David Burrows: Finding out how money is spent should not be such an ordeal

Reseach proves charity donors want clear information, says TDA's head of fundraising

David Burrows, head of fundraising, TDA
David Burrows, head of fundraising, TDA

First, some intriguing research. Jakob Nielsen, described recently by the New York Times as the "guru of webpage usability", has been researching donors' experiences of charity websites from a fundraising point of view.

Nielsen recruited a broad panel of donors and asked them to visit the websites of some charities they did not currently support.

He asked them what information they would need to be persuaded to give, and then recorded whether they found it.

The first things prospective donors wanted to know were "what is the charity trying to achieve?" and "how will it spend my donation?" Sadly, only 43 per cent of the sites studied answered the first question on their home pages, and only 4 per cent answered the second question on their home pages.

Although organisations typically provided these answers somewhere in the site, users often had problems finding them.

The research was based on American charities, and I wondered whether the same would be true here - so I checked. Of the top 20 UK charities by income, most are good at explaining what they believe and are trying to achieve. But only one - Save the Children - has a 'how we spend the money' pie chart on its home page.

Other charities don't just leave this information off the home page; you often have to go to an 'about us' page, then find a link to an annual review, download it as a PDF, then tediously click your way through 20 pages to find it.

With some sites, I just couldn't find a pie chart anywhere and gave up. If most donors give on trust, why not give them reasons to invest more trust by making it clear how efficient and effective we are? Every charity wants more loyalty, more regular giving and more legacies, and all of these are likely to be encouraged by demonstrating that donations are spent wisely.

I don't think charities have anything to fear. Research by chief executives body Acevo recently showed that most members of the public overestimate the proportion of funds spent on overheads. The chances are your pie chart will make your donor smile.

Of course, pie charts don't make people give - the tears of the abused child or the sad eyes of the cute puppy do that job. I don't think Nielsen the web guru is claiming that we can make the number of online gifts suddenly go through the roof - but, as with relationships between people, honesty and transparency is a good basis for trust and loyalty.

And in these testing times, every charity needs to have loyal supporters.

FACT FILE: Charities and the internet

* Online fundraising is highly cost effective. An average of £10 is raised for every £1 spent on direct costs including salaries, according to a report published by MissionFish.

* A measures report of 10 top UK charities by digital marketing analysts Comscore showed the average time spent by a visitor to their websites is just over nine minutes.

* The same report showed that despite shelter.org.uk receiving three times as many visitors as breastcancercare.org.uk, the breast cancer charity's average visitor stays 40 times longer.

* A recent nfpSynergy trends report for the Institute of Fundraising showed that rather than having a 'donate now' button as their main focus, charities are using tools such as blogs and forums to engage people first.

* According to the same report, online fundraising currently provides only 2 per cent of the total voluntary income raised by charities.

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