Knowledge is power: research for fundraising

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Knowledge is power: research for fundraising

Accurate and accessible research into fundraising is vital if charities are to develop effective fundraising strategies for the future, says Daniel Fluskey


Understanding people’s giving behaviour better has always been essential in the precision targeting of fundraising plans. And it is especially important at a time when the charity sector faces major statutory funding cuts and increased demand for services.

However, there are differences of opinion emerging from the research about what’s happening in the sector, and alternative propositions about how well the sector is doing. Our data, for example, shows that the institute’s 350 organisational members are bringing in £6bn a year – which would suggest that many charities are getting the ‘ask’ right, and donors are getting the messages that they need.

We want to be the place where the debate happens, and to be in a position to facilitate better analysis and understanding of the research that’s out there. This, in turn, will help us to improve our support for members.


What we know

Where well-documented evidence that has tracked the sector throughout the recession exists, we are able to make more accurate comparisons using the year-on-year data – and this allows the sector to adapt and plan for the future.

The Managing in a Downturn series of reports, now in its sixth year, charts how charities and their staff are responding in a recession. Overall findings from this year’s survey reveal that the tough economic climate is putting the sector under pressure, with 93 per cent of charities saying they were experiencing a squeeze on fundraising and 67 per cent saying that demand for their services has increased. However, 61 per cent of staff are optimistic for the future of their charities as they adapt to meet the challenges it poses.


Forewarned is forearmed

Good quality research is not only about analysing what’s happened in the past, but is perhaps more importantly about predicting the future. The sector needs to think about how future changes could impact, and consider how to respond.

A good example of our approach to this is the Scottish independence and fundraising report, commissioned by IoF Scotland. The Scottish government is to hold a referendum in September 2014 asking Scottish people if they want independence from the UK, and the institute decided it needed to talk to its members about the impact that a ‘yes’ vote could have on them.

This is an excellent starting point that will help us to gain further insight into the anticipated impact of independence.

The institute wants to be the place where research is debated, and where fundraisers can be linked through to the latest research reports, blogs and thinking. When we commission research, it will be in response to our members’ needs and we’ll ensure that they get the information that will give them the most benefit.

Benchmarking is one of those projects. When it’s finished, members will be able to see the performance of different fundraising activities and track the trends over time. This means that individual organisations can see their fundraising performance in the context of the wider sector.

We think that the more organisations can collaborate and contribute to these kinds of projects, the more we will be able to get some really useful figures and information about how fundraising is working – and how organisations can be more effective.


Forward planning

These are exciting times where we’ll be working closely with our members to identify any gaps in research. Our members need good-quality research that they can access easily and, most importantly, rely on to inform their fundraising strategies.

We don’t have all the answers, but we believe that we can make a difference with a collaborative approach across the sector. We are already beginning to think about how we might bring together the existing, reliable research into one place and use it to help identify the knowledge gaps that are stopping us being better at understanding giving behaviour. We’re at a very early stage in our thinking around this approach, and I hope we’ll have more to say later in the year.


Daniel Fluskey is head of policy and research at the Institute of Fundraising

This article first appeared in The Fundraiser magazine, Issue 29, May 2013

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