Focusing on impulsive giving does not necessarily build loyalty, says Save fundraising chief

Gemma Sherrington of Save the Children tells Third Sector's Fundraising Conference that the impulse give is an opportunity to build engagement

Gemma Sherrington
Gemma Sherrington

Fundraising asks over the last few years have focused on impulsive giving that has not fostered committed relationships with the charity, according to Gemma Sherrington, director of fundraising at Save the Children UK.

Speaking at Third Sector’s Fundraising Conference in central London yesterday, Sherrington told delegates that recent fundraising trends had leaned towards encouraging donors to make impulsive, spur-of-the-moment choices, rather than considered, deliberate decisions.

But she added that these impulsive decisions could be used to create a deeper, longer-lasting connection with the donor.

"What we’ve done over the past few years is driven a lot of impulsive behaviour: individual giving, based on seeing an advert, needing to feel better about it and just giving," she said.

"There’s not a thought or depth of connection to the cause and it hasn’t driven an understanding of what we do or whether we can be trusted to do what we do."

Sherrington said this led to the charities with the best marketers and the most money doing well, rather than the best causes.

"But that’s quite an unsatisfying experience for the donors," she said. "It isn’t ‘I understand you, I’m connected to you, I’m going to stay with you’. It’s people who did something and now can’t be bothered to cancel the direct debit."

But impulsive behaviour was not necessarily a bad thing, said Sherrington.

"It is an opportunity around engagement," she said.

"When you think about the experiences you’ve had outside giving, where you’ve acted on impulse and had an amazing experience, then you go back and have that impulse again.

"It can lead people to crowd into something and do more of it, because the small acts and the feeling you get means you want to do more."

But she warned that this meant people might not become loyal to the cause.

"If we’re going to do impulse marketing, we should do it in a way that creates connection, and that is a lot about experience."

Sherrington said that encouraging deliberate behaviour after the impulse donation, by asking people up front if they wanted a deeper relationship with the charity, could encourage them to remain as supporters.

And she added that charities needed to create new social norms by changing their asks as a group – for example, by offering different kinds of DRTV adverts than those that prompted impulsive giving,

"We expect charities to ask for gifts in certain ways and to give in certain ways, so we need to think about how we create new norms in the sector for giving and draw attention to the choices people are making," she said.

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