CDE project 22: the approach — con­sol­i­date the evidence

Written by
The Commission on the Donor Experience
April 28, 2017

In addition to the Charity Commission’s own trust-tracking, research studies from nfpSynergy2, CAF3, Britain Thinks (for CharityComms and NCVO)4 and New Philanthropy Capital5 were all reviewed.

There was a striking similarity across all the studies - particularly in their qualitative conclusions, in that:

  • The concerns foregrounded by the mainstream media are already latent in the public consciousness (the media is doing its job).
  • Many, possibly even most people, have some direct experience of aggressive fundraising (the practices were prevalent and out of synch with public expectation).
  • Many people also have some memory of seeing negative stories about the charity sector, albeit often at a non-specific level (the media revelations do have an impact on public consciousness at an emotional level).
  • The public views charities as a largely homogenous block (thus, negative stories about ‘charities’ do affect the entire sector).

The strong implication of this is that the departure point for improvement must lie in substantive changes to the behaviour of some charities, and that this new behaviour must be made visible to supporters. While the sector is tremendously diffuse, with quite distinctive governance requirements (a point to which we will return), it must show, as a whole, that it has heard and understood the public’s concerns and is responding with conviction. Then, and only then, can any more ambitious behaviour be communicated to the media.

Despite this realism, there remains a widespread and palpable sense of affront among many in the charity sector, namely that much of the implied media criticism is ‘unfair’; for example: 

- That CEO pay is not actually disproportionate; 

- That fundraising costs and interruptive donation ‘asks’ are a fact of life; - - that governance efforts are committed and reasonable; 

- That impact is measured as well as it can be, considering its complexity; and 

- That modern marketing techniques that are acceptable in the private sector should also be acceptable for charities. 

These views seem entirely reasonable inside the ‘tent’ of charity management. The consequent reluctance to address the public’s concerns at face value is compounded by a latent, logical belief that the beneficiary is always paramount on a charity’s priority list, and that donors are ultimately ‘only’ a source of essential cash. Many other projects with the Commission’s efforts will demonstrate the ‘race to the bottom’ that this view naturally entails.

The principal thesis that comes out of this self-conflicted worldview is that ‘if only the media understood us better’, they would report us more accurately and fairly.



  1. nfpSynergy:

  2. CAF: ‘Public Attitudes and qualitative research’ (Private briefing)

  3. Britain Thinks: ‘Literature Review Summary’ (NCVO internal documentation)

  4. NPC: ‘Mind the Gap’ ( 

Click on the image below to view project 22 in full - PDF format

About the author: The Commission on the Donor Experience

The CDE has one simple ideal – to place donors at the heart of fundraising. The aim of the CDE is to support the transformation of fundraising, to change the culture to a truly consistent donor-based approach to raising money. It is based on evidence drawn from first hand insight of best practice. By identifying best practice and capturing examples, we will enable these to be shared and brought into common use.

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