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New Survey Looks at How Charities Are (And Are Not) Connecting With Donors in Canada

(April 3, 2012)  Donors may surprise charities in some of the priorities they emphasize in their interactions with charities, according to What Canadian Donors Want, a new survey conducted by AFP of more than 1,000 donors across the country.

Donors want to know a lot before they donate. Eight-three percent of respondents need to know a charity’s purpose before they donate, and 79 percent said it’s important to know if their donation made an impact. However, 34 percent are actually aware if the charities they support have gotten closer to achieving their objectives.

In addition, while 61 percent believe charities do a good or excellent job of thanking donors for their gifts, just 45 percent agreed that not receiving a thank-you message would decrease their likelihood of giving in the future.

“These results pinpoint areas where charities and fundraisers need to rethink how they’re trying to connect with donors and where we need to improve,” said Andrew Watt, FInstF, president and CEO of AFP. “Donors are very clearly interested in impact, and we need to do a much better job of how we communicate the impact we’re making because of their gifts. One in three donors said they have never received any sort of message from a charity about the impact they are helping to create.”

There was surprising variation in the importance donors place on thank-you letters. Just 14 percent agreed strongly that not receiving a thank-you message from a charity would reduce the chances they would give again to that charity. In contrast, 52 percent indicated that thank-you letters wouldn’t factor into their future giving decisions.

“This is a surprising finding as other research and much anecdotal information indicates that thank-you letters and other ways of expressing appreciation to the donor are very important,” said Pati Greenwood, CFRE, chair of the AFP Foundation for Philanthropy-Canada. “If constructed properly, thank-you letters can play a critical role in helping donors understand the impact of their gifts, which the survey showed is a major factor in giving decisions.”

The survey also looked at the donor’s view of the role of fundraisers in the giving process. Sixty-five percent of respondents said fundraisers offered accurate portrayals of their organizations, and 59 percent said they offered useful information. But just 38 percent of respondents said that fundraisers were important in making decisions about where to donate their money.

“Fundraisers are often the ‘public face’ of an organization and the only point of contact that some donors will ever have with a charity,” said Watt. “Sixty-one percent of respondents said that how a charity operates has affected their giving in the past, so we must ensure that we are serving donors to the best of our ability and providing them with the knowledge and resources to make wise giving decisions.”

‘Where Does the Money Go?’

Canadian donors strongly support charitable giving and believe charities should invest more in fundraising campaigns and organizational infrastructure but also spend less on administration.

What Canadian Donors Want surveyed more than 1,000 Canadians about their views on charity and fundraising, including what they look for in a charity to support and how much they have given in the past 12 months. More than seven in ten respondents said that charities play an important role as a change agent to address needs not being met by the government or the private sector.

Canadian donors want stronger charitable organizations, with 54 percent of respondents identifying fundraising campaigns as the number one area where charities need to invest more. Forty percent said compliance issues, and 35 percent indicated charities should invest more in infrastructure. At the same time, 78 percent of respondents said charities should spend less on administration versus 22 percent who said they would support the idea of a nonprofit using donation money to attract and retain experienced management to lead the organization.

In addition, just 58 percent say charities have enough staff to achieve their fundraising ends, indicating that many people believe additional investments in staff are needed. Less than half (48 percent) of respondents felt that charities have the resources needed to fulfill their missions.

“It’s clear that Canadians want charities that are effective in their fundraising and have the human and financial resources to accomplish their goals,” said Greenwood, chair of the AFP Foundation for Philanthropy-Canada. “But they remain sensitive to the balance between how much charities spend on administration versus how much they spend on their programs. We’re pleased that there is growing recognition that charities need good staff and other resources, and that spending on infrastructure and administration sets the foundation for a charity to reach its goals.”

Canadian donors are also demanding ethical charities as well. Ninety-five percent of respondents believe that charities should follow an ethical code, and 69 percent have been made aware of an ethical code used by a charity they have supported. However, 30 percent indicated they would give to a charity even if they knew it was using percentage-based compensation (i.e., paying a fundraiser a percentage of each contribution raised).

“A prohibition on commissions and percentage-based compensation is a bedrock principle of AFP’s ethical code, as well as codes used by charities around the world,” said Watt. “We have to do a better job of educating the public why this unethical practice is so damaging to the reputation of the charitable sector.”

The proportion of Canadians that has donated (in the past 12 months) has held steady compared to previous surveys, about 70 percent. However, the overall gift level is decreasing slightly as more donors are giving less. The two most popular reasons for giving were “I want to help those in need” (44 percent) and “Because I know the charity does good work” (34 percent).

For those not giving, the number one reason, by far, was “I can’t afford it,” mentioned by 54 percent of respondents who hadn’t given. The second most popular reason, mentioned by only 6 percent of respondents, was “I give in other ways.”

“Certainly the recent economy has affected people’s giving habits, but charities need to work harder at connecting donor’s gifts and the impact they are making,” said Greenwood. “When we’re able to show donors and the public the impact we’re making—that charitable giving is an investment in the community with real impact and returns to everyone—then donors’ giving decisions may be less affected by downturns in the economy.”

The survey was conducted Nov. 15-30, 2011, using the Ipsos Reid Online Panel and involved 1,027 respondents. Click here to download a factum with further information.

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