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Category Archives: Links between volunteering and giving

blog - express headlineAnother day, another headline.*
Being a fundraiser at a charity supporting asylum seekers and migrants to the UK has to be one of the tougher marketing challenges – especially with weekly headlines like this one from The Express and a continuous debate raging.
The Migrants Resource Centre asked if we could help. They are passionate about the work they do and the positive contribution the people they work with make to the UK.

They wanted to know who would support one of the least popular causes in Britain and how to engage them on a tiny budget. They were also planning to improve their website and wanted to make the most of the opportunity.

This is where research to understand audiences is key. We discussed what they wanted to do with the work (so if we identified an audience, how would they find and market to them again) and what assumptions they made already about where support might come from.

The team had hunches that people who were migrants themselves would be potential supporters, people who were children of migrants and people with sympathetic views who read The Guardian for example might be better than average areas of support. These people were considered to be empathetic, which made us also consider other people who had migrated within the UK to London.

We conducted research groups with all 4 and some of the findings were surprising.

blog - migrants

Not surprisingly people arriving in the UK who had shared similar experiences were the most empathetic and most likely to give. Children of migrants were more conditional but also understood the need for support.

Whilst exploring attitudes to asylum seekers, migration, intra-EU migration two findings caught our eye, the ambivalence of all 4 groups to people’s legal status contrasted strongly with the fierce desire to know whether migrants or asylum seekers were paying tax and making a contribution. It seems all are welcome in London, so long as it’s clear you’re making a financial contribution. In other words my charitable donation is conditional. When we tested a variety of stories of migrants and asylum seekers, those which mentioned their back story AND the contribution they make now, for example as a teacher, or community worker were much more likely to engage and motivate action.  A vital insight for a fundraiser seeking to engage.

So what of our Guardian readers group, all of whom identified as givers to charity? The people in our group demonstrated little empathy or desire to give to this cause, a reminder perhaps that a shared view expressed through media choice might be a poor indicator of giving propensity?

Our young, 20 something migrants from within the UK to London surprised us too. They expected that during their career they would work abroad in another country  and were correspondingly optimistic, open and relaxed about people coming to the UK and doing the same. Secondly as new arrivals to London themselves they wanted to connect with migrants and asylum seekers, wanting to share skills and social experiences. We can’t wait  to be invited to the first ‘New To London Charitable Feast’.

This audience insight has helped MRC develop their fundraising strategy and web presence – and before you launch another campaign,  or revamp your website, run your own focus group. Find out what your audience is thinking about your cause at the moment.

You might also like this article on how Foodcyle researched foody volunteers or this article on what music events appeal to fundraisers, or get in touch if we can help:

*This headline is from The Express not The Guardian just in case of any doubt

This research, which was carried out on behalf of CDI/Apps for Good, looked into charity volunteers and their willingness to become donors to the causes they support.


Motivations for volunteering

At the heart of volunteering is the cause that people are emotionally connected to.  According to a study published in the Journal of Consumer Research in October 2008, titled “The Happiness of Giving: The Time-Ask Effect”, the authors describe that when charities ask people for their time first over money, this made the emotional significance of what they were asking stand out, which stimulated positive feelings and an increased belief that volunteering would be linked to personal happiness. The study then leads on to suggest that the emotional mind set ultimately led to greater giving. This is further backed by a study carried out by NPC, titled “Money for Good UK: Understanding donor motivation and behaviour”.  NPC surveyed 3000 people and found that across all donors who volunteer, 72% gave money to the same organisation that they gave time to.

The relationship between giving time and money is interesting; there is clearly a correlation between volunteering and higher rates of giving and between higher levels of volunteering and higher financial donations.  All of the research conducted on this subject has found that those donating time and money to the same organisation are more likely to give money to an organisation where they have been involved as volunteers.  The research carried out by NPC also found that volunteering preceded a donation for 16% of people surveyed, while 37% of those surveyed gave both time and money at the same point. Volunteering arguably requires greater effort than a financial donation; therefore if donors choose to give time and money simultaneously, the volunteering relationship could be the motivating factor.

The important link between giving time and giving money indicates that charities might benefit from greater integration between their fundraising and programme functions ensuring that supporters who both donate and volunteer, or have the potential to, have a rewarding and joined-up relationship with the charity. Asking for people’s time connects them with the deep mission of the charity, which makes them more inspired to be involved in that endeavour in every way.

Motivations for giving

According to the “Money for Good UK” study, nearly half of UK voluntary organisations receive the majority of their funding from individuals, with £9.3bn raised by donors last year.  Understanding who is donating, why they are doing so, and how we might get them to donate more, therefore becomes absolutely essential.  According to the research carried out by NPC and some anecdotal evidence we discovered from running “See The Difference” ( – a site enabling people to donate to charity projects and see exactly what their money helped achieve) the motivations behind giving money can broadly be categorised as:

  • Impact – A key reason that donors give money is that they want to make a positive difference in the world.
  • Convenience – Volunteering is usually seen as a big commitment; giving money (and not time) therefore can be seen as convenient for some but at the same time still having impact.
  • Cause – When people have a vested interest in the work of a charity, they give because they share the same mission or cause.
  • Supporting Fundraisers – Often people will donate to fundraisers, typically friends or family raising money for a charity they care about.  In those circumstances people tend to donate to help their friend or family member rather than the cause directly.

One of the key findings from the research NPC carried out suggests donors find it hard to understand where their money goes.  They also concluded that if charities improved the way they communicate impact and explain how donations are used, they could potentially attract around £665m more in donations annually in the UK.  However, having said that, the key to this is finding a way to communicate the impact with donors that is personalised.  From our time at See The Difference, we found that although donors appreciated personalised feedback around the impact the donor’s money helped achieve, if the communication was not relatively immediate or was too generic then donors were not responsive to it.

How charities manage volunteer & donor communities?

We conducted a survey amongst 17 charities ranging from the small niche / local charities to the large presence national charities (we haven’t named any of the charities to avoid any bias in the reporting of the results).  We asked each of the charities the same questions:

  1. Do you have a team/someone who is responsible for volunteers?
  2. Who does that team/person report to?
  3. Approximately how many volunteers do you have?
  4. Do you check to see if volunteers are donors?
  5. Do you ever approach volunteers to donate money?
  6. Do you ever approach donors to volunteer?
  7. If you don’t cross reference volunteer and donor data why is that?

The Results

The larger of the charities we approached had 8000 volunteers and at the smaller end we had charities with only 30 volunteers.

Below is a summary of the findings:

  • Out of the 17 charities we surveyed only 5 (29%) had no specific person or team responsible for managing volunteers.
  • Out of these 5 charities, only 1, which was the one with the smallest number of volunteers (30) had the volunteers managed by the fundraising department (in this case simply because of the size).  In the remaining 4 charities there was no particular department for managing the volunteer community.  Looking across all 17 charities, only 2 charities managed the volunteer community in the same department as the donor community.
  • From the survey sample, 29% had a volunteer community greater than 1000, 52% with volunteer community between 100 – 1000, and the remaining 19% with less than 100.
  • 8 out of the 17 charities (47%) actually checked to see if volunteers were donors.  In the majority of these cases they used the same database to store both donor and volunteer information making it easier to cross reference.
  • 6 out of the 17 charities (35%) actually asked the volunteers for donations; however, from talking to the charities we found most of them used generic fundraising emails sent to both donors and volunteers in an attempt to drive further donations from their existing donor and volunteer communities.  This led to very few further donations.
  • The only charity that actively had success from asking their volunteers to donate sent targeted emails and personalised communication.  They geared emails specifically to volunteers, making sure that the communication specified their time contribution was valued. The conversion rate to donation was much higher than normal going this route.
  • There were similar results when charities were asked whether they asked donors to become volunteers.  7 out the 17 (41%) charities had sent communications to their donors about opportunities to volunteer and offered donors the opportunity to get involved in their work (if they wanted to).  Only 2 of the 7 charities had some success but again this was down to the way the message was communicated to the donors.  It was very specific and focused on the donor rather than being a generic message to both donors and volunteers.
  • Of the remaining 10 charities that did nothing in either checking whether volunteers also donated or asking donors to look into volunteering:
    • 3 charities reported they did not have enough resources to cross reference donor and volunteer records;
    • 1 reported that the two parts of the business were completely separate;
    • 3 charities reported that they were worried that donors would stop donating if asked to volunteer;
    • 1 charity felt that the volunteer tasks were very specific / specialised and therefore not appropriate to ask their donors, also going the other way, they were worried asking volunteers to donate would not feel right as they were already doing enough by giving their time;
    • 2 charities mentioned they were considering strategies around their volunteer community but had no concrete plans;

It is evident from the survey that only a small number of the charities have considered looking at the relationships between those that volunteer and their donation behaviour.

Bridging the Gap

It is evident from the research that for charities to increase the level of donations in current times they need to engage with their volunteer and donor communities in very different ways.

Donors who give both time and money to a charity give a higher average donation than those who give only money and those that only give money are concerned that their money isn’t being put to good use which impacts future donations.  The pathway of asking people for time over money seems quite clear as people that volunteer actively get to see the work that is done by charities and how the donation money is spent.  This develops empathy and displays transparency which can lead to volunteers giving more.  However, we also know from the survey we conducted with charities that a high proportion of them are afraid of impacting their existing donation numbers or volunteer efforts by asking their user groups to change their behaviour and give more.

Those charities who successfully converted volunteers into donors and donors into volunteers did two key things:

  • targetted communications to the relevant communities showing the impact of their effort or donation.  This combined with a cross ask for volunteering if you’re an existing donor or for donations if you’re a volunteer (this being personalised based on the volunteer’s experiences) yielded better results than generic communications.
  • worked collaboratively with their volunteer management and donor management departments to enable them to develop a holistic view of the individual that has either given time, money or both.  By having a single database of users / customers they got better insights into the activities of the users and therefore provided better and personalised communication back to them.

Charities sometimes do not have the data in any kind of structure that makes it easy to cross reference or as we found from our survey, they may be scared of losing either donors or volunteers by asking them to do more.  One strategy to overcome some of these issues could be to find a small test group from each community and cross reference the data to build profiles of members in the test groups.  Personalised communications could then be targeted to these test groups to see how they behave.  Using this method, charities can get quality feedback and iterate to achieve better results.

It’s not all about technology

Another key learning from this exercise is that technology, although important, is not the key to how charities can get better at profiling their volunteer and donor communities.  The success cases we found had built a bespoke solution to serve their needs on profiling data.  They had no major CRM system in place but a good structure database of donors and volunteers that they could use to get meaningful data and reporting from.

This could also then help when it comes to scaling the donor and volunteer communities. Clearly once charities have 1000s of donors and volunteers it will be harder to create a personalised communication service however, if they can create meaningful profiling groups based on partitioning data about their supporters, they can still provide tailored communication content based on their key interests, projects they have engaged on and their volunteering experience.  The best place to start is around understanding what you want to know about your customers and what data is required to measure key performance indicators to easily test different communications.

Social Media

From the work we did at See The Difference, one of the major insights we gained was that social media in itself is a poor medium for driving direct donations.  The broadcast nature of social media means that those consuming the messages perceive them as nothing more than marketing/sales messages.  Social media is most effective when used in a social context amongst peers, friends or groups sharing a common interest.  Social media works when a supporter running a fundraiser asks for donations from their friends in a social context (so friends are supporting their friend rather than the friend’s cause directly). However, social media can also be used effectively as a mechanism to gain more profiling information about supporters.

Discovering Interesting Relationships

Using this approach of profiling supporters also then opens up opportunities for discovering interesting relationships between your donor and volunteer base.  As well as simply targeting communications, you may also find that your supporters share a common interest outside of the charity they support.  For example, discovering that a number of volunteers also work in the same organisation may be an opportunity for the charity to use their volunteers to engage the organisation and create a long term partnership / corporate giving or volunteering programme.


All of the research referenced here suggests that donors and volunteers are quite loyal to the causes they support; however, they want to see the impact of their donation and be appreciated for their effort through personalised communication.  By taking a measured approach and testing different messages around impact and appreciation of effort on smaller test groups from both their donor and volunteer communities, charities may be able to understand what works best for their target audience and how to best spend their efforts in order to drive more donations.  Profiling their supporters by collecting data around their interests outside of the charity may help in discovering interesting relationships and channels for further growing their engagement.