Hold onto your own: Keeping your supporters engaged in an atmosphere of declining trust

Hold onto your own: Keeping your supporters engaged in an atmosphere of declining trust

Trust in Irish charities has been steadily declining since 2013 and this blog explores how to keep your supporter base alive when the sector around you struggles.
Cian Murphy

Our latest report, Fundraising Around the World, confirmed what we have known for a long time from our research – it is a challenging time for charities in Ireland. A series of controversies, from the practice of “topping up” senior executive salaries from charitable funds at certain medical institutions to wholesale mismanagement at Console, has strongly damaged trust in charities in Ireland.

When we first started tracking trust in Irish charities, 70-75% of the public trusted charities. According to our international research in nine countries, this would have put Ireland as an astonishingly positive outlier – much more positive even than the US, probably the country with the most well-developed charity sector in the world. In our latest waves of research this figure is more like 50%, putting it more in line with other English-speaking countries. This is following a steady decline in trust after the controversies of 2013-16.

However, it is not just trust that has taken a hit. Following these controversies, just 29% of the public agreed that charities were well run, compared to an average of 43% in the other countries we tested. Similarly, just 30% believe that charities are ethical and honest compared to 44% on average in other countries. For the overwhelming majority of charities that have been unfairly tarred with the same brush, this makes for a very challenging environment. In particular, acquiring new donors in an atmosphere where the public are increasingly more sceptical requires a deft hand.

Just as important as acquiring new supporters however is continuing to ensure that your existing supporters remain happy and inspired about their choice to support you. This is likely to be even more important for Irish charities as acquisition has become more difficult. Most charities are of course aware of how important tracking this sentiment is and conduct regular supporter surveys. However, it can often be challenging to interpret a survey like this in isolation. Because most supporters are positive about the charities they support, it can be difficult to know whether a result is meaningful. Yes, the results were broadly positive – but how are we doing compared to other organisations? Are we meeting the highest standards in our supporter care?

One way we have worked with charities in the UK to get around these challenges is our Supporter Benchmark. By asking your supporters a standard set of our questions, we are able to compare the results among your donors to our broader database of supporter responses. This allows us to meaningfully interpret your results and where they sit in the broader context of the charity sector and break the results down by charity size, sector, etc.

It also allows us to explore how the demographic profile of your supporter base varies compared to other charities. For example it is common knowledge in the charity sector that donors tend to be older than average and indeed this is backed up by our Supporter Benchmark, which shows that one in three of the average charity’s supporters is over 65. But how does your charity compare to the charity sector average?

So far, we have only run the Supporter Benchmark with UK charities, but we are keen to work with more Irish charities to help them understand these vital relationships with their supporter bases. To help us build up a strong base of Irish charities in the benchmark, we are offering to conduct these surveys and benchmarks for a discounted rate for charities in Ireland. If this is something that sounds like it might be of interest, we’d love to hear from you – please send me an email at cian.murphy@nfpsynergy.net

(All charities will be able to benchmark themselves against our existing British benchmark, and those involved at the start will still have access to future benchmarking data from Irish charities as it becomes available. Your individual charity level data will not be accessible to anyone outside your organisation.)

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