Early this month, the British research and consulting firm YouGov released the results of a study on whether donors are interested in charity ratings.The report was headlined, ““Mixed response towards grading system for charities.”
“The results are confusing to say the least, and not particularly encouraging.
According to the survey, 68% of people would switch their donations to another charity if they found the one they were supporting was performing badly. So far, so logical. But only 40%—a substantial minority, but still a minority—are interested in a charity rating scheme to provide independent assessments of organisations.
Given this, it is hardly surprising to find that 68% of people think that an independent rating system would not affect their giving decisions… There is something strange in these figures. In particular, the fact that 68% say they would change the pattern of donations if they were given evidence of poor performance, and the same percentage saying they would not respond to independent evidence. Reconciling these is tricky.”
NPC goes on to speculate why donors might be indicating they are not interested in charity ratings, despite their insistence that they would stop giving if they found out an organization was performing badly. They suggest that it might be because donors think they already have the right information to determine how nonprofits are performing or it may be that donors are doing a poor job of predicting their own behavior and will in fact use charity rating systems as they become more prevalent.
I think the results of the survey show how critical it is for people who care about improving philanthropy to understand how ideas spread.
At Tactical Philanthropy Advisors, we know that donors are simply not interested in hiring someone to tell them where to give. That’s why we explicitly state in our marketing material that, “It is not our job to tell you where to give. Instead, we act as your personal philanthropic concierge, connecting you to the people, organizations, tools, and research that can help you achieve your philanthropic goals.” Yet, the #1 assumption people make about our services (and those of “philanthropy advisors” more generally) is that it is our job to tell people where to give.
What this means is that if you ask people if they are interested in hiring a philanthropy advisor, you’ll likely get a very low positive response. But if you ask people if they are interested in achieving their personal philanthropic goals, you’ll get a very high positive response.
I think a similar mismatch is going on in the YouGov data.
What this means is that the effective philanthropy movement needs to get much, much better at communicating what our efforts are all about. We need to get better at spreading the idea of effective philanthropy.
That’s why I so regularly point to books by Seth Godin, who literally focuses on “spreading ideas”, those of Chip & Dan Heath, which look at how to make ideas “sticky” and how to get people to change behaviors, the field of behavioral finance with books like Nudge that look at how people make decisions, the power of video and other visual media to affect social change, and the role of “storytelling” in the social sector.
It isn’t good enough to assume that if we build it, donors will come. As a movement, the effective philanthropy crowd needs to get much, much better at talking about what we do. If you care about a better philanthropy, it is just as important to spread the idea of better philanthropy as it is to build the tools to make it happen.