First, the good news. Charities are becoming more polite in their dealings with potential donors and taking the trouble to thank them properly for their contributions. Indeed, a small number of charities are "truly excellent" in responding to donors by phone, post and email, according to the third annual 'mystery supporter' survey from "supporter engagement specialist" Pell & Bales (that's a telephone marketing company to you and me).
It contacted 39 top charities by all three media to request information, make a complaint and donate money - a total of 351 encounters. Alas, the bulk of its conclusions make pretty dispiriting reading. One of the most alarming figures is that out of 117 attempts to pledge money, only 66 were successful - a 56 per cent hit rate, which contributed to the company's conclusion that a subliminal message is sometimes being sent out that reads: "We don't want your money." Responses to contact by email and post were particularly poor.
Perhaps the most depressing statistic, however, is that only 42 per cent of 'pledging encounters' involved a suggestion from the charity that the pledge should be Gift-Aided - a drop of 4 per cent from the previous year's survey.
To put it brutally, a sector that is nearly always desperate for money appears, more often than not, to be failing to take advantage of a relatively simple scheme that can increase the value of each donation by 28 per cent.
The company's conclusion is that charities are the 'grateful dead' and need to wake up - perhaps that should read the 'ungrateful dead'.
Charities that want to get the full details of the survey will have to pay Pell & Bales for the privilege. But the headline results provide plenty of clear and simple messages for the sector to think about and act on.
It's tempting for any organisation to get wrapped up in all the interesting (and necessary) high-level stuff - the vision, the strategy and the brand extensions - and allow the basics to drift out of focus. It's also difficult to ensure a shark-like commitment to the cause among staff involved in the niggly and enervating business of dealing with phone calls and emails and getting all the details right.
But it can be done - with well thought-out systems, rigorous management and a clear message from the top that what matters above all is taking detailed care of supporters and donors, without whom many sector organisations have little future.