nfpIntelligence Focus Group - Key Insights

hands taking notes

nfpIntelligence Focus Group - Key Insights

Our focus group series is available to subscribers to our various monitors; this week, we're sharing the key insights from a discussion with donors in their 50s to 70s, which was available last month as part of our nfpIntelligence package.

Jo Fischl

Last month, we carried out a focus group discussion with a group of charity donors aged in their 50s to 70s. Charity was an important aspect of their lives; they have given at least £40 to charity in the past month, with some also volunteering time or fundraising to support various charities. Suffice to say, they were passionate about the causes and charities they supported. Today, we’re sharing some of the key themes we noted from our discussion with this group.


Warmth and pride in chosen charities exists alongside ‘charity fatigue’ and recall of negative charity press 

When asked about recent charity stories in the news, the group struggled to recall much that was actually recent or anything that was positive – instead thinking back to the scandals relating to charities which were most prominent in the news around the mid to late 2010s. This points to the stubborn nature of some of these negative impressions of charities but might also lead us to ask why more positive stories associated with charities aren’t cutting through.   

Participants also spoke about feeling bombarded by advertising and appeals from charities – complaining of a constant stream of TV adverts, mailings and requests to participate in charity lotteries. This so-called ‘charity fatigue’ is likely related to age and relative affluence – older donors are both the most popular target for donations as well as being more likely to consume traditional media where charities advertise such as TV and newspapers. 


Cost of living and related issues are resonating strongly 

When asked about the societal issues resonating most strongly for them, the cost-of-living crisis dominated. This was mentioned specifically alongside a range of issues connected with it, including increases in homelessness, need for foodbanks, in-work poverty and fuel costs. Struggling public services were also high on the agenda, including the NHS, NHS dentistry and policing. Surrounding both issues participants pointed to a feeling of regression – a return to the Victorian era of the poor needing to rely on charitable support to survive. It seems likely that these issues are particularly resonant as their impact is felt widely – participants were themselves experiencing rising bills or seeing the availability of dentistry decline – creating a strong sense of empathy for those at the sharpest end.


Overseas aid raises some eyebrows, whilst homelessness and social welfare is on the rise for support 

In discussion of favoured causes which charities work in, donors had varied interests and motivations informing their cause preferences, from animal welfare for pet lovers to health causes for those who had family and friends impacted by conditions. With these donors aged 50 and over, they had also accumulated more causes over time through life experiences – for instance, moving towards children and young people through having their own children or to a range of health causes due to illnesses amongst family members or friends.

In terms of less popular causes, overseas aid and development was something of a scapegoat for critique of charities and we saw heavy scepticism about large overseas charities in particular – participants had a picture of well-paid aid workers and CEOs, and professed to feeling that they couldn’t be sure if money would get to where it was needed.


There is anger that charities are having to meet the shortfall in public services  

Following on from discussion of the cost of living and struggling public services, we heard a recognition and anger that charities are increasingly having to plug the gap in public service provision – participants talked with frustration about lots of areas which they felt government should be responsible for but weren’t delivering on. They recalled a time when they felt charities had a different purpose – providing the additional extras to improve quality of life, rather than essential services.  
In the groups, we discussed whether the belief that government should be responsible for a particular cause had implications on their own likelihood to support charities working in it. This largely does not seem to have been much of a factor in giving decisions, however.

In the main, participants felt that charities do have a role to speak out on the issues they work in and challenge government on its failings. However, the same people also later expressed concern about charities being ‘too political’ – this is something of a blurry line and partly down to language where ‘being political’ is controversial, whilst ‘speaking out’ is straightforwardly positive.


Localism - Think small and local, even if you’re big and national 

A common theme returned to through the discussion was a preference for small, local charities. Participants liked to see themselves as supporting ‘local’ charities and professed to having shifted their giving in this direction in recent years – driven by scepticism of larger charities and a belief that smaller charities have more volunteers and that more of their money will go to ‘the cause’.

When asked how larger charities could build trust, participants talked about the importance of transparency and showing what goes to the cause. However, whilst this might mean statistical breakdowns for charity staff members, for participants it was often more about hearing personal stories – tangible examples of how the money had a transformative impact.  


Communication is key  

Finally, participants frustrations with charities often related to the way messages are communicated – for example feeling that charities are ungrateful when they ask whether donors can increase their direct debits. However, participants claimed that this wasn’t a blanket ban on asking for donors to increase their support – they state that if charities approach it softly and make clear the reasons why more funds needed and that there is no pressure to do so, they would be more receptive to being asked. Whilst no charity would design its fundraising asks with the intent of being pushy, this perception should act as a reminder to charities to ensure they are testing and reviewing the messages they put out on these more challenging asks to see how they are being received.  



If you're interested in joining us for a focus group and discussion session, get in touch with us at or check out some of our public research products.

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