is being respectful and developing relationships. Money follows."

Sargeant said charities that wanted people to give had to "make them feel something", which he said many charities failed to do.

He said: "If you want people to share their feelings, you have to demonstrate that you care: listen when you do something superficial, care when you are talking about people’s feelings. If you get that right, you can get that real sense of relationship."

Sargeant said that charities needed to focus more on donors’ requirements and what they wanted from their interactions with the sector.

He said: "For the past 50 years, we have been very hung up on beneficiaries’ needs: thinking about what needs people have on the service provision side of the organisation, packaging that and putting it in front of people who might be interested in giving to support them. It would be revolutionary if we spent as much time looking at how we make people feel when we do that.

"I’m not suggesting we don’t think about how we present beneficiaries’ needs in a meaningful and compelling way, but let’s think about what we are doing to donors when we do that. And maybe we might spend as much time in our fundraising planning thinking about how we make donors feel today when we communicate with them. That’s the beginning of a relationship."

This would include making them relate to a charity on a personal level and "see the similarity between them and the value and ethos and philosophy of your organisation", said Sargeant.

But he also warned that not every donor wanted a connection with a charity, and that sometimes they wanted a more "transactional" relationship based on good quality of service.

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