There is another piece of research available on the effect of the economy on giving to charity. This time it’s from Rapp and they have focused on attitudes to direct debits.

We don’t have access to the whole report but the top line figures don’t make for enjoyable reading. Of the 1,000 over 25's they surveyed: 

  • 8% were considering cancelling a direct debit
  • 11% were considering lowering the amount they give via direct debit
  • 12% had cancelled one or more direct debits

Rapp is advising charities to keep communicating with people who have cancelled their donations. Their planning director, Gavin
Hilton suggests offering payment holidays, one-off donations or non-financial ways of continuing support.

"Charities should embrace the philosophy that getting close to your customers/donors is
always important but never more so than in an economic downturn.”

It’s sensible advice. At Bluefrog, we have seen some amazing results in the last month from charities that are concentrating on giving donors what they want. It's great to be able to say that one new client has reported their best appeal result for a year. The fact is that donors are not going to stop giving as long as we remember that they have needs and we respond to them.

Bluefrog undertook a substantial piece of qualitative research at the start of 2008 looking at why people stopped giving. The findings were pretty detailed, but much of what we uncovered can be summed up by one simple statement from one of the participants.

“You keep saying this thing lapsed. Lapsed from what? I never felt I was giving anything up.”

Just because we send newsletters and appeals to donors, it doesn’t mean they have a relationship with us. Too often we depend on what Adrian Sargeant describes as “passive commitment”. It is a term he uses to describe those supporters who are happy to give (by direct debit) but generally forget about what they are doing.

He sees passive commitment as no commitment at all as it reflects no real sense of bond to the charity. As such, it is easiest to lose. Particularly when times get tough.

He found high levels of passive commitment are associated with a feeling that there is no risk to the beneficiary from the cancellation of a direct debit and from a feeling that the quality of communications, including the level of choice provided, is poor.

The lesson from this is simple. We need to get people to do more than just get close to us. We need them to interact with our charity. By getting people to interact, we begin to develop a more powerful relationship and create a bond that will guarantee our financial survival – even at times of economic hardship.

And for one great example of how a relatively small and unknown organization has done this, visit and search for Botton Village (you’ll need to register, but it’s easy and worth it). The exhibit about giving donors choice is brilliant.