Opinium Research: The public’s experience and expectations of charitable fundraising

Paul Winyard, Head of Policy at the Fundraising Regulator, shares insights into the recent research led by Opinium on our behalf, looking at the public’s experience and expectations of charitable fundraising.

Charity fundraisers have access to a great deal of information about how people give and which causes they support. However, less is known about the public’s real-world experience of fundraising practice. In our role as a regulator, we are committed to using public research to underpin and inform our work and it’s important that we understand the motivations and experiences of those who support charities. 

In September 2023 we commissioned Opinium to run research into the public’s perceptions, experience, and expectations of, charitable fundraising.  Opinium conducted a comprehensive mixed-method research programme, including surveying a representative sample of 3000+ UK adults.

Key findings

We were encouraged to find that overall charities perform well when it comes to public trust, with half of those surveyed generally trusting charities to deliver on what they promise. 

We were also pleased to find that the experience of those who currently support a charity is good; around two-thirds of respondents have had a positive experience of supporting charities over the last 12 months. As the public navigate the rising cost of living and make tough decisions on where to spend their money, it is reassuring that the majority who are able to support charities are finding it a positive experience. 

When it comes to the public’s experience of fundraising, it is clear from the research that the donation methods where the individual had more agency, such as sponsoring an individual and lotteries and prize draws were much more likely to be rated positively. These were also rated as convenient and straightforward to engage with. Approaches that were more direct, such as door-to-door and public fundraising, were perceived more negatively – often seen as an unsolicited intrusion.  

Given the numerous ways that people can now support a charity we were encouraged to hear that overall the public’s experience of most fundraising methods was more likely to be viewed positively than negatively. For example, 54% of respondents reported a positive experience of online fundraising, whilst 12% reported negative feedback. Similarly, 49% rated their experience of charity bags positively versus 17% who had a negative experience.

However, public fundraising and door-to-door approaches received more negative feedback. The research found that 62% of respondents rated their door-to-door experience negatively against 17% who had a positive experience, while 40% rated their experience of public fundraising negatively, versus 30% who had a positive experience. Importantly, the research found this can have a negative impact on the public’s propensity to engage with this method – as well as with charities in general – again in the future. Therefore, it is critical that charities and fundraisers think carefully about how they approach these methods. 

Next steps

We know that face-to-face methods are important to charities because they allow them to communicate directly to potential donors the need for and the impact of donations.  Indeed, the research showed that for people who donated via these approaches, they often appreciated the information that was provided. Nevertheless, it’s important that the behaviour of fundraisers does not create a pressured experience, and is not excessively intrusive, especially at inconvenient times. Bearing in mind the discomfort reported towards this form of fundraising – especially amongst older people – charities should think carefully when they are planning face-to-face fundraising. They should also ensure that any ‘No cold callers’ signage, or similar on display are respected.

All of this applies to both charities and those who fundraise on their behalf, including subcontractors, who should be closely monitored, as highlighted by our recent Market Inquiry.

The research identified high levels of concern towards scams and fraud amongst the public and highlighted that public perceptions of fundraising could be improved through greater transparency around the use of donations, and more information around the safety of donations. Helping people easily identify that a charity is who they say they are is not only good for the charity, but also the sector more broadly.  

We regularly run safer giving campaigns in collaboration with the Charity Commission for England and Wales and Action Fraud, and we will continue to explore opportunities to collaborate with other partners to get this information out more widely.  One way that charities can support these efforts is by displaying the Fundraising Badge. Two-fifths of survey respondents said that the existence of the Fundraising Regulator would make them more likely to trust regulated charitable fundraisers. 

We will continue to monitor fundraising practice through our proactive regulation function, and where necessary highlight code breaches through casework summaries, helping charities and fundraising organisations to learn continuously from real life examples. Going forward we will consider where we might need to update existing guidance and whether there are areas which could benefit from new guidance. We will also explore opportunities for further research in the future.  

Finally, partnership working is essential to good fundraising regulation. We are committed to listening to the voices of both fundraisers and the public to ensure the public are protected, and that the charity sector is supported to operate in a way that is open, honest, legal and respectful. We will continue to explore how we can amplify the role of the regulator to the public,  and work with fundraisers and other regulators to ensure the code and our guidance remain responsive to changes in the fundraising landscape. 

Linked below is the full report and we would encourage fundraisers to digest this as it offers a good bank of evidence to draw from when planning fundraising activities.

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