We provide secondary sources to support the case that the factors causing donor dissatisfaction are representative of a significant group.
Inclusion in this list indicates that they provide evidence of one or more of the problem factors, and in no way implies our agreement with any statements made. Indeed, we include several references that make recommendations we entirely disagree with, but attempt to make clear why each has been chosen.
Intentionally, almost all of these have been sourced after we made our conclusions.
All hyperlinks were retrieved successfully in June 2019.
- How donors choose charities © 2010 Beth Breeze
Most of the findings in this paper were of direct interest to us. What they capture includes a preference of some donors for sympathetic delegation and an assumption of expert delegation, that choosing between charities is difficult for donors, and that they care about coverage (“Some interviewees expressed feelings of regret, and experiences of stress, that the number of requests for help exceeds their ability to respond”), support for categorisation as a method of donor presentation (“Self‐made classifications and ‘mental maps’ help donors to cope with the complexity of the charity sector“), that donors actively use bias as a practical workaround when choice is difficult, and one example of willingness to contribute a negligible amount to non-preferred charities (“I’d put 10p in, shall I put it that way?”).
There is also evidence that donors want to avoid being “drowned out” by government and other donors. We assume that this is driven by other dissatisfaction factors rather than being one in its own right.
- https://www.newstatesman.com/node/193396 (2000)
A strongly worded opinion piece covering lack of representation, accountability, and waste.
- https://www.civilsociety.co.uk/news/financial-times-attacks–highly-inefficient–charity-sector-and-calls-for-government-to-force-charities-to-merge.html (2015)
Focused on reducing waste from a government oversight and funding perspective.
- http://www.bbc.co.uk/ethics/charity/against_1.shtml (2014)
The BBC’s Ethics page on charity covers several strong but lesser-heard questions about whether charity is effective and good. It provides a couple of good examples of bias (“favouritism, not fairness”).
The NCVO discusses whether the number of charities is appropriate.
A comedy sketch from Mitchell and Webb that gives an overview of the sector and captures several of our dissatisfaction factors and common frustrations at simplistic approaches.
- https://www.thenorthernecho.co.uk/news/13754862.charity-chief-calls-for-an-end-to-chugging/ (2015)
A news article covering “chugging”, which has become a widely-used derogatory term, with the view that it puts charity income at risk by treating donors poorly.
- http://www.charityscience.com/blog/how-charities-are-actually-wasting-your-money-video-and-infographic (2015)
An infographic that puts across a point about using simple metrics to promote a false sense of effectiveness. As stated elsewhere, we can’t endorse using “cost-effectiveness” in this way, but it shows people caring strongly about waste and personal impact.
- https://thedecisionlab.com/charity-inefficiencies-altruism/ (2017)
This article talks about “parochialism” where we have “niche” causes. It covers widespread giving from a more economics-driven perspective, judging that the utility benefit (“warm glow”) to the individual donor is greater if they give smaller amounts to more charities. For reasons stated, we do not support an aggressive use of “marginal benefit” to resolve funding questions.
- https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3357458/One-five-UK-s-biggest-charities-spending-half-public-donations-good-causes-spend-little-ONE-CENT-charitable-work.html (2015)
While the Daily Mail’s report appears to be entirely unreliable, it collates robust responses that cover why charities should maintain funding reserves. Strong coverage in a national newspaper indicates that this is a common emotive issue.
- https://80000hours.org/articles/best-charity/ (2016)
This article from 80,000 Hours covers some less common angles, and we single them out for supporting access to general expertise (see our “sympathetic delegation”) as something that people want. They also link to some interesting exploratory projects, encouraging thinking from new angles.
- https://www.theguardian.com/voluntary-sector-network/2014/sep/29/poverty-porn-charity-adverts-emotional-fundraising (2014)
This article covers “poverty porn”, discussing issues around how charity work is portrayed through advertising, and touching on the idea of single-impact matching.
- https://www.civilsociety.co.uk/news/over-80-per-cent-of-charity-ads-given-1-star-ratings-from-public.html (2018)
This article takes the perspective of optimising marketing strategies for individual charities, showing a high level of donor dissatisfaction with advertising.
- https://www.thedrum.com/news/2018/03/28/charities-need-focus-less-the-cause-and-more-the-consumer-say-agencies (2018)
This article from charity-sector watcher The Drum Network is rare and welcome in suggesting treating donors as consumers and highlighting that making people feel good about giving is mutually beneficial.
- https://www.givingwhatwecan.org/post/2013/11/should-you-only-donate-to-one-charity/ (2013)
We don’t agree with any of the points in this post and find the reasoning weak, but it shows people interested in big picture outcomes, efficiency and representation, and acknowledges basic concerns about coverage.
- http://freakonomics.com/2012/12/06/charitable-giving-why-fewer-is-more/ (2012)
This short post from two sector specialists advises against widespread giving on the grounds of fixed per-recipient costs such as transaction costs and individual application/report writing. We agree with the reasoning, and have taken steps to remove those precise obstacles.
- https://www.vox.com/future-perfect/2018/11/26/18103372/overhead-charities-effectiveness-donations-giving-tuesday (2018)
This balanced and detailed article covers why judging between charities on overhead is not to be recommended. We condemn the reported stance from Charity Watch that a bad metric is better than none, which shows sector organisations amplifying secondary biases.
We include a public question+answer website as representative of grassroots debate. This shows people caring about waste and personal impact, but also shows that while charitable and economic organisations may have near-consensus on some of these questions, the answers are not reaching the general public and awareness is low.
From the American charity rating organisation Charity Navigator, they define accountability as a key factor in how they assess charities.
Professional body the Institute of Fundraising also shows accountability to the public as a central tenet.
- https://www.theguardian.com/voluntary-sector-network/2015/feb/03/transparency-charity-priority-ben-summerskill (2015)
An article from the Guardian with a more donor-oriented view on accountability.
- https://www.cafonline.org/about-us/publications/2018-publications/uk-giving-report-2018 (2018)
CAF’s report contains a pie-chart that shows the actual allocation between cause areas. The prevalence of ad-hoc giving and drop-off in regular giving we read as strong indicators of donor disengagement.
- https://www.charityfinancials.com/charity-financials-insider/every-penny-counts-1708.html (2017)
This article discusses failures of a “micro-donation” initiative that mirrors our recommendation to divide individual transactions into a large number of donations to reduce the fixed costs associated with widespread giving. Despite the strong idea, this appears to be an awkward implementation that doesn’t deliver enough for donors.
- Republicans Like Obama’s Ideas Better When They Think They’re Donald Trump’s
This report on a poll notes that Americans habitually “rely on partisan cues”, defining their individual positions on single issues by delegating.