Man power: understanding and reaching male supporters

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Man power: understanding and reaching male supporters

Jenny Ramage delves into the psychology of male charitable giving


Men remain something of a mystery when it comes to fundraising. Although the discrepancies between what drives men and women to act have been widely explored in social psychology, there is no definitive answer as to why fewer males than females give to charity.

“Across the sector, we probably don’t know nearly as much about men as we do about women”, says James Beeby, deputy director of fundraising at Prostate Cancer UK. “Because women form the majority of givers, more activity has been geared around them, so as a sector we’re not as far down the road in understanding men’s giving behaviour at an individual level as we are women’s”.


Where’s your compassion?

If you search the internet for insight into why fewer men than women give to charity, one theory that repeatedly crops up is that men are simply “less compassionate”.

Is this really the case? Rachel Kirby-Rider, executive director of fundraising and communications at Samaritans, is unconvinced. “I don’t think men have less compassion. People display emotions in very different ways, but I don’t think the motivation to give is drastically different in men as it is in women; it’s probably based on some form of compassion or empathy with the cause”.

The difference instead lies in what triggers a man’s compassionate response, says Kirby-Rider. “I think, with men, the connection is maybe more personal than with women. Generally speaking, women can be sympathetic to a cause without necessarily being empathetic; they don’t necessarily have to be directly affected by something to have a compassionate reaction, whereas a man is more likely to be driven to give because they or someone close to them has been affected by that cause.”

This may explain why at the individual giving level you get more women giving, and at smaller amounts, than men. Beeby’s assertion is that “women might give to a range of causes because something’s piqued their compassionate or emotional response, whereas men tend to make more calculated decisions.”


Deep impact

To put it another way, it’s about investment. Prostate Cancer UK bucks the trend in terms of its giving profile: it has more male than female donors, and individual giving is at a high level compared with other charities. “That’s because the men who give to us are making an investment decision, based on their own experience of prostate cancer”, says Beeby. “They want to make a real impact, and they feel that if they give more, it will make a bigger difference.”

Equally, male supporters are eager to see impact demonstrated. “It’s about social return on investment” says Kirby-Rider. “I’ve found that men want to know exactly what you’ve done with their money, and what benefit it’s had to the end user. I don’t see that so much with women; I think they tend to be more trusting that the charity will do good with their donations.”

The theory that men are more practical in their response to charity messaging is certainly borne out in the feedback Samaritans gets from both service users and donors. “Men will generally be quite direct and practicable about the way they engage with an issue”, says Kirby-Rider. “If you look at the posters for the male-targeted campaign that we did last year, it’s all about helping men sort out their problems, helping them to move forwards with their life, and giving them practical solutions in terms of what they can do to make things better.”


Role play

The wider research into male psychology endorses this view, as philanthropic psychologist Professor Jen Shang explains: “We know from social psychology that males and females help differently. The social expectation of females is that they should be building communal relationships, and caring for children and others members of their society. For males, the expectation is for them to solve problems cognitively, rather than caring for the needs of others. They are expected to be independent, take responsibility for society and be enablers of others to take care of themselves.”

So how does this manifest itself in charitable giving in the UK? “That is the part that hasn’t yet been researched extensively,” Shang admits. However, she says, it’s something that the Academy is taking a great interest in; indeed, it’s currently running a project exploring how charities can prime a prospect’s moral and social identity in order to elicit support. Specifically, it’s concerned with the adjectives used in messaging. Shang says these adjectives are crucial in targeting males and females respectively.

“Using male-relevant moral words will prompt men to give more than using female words, and vice versa. For example, if a children’s charity want their female supporters to donate, they are probably more likely to ask them to help provide bottles and food to feed infants. Whereas, if they want male donors to give, they are more likely to be able to connect with their male identity by asking them to support, say, school-aged children who, through their donation, can take up the responsibilities of life.”

The pilot research that Shang and her team have conducted suggests that, through using the right vocabulary to communicate your message, a 10 per cent uplift in giving levels is achievable.


Straight talk

Evidence of the importance of language can also be found in the feedback collated from Samaritans’ service users. “Men and women use very different language – even where they are probably driving to the same point,” explains Kirby-Rider. “If you ask a woman how she feels about an issue, she will tell you about her emotions, but a man will tend to find that question a turn-off. If you say to a man, ‘Tell me about what the problem is’, that’s a language they can better relate to.”

It’s the same principle for donors, she says. “In terms of fundraising, the language and vocabulary a charity uses in something like direct mail can drive female donors to give more than men, or vice versa. With men in particular, you can’t use fluffy language. You need to talk to them in a different way.”

This is something you have to be particularly mindful of when using case studies, says Kirby-Rider. “In our last DM campaign, we used a case study of a man called Kevin. It was a very male-orientated campaign, talking about things from Kevin’s point of view in a very practical way: what happened to him, why he called Samaritans, and the impact it’s had on his life.” It worked: the campaign saw an uplift of 4 per cent in response rates compared with the previous two campaigns.

Interestingly, using a male case study didn’t put female donors off. In fact, while it did increase the number of male responses, the split between men and women was pretty much even.


Action stations

At Prostate Cancer UK, the results also speak for themselves – moreover, they show that language isn’t confined to words alone. “In general, a big part of a man’s brain is devoted to action,” says Beeby. “One of the reasons our programmes have been so successful is that we centre our campaigns around activity.”

For example, the charity is a major beneficiary of the funds raised each year through the annual moustache-growing campaign Movember, whose success to date has been astounding: participation has grown from 16,000 to 354,000 since its inception in 2003. It’s now raised a whopping £80m worldwide.

In a lively session delivered at this year’s IoF convention, Mark Bishop, director of fundraising at Prostate Cancer UK, discussed a number of the factors that have contributed to Movember’s success: one being that it’s about having fun and taking the mickey out of yourself and your mates; another being the element of solidarity and male bonding that it creates – all traits commonly associated with men and the way they interact socially.

Furthermore, Movember is also a highly competitive affair, and it’s fair to say that men, in general, enjoy a bit of competition.

Those charities that have recognised this are clearly on the right track. Cancer Research UK’s Bobby Moore Fund recently launched its ‘Moore than a Quiz’ initiative: a pub quiz, aimed at men aged 35-60, which raises money through entry fee. Participants are encouraged to pay £5 each to take part, and the charity provides the quizmaster or venue with the quiz questions, as well as table displays to help get the health messaging across.

Across the UK, some 7,000 pubs, golf clubs, football clubs and working men’s clubs are on board with the quiz. It’s no flash-in-the-pan, either; the initiative is set to continue through 2014 – World Cup year. “Our vision is to be the quiz of choice for World Cup year, and with all the questions related to football in some way, it will be the most relevant quiz you can play,” explains the fund’s senior campaign manager, Kirsty Christie.


Hero worship

Just as central to the campaign is the charity’s namesake: Bobby Moore, captain of England’s 1966 World Cup-winning side. “His name being forefront in our campaigns is really important,” says Christie. “We did a lot of testing on men last year, and we recognised that our target audience are those who remember Bobby, and those for whom he is a hero. When we looked into their giving, the key thing we found was that they ‘do it for Bobby’. So our message is that you can do something to make your hero proud. As a proposition, it feels tangible to our male audience – and it’s got really good reactions.”

In April this year, to help promote Bowel Cancer Awareness Month, the fund launched the Make Bobby Proud campaign. The campaign saw a huge increase in the proportion of men visiting the fund’s website – up from 57 per cent to 89 per cent, while the total numbers of visitors to the site increased four-fold. The branding of the campaign in itself provided a direct and clear message that tapped into supporters’ admiration for their hero.

The visual depiction of Bobby is just as crucial as the concept, Christie adds. “The image of that iconic moment – Bobby Moore holding the World Cup – is so important. They just want to see Bobby’s face, and that’s why he is at the forefront in all our marketing.”

And when you put it like that, men don’t seem like such a mystery after all.



This article first appeared in The Fundraiser magazine, Issue 33, September 2013


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