Researching donors is essential for effective fundraising and to avoid distressing those who do not wish to give, according to a report defending the practice published by the Institute of Fundraising today.
The report, Good Asking: The Role Of Research In Efficient, Effective & Enjoyable Fundraising, produced by Dr Beth Breeze, director of the Centre for Philanthropy at Kent University, argues that allowing charities to research potential donors not only increases income for charities, but also improves the experience for the people the charities contact.
The report comes after the Information Commissioner’s Office fined several charities for carrying out wealth screening, the practice of assessing how wealthy an existing or potential donor is and therefore how likely they are to give. The ICO has said that even data in the public domain could not be considered "fair game".
The report says it is not seeking to directly address the "high-profile complaints and concerns" about charities’ use of data for research, but acknowledges that these issues were part of the context in which the report was produced.
It says that fundraisers have only two options when considering who to approach for donations: approaching "anyone and everyone for support in hope they will strike lucky", or making more targeted approaches, asking only those who appear to have the capacity to give and have an interest in the cause.
"The first option is inefficient and irritating, and the second works," the report says. "There is no magic alternative way of raising funds if this path is closed."
To put together the report, Breeze conducted an online survey of 347 charity fundraisers in February this year and found that 94.5 per cent had conducted or commissioned "prospect research" – that is, gauging how likely someone is to donate based on lifestyle factors such as profession or geographical location – and 88 per cent had commissioned or conducted wealth screening.
Almost all respondents agreed that research enabled their charities to raise funds from individuals (92 per cent); 90 per cent agreed it was a cost-effective way that allowed for individualised communications and enhanced the donor experience.
Eighty-eight per cent agreed that research reduced the number of unwanted or irrelevant communications sent to people who did not have the capacity or the inclination to give.
The majority of fundraisers (86 per cent) agreed that any new restrictions on research would have a damaging effect on their charities’ ability to raise funds, and 75 per cent said it would prevent their charities from fulfilling their missions.
A separate YouGov survey of the general UK population, commissioned by the IoF, found that 60 per cent of people who wanted tailored communications from charities thought they should be able to use publicly available information to do so.
In a statement accompanying the report, Breeze said: "It is crystal clear that research has played a key role in successful and ethical fundraising for decades, and it is equally clear that preventing fundraisers from using publicly available information will hurt charitable beneficiaries the most.
"This report shows how research also benefits donors who want and expect to be treated respectfully as individuals, and offered meaningful participation and involvement in the causes they so generously support."
She said research enabled fundraisers to treat donors as flesh-and-blood people rather than abstract names on a database.