Fundraising websites raise more money if they set targets, says academic Sarah Smith

In her study Do Fundraising Targets Matter?, the University of Bristol professor says web pages with targets raise an average of £357; for those with no targets, the figure is £279

Sarah Smith
Sarah Smith

Volunteer fundraisers raise slightly more money for charity through fundraising websites if they set targets, according to Sarah Smith, a professor of economics at the University of Bristol.

Smith was presenting her study Do Fundraising Targets Matter?, which was based on a randomised trial of fundraising web pages operational between 8 April and 16 June 2014, at the Science of Response conference organised by the consultancy Instinctiv in London this week.

The study, which has not yet been published, found that in one sample of more than 16,000 web pages, fundraisers with targets raised an average of £357, whereas those with no targets raised an average of £279.

In another examination of a similar number of web pages, fundraisers with targets raised £336, compared with the £314 raised by those with no targets.

Smith attributed the higher amounts raised to fundraiser effort driving a larger number of donations.

There was no evidence that targets had an effect on the size of individual donations, she said.

The study also found that people were more likely to set targets if the fundraising web pages gave them a default value.

Fifty-eight per cent of people chose to set targets when faced with a blank box, compared with 94 per cent when a default value was given.

If someone was given a default fundraising target, they were also likely to raise an average of £10 more than if no default was given, the study showed.

The effect of default targets in boosting fundraising was greater with men than with women, the study found.

However, although the use of default targets boosted amounts for first-time fundraisers, it resulted in a £5 fall in the average amount raised by people who had raised money for a particular charity before.

The research found that setting low targets could have the effect of reducing the amount of money raised by particularly effective male fundraisers, whereas setting high targets could reduce the amount of money raised by the most effective female fundraisers.

Researchers discovered that nearly 95 per cent of fundraisers raised a total that differed from their target values and that male fundraisers appeared to be more focused on hitting their targets than female fundraisers.

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