HOT ISSUE: Can psychology offer insight into the mindset of donors?

Great Ormond Street Hospital recently hired marketing consultant ESP to psychologically assess its face-to-face donors, who it was found are more likely to be extroverts and prefer short, fun bursts of information rather than the dense material usually handed out. Could this 'scientific' approach be of value?

DAVID SAINT, principal, Action Planning


Are we now so inept at fundraising that we have to resort to this? For decades fundraisers have targeted discrete audiences, preparing adverts, and promotions to appeal to different types. They have used their skills, training and experience to evaluate what makes people tick. Has it really come to this - that we have to resort to hypnotists to tell us what we ought to know ourselves?

If Great Ormond Street's fundraisers had gone on to the streets and spoken to some donors, might they not have worked out for themselves that most people who respond to young people wearing tabards and carrying clipboards are probably themselves young, outgoing and gregarious?

At a time of heightened concern about the ethics of fundraising, what will this do for public confidence in us?

STEPHEN LEE, Centre for Voluntary Sector Management, Henley Management College


But almost certainly not in this manner. Academic research into giving behaviour already provides evidence of the mix between extrinsic (age, gender, etc) and intrinsic (empathy, fear, etc) factors in determining why individuals give.

These are further complicated by a well researched body of evidence focusing on myriad differing motives for giving - be they altruistic, benefit-driven or the multiple shades of grey between the two. More recent research points to the significance of perceptual triggers and their impact on choosing which charity to support.

Alongside other disciplines - marketing and sociology, for example - psychology already provides important insights into giving behaviour, with the more professional fundraising practitioners already applying the results of these studies alongside structured market research, segmentation and targeting for effective practice.

The gimmicky use of hypnosis is another matter and should not be judged simply by its effectiveness, but rather by its appropriateness. Fundraisers should support philanthropic endeavour while refraining from duplicitous attempts to manipulate giving intent where none would otherwise be present.

CATHERINE WALKER, head of research, Charities Aid Foundation


Research shows that a variety of psychological factors come into play when people are deciding whether and how much to give to a certain cause.

Fundraising marketeers will tell you that segmentation of donor databases is vital in tailoring messages to different types of donor.

So yes, I do believe profiling is a useful tool when used wisely. That said, it comes as no real surprise that people who don't mind being accosted on the street by the short but spunky spiel of the bibbed fundraiser will tend to be more extrovert, and will prefer to receive bite-sized chunks of information. The logical follow-up to this though should be to modify the charity's fulfilment material accordingly.

I'm not sure that the profiling really justifies party packs. I mean, how many of us are actually prompted to give by the charity memorabilia that adorns our desks? It may be functional or fun, but it won't raise funds. Good solid psychological profiling is important and informative, and is not just a sales gimmick. Spend the money on tightening up the follow-up material instead.

MARC MIDDLETON-HEATH, managing director, marketing agency, Catalyst


Clearly someone's psyche and personal needs are integral to securing an individual's philosophical and financial support. Motivations for giving to charity include: altruism (I'm a good person); social norms (I want to be seen as a good person); and situational factors (I want to help myself or someone who is important to me).

Sometimes people give spontaneously, perhaps influenced by the illness or death of a relative, but giving is usually prompted. The first job of a fundraising initiative is to activate the train of thought that may lead to a donation. It is a complex process - very often donors don't know why they give.

Psychology can offer huge insights. This knowledge should be used to increase the perceived value of an organisation's brand, so they commit more profoundly. Simply using psychology to unlock an individual's purse or wallet will simply lead to it closing again, and sooner rather than later.

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