Someone asked me last week, "Is it OK to annoy 20 people to sign up 1 donor?"
Make no mistake about it - I don't want fundraisers to annoy people and I think better fundraisers, better regulation, better training, and better complaining can reduce annoyance.
But according to the UK's FRSB and Institute of Fundraising, their members received only 33,744 complaints while generating £4.16 billion in voluntary income. Is that OK?
True, the problem with looking at complaints is that people don't know how to complain - i.e. people are more likely to keep their complaints to themselves or complain to people who can't do anything about it (which is part of the problem). So let's take it further - rather than looking at complaints let's look at interactions.
The FRSB report showed that corporate fundraising received more complaints per interaction than street fundraising - but let's focus on street fundraising, as this is generally accepted to be the most controversial method of fundraising.
For every 1 donor signed up a street fundraiser gets in to about 10 conversations and has 'interacted' with about 100 people. So about 100 people have potentially been 'annoyed' for the sake of 1 donor (although a recent survey had it closer to 67 individuals feeling 'uncomfortable'). That's being pessimistic - I'm assuming here that everyone who doesn't sign up is annoyed, because they had to cross the road, say no, or ignore a human being - I'm disregarding the fact that a lot of people have a an enjoyable conversation before they say no and walk away.
So what's the donor worth?
Well the average donor will go on to donate €500+ by direct debit alone, plus tax relief, plus upgrades and appeals, plus all the other connections this new relationship brings. A new donor is probably worth about €1000 to the charity. But let's be really pessimistic and say this donor doesn't give as long as average, doesn't respond to further appeals and that some of the donation gets wasted in inefficiency. Let's be unrealistically pessimistic and say this donor is only worth €500.
And what does that €500 do?
Well Sightsavers say it will protect about 1,450 families from river blindness.
Concern say it'll provide 3 emergency tents, giving 3 families who have lost everything a temporary home.
UNICEF say it will provide safe drinking water to 25,000 children for a day.
So...worst case scenario...is it worth making 100 people feel uncomfortable for a couple of seconds to save thousands of people's sight, give 3 families a home or keep 25,000 kids alive for another day?
And if it were your own child you were trying to keep alive for another day how many people would you be willing to feel uncomfortable for a couple of seconds? To keep my son alive I would be willing to see about 7 billion people feel uncomfortable for a couple of seconds.
But maybe I've misunderstood the word 'uncomfortable'?