The Golden Rule of Fundraising – The single identifiable beneficiary

We’re delighted to share a guest blog this week from Craig Linton (aka The Fundraising Detective). Craig is Managing Director for Europe at DonorVoice, the author of Donors for Life as well as numerous blogs and is Co-trainer on Bright Spot’s Individual Giving Mastery Programme.
The power of having a clear, identifiable beneficiary for your fundraising has been highlighted in tragic circumstances in the last couple of weeks.

Witness the glut of donations from billionaires in the wake of the Notre Dame fire. Forget the politics of the situation for a minute and reflect on why they gave:

  • It was a building that was part of their identity and they felt they had a personal connection with
  • It was a symbol of their home country
  • The viscerally powerful visuals of the burning cathedral

Contrast this with the tragic events over Easter in Sri Lanka. Over 270 people dead. Hundreds injured. Families ripped apart and the survivors likely to suffer severe mental health problems as they cope with the trauma on their road to recovery.

Rationally we should all be queueing up to give to help the victims, but yet…

I’ve not heard of any billionaires giving and there hasn’t been the same outpouring of giving that accompanied the fire.

Why does this happen?

Well, we are not rational when giving. Problems that are far away, involve large numbers and that we don’t have an emotional connection to are often easy to ignore.

There is a body of evidence around this in behavioural science and psychology. Perhaps the most famous example is the Rokia experiment.

Participants were asked to choose how much money they would like to give after reading two statements:

“This is seven-year old Rokia. Rokia is desperately poor and her life will be changed for the better by your gift.”


“Food shortages in Malawi are affecting more than three million children”*

People gave twice as much to help Rokia than to the three million children. We experience psychic numbing to large numbers, yet so often fundraising communications are littered with such examples.

Not convinced? Let’s take a look at some examples of where having a single identifiable victim trumped rational explanation.

When The Archers (a fictional radio soap opera) featured a domestic violence storyline, one fan decided to raise money for the victim and donate it to Refuge, a charity helping people affected by domestic violence.

Every day, thousands of women face domestic abuse and violence, yet people aren’t lining up to donate to causes. Yet when someone asked people to give to a fictional character, they couldn’t give quick enough. An amazing £170,000 was raised.

The same applies to animals too.

In 2002, Forgea, a dog was rescued after spending three weeks on an abandoned cargo ship left adrift in the Pacific ocean. $48,000 was raised in hours for a dramatic rescue mission.

Some dog lovers would say ‘of course they were right to save Forgea’ – but rationally it was a ludicrous thing to do! How many other dogs could’ve been saved for that money? Yet the power of having a single identifiable victim trumps the rational.

This concept is one of many valuable ideas we help you to master through the Individual Giving Mastery Programme. In fact, last year participants told us numerous ways they’d applied this golden rule and other techniques to increase their fundraising.

Kenneth, from Mother’s Union explained:
‘Our Christmas appeal achieved 30% than it did in previous years. The tools and techniques I learnt on the course really helped me to develop how we framed our appeals and campaigns.

‘What I learnt has helped to shape how we tell our story and engage with supporters and the public.’

Charlotte, from Freedom of Torture said:

‘It’s dead good. Everything on the course was linked to real examples, results, research and statistics. The main thing that I left with which has really stuck with me is make it work for the supporter, not the charity.
‘It’s also lifted the ceiling on future planning so we aren’t constraining ourselves to what’s possible now, but thinking about what’s best for the supporter and adapting. Last year we launched our highest fundraising Christmas appeal ever!’
There’s still time to learn how you can secure a place on this year’s course, which starts in June. We’ll show you how to apply this and dozens of other powerful elements of individual giving mastery, to help you raise more money.

* A summary and the full wording of the experiment can be found here.

Curious how about the Individual Giving Mastery Programme would boost your results?
Find out more today (and apply for a free coaching session with Craig) by clicking the link above.