Research can be misleading. Small sample sizes, non-representative participants, poorly designed questions and biased analysis – when combined with misconceptions and anchored opinions about fundraising, it can be confusing at best, and undermine effective strategy at worst.
Poorly conducted, analysed and communicated research could result in board directors saying things like: “How do we get more Millennials on the database?” and “Younger Australians are more generous than older people.”
The wider sector might assume research is designed properly and presented in the right context. But as fundraisers, it’s our responsibility to ensure research insights are considered carefully and applied with common sense.
Misleading observations and incorrect assumptions can lead to dangerous results in the wrong hands.
Australian Giving 2019: “State of the nation: a new report into our giving behaviours reveals that Australia’s youth are our most giving generation.”
The conclusions from this report were shared widely by publishers including ProBono Australia and Fundraising & Philanthropy in March this year. But before you adjust your fundraising strategy to focus on Generations Y and Z, the research must be considered with a critical lens.
Too often, younger donors are cited as a significant opportunity – the silver bullet – that will turn around declining giving trends. Technology is seen as a solution to activating younger people. Worryingly, budgets are sometimes shifted from a proven fundraising strategy to activity that aims to acquire people aged between 18 and 35.
Let’s take a closer look at the report – how the data was compiled, the broader context, and what it all means for Australian fundraising and philanthropy.
1.) HOW WAS THE STUDY PRODUCED?
The Australian Giving 2019 report used YouGov market research to conduct an online survey. The concern is au.YouGov.com might attract a specific audience type that the research methodology can’t account for. Specifically, individuals motivated by prize-led or incentive websites and internet-engaged seniors.
Two examples of how the data might misrepresent Australians:
We know that older Australians are less likely to engage online, so it’s likely that older people responding to this online survey are not representative of older Australians. This means they are less likely to be charity donors.
The incentive model of the au.yougov.com platform might attract a higher proportion of people from specific segments – perhaps lower socio-economic, more people who are unemployed or more students. There could be a higher proportion of people from these segments and their responses could be misleading.
To be sure these biases are not at play, questionnaires across multiple channels could support a more representative survey audience.
2.) WHAT PEOPLE SAY THEY DO, AND WHAT THEY ACTUALLY DO, ARE NOT THE SAME THING
The research findings are based on declarative survey data not behavioural data. The key challenge with declarative survey data (survey or interview data) is the likelihood for the results to be impacted by response bias.
Response bias refers to the influence of multiple sources of information when an individual responds to a question. People don’t respond passively, rather they introduce their own perceptions and emotions to help shape their answers – usually subconsciously. Respondents might want to be considered generous or charitable, and their level of self-awareness and desire to be perceived a certain way might differ across generations and influence the outcome.
Researchers need to be aware of response bias. It should be considered in the approach, and more detail about the research methodology might have been included alongside the study.
3.) IS THE STUDY MADE TO LOOK MORE EXCITING THAN IT REALLY IS?
“Gen Y emerge as Australia’s most generous givers” is claimed in article headlines.
The finding – younger responders are more likely to have donated in the past 12 months than older generations – does not infer more generosity among young Australians. To use the word ‘generous’ ignores value, frequency and type of gift.
“Generosity is a subjective term and it’s misleading to suggest the research offers insight into a specific age group’s generosity. There is simply no evidence in the research and no basis to make this claim.”
4.) I THOUGHT OLDER PEOPLE GAVE MORE TO CHARITY?
The study contradicts other research that says older people are more likely to donate financially and more likely to convert at higher rates online than younger donors. If we take this study’s findings at face value, we will ignore research and analysis that suggests the opposite – that Baby Boomers and Builders give more frequently, and give at higher values and in more ways than Generation Y.
Without acknowledgement of the broader sector findings, the study lacks credibility.
5.) WHY ARE MILLENNIALS DONATING? WHAT TRENDS MIGHT BE INFLUENCING THEIR PHILANTHROPY?
Charitable giving among Generation Y is growing according to transactional research by Roy Morgan and Pareto Fundraising. But the interesting part is why.
Having an understanding of the generational trends, the fundraising tactics and the channels employed will give research like this more context and help decision makers use the findings more effectively. Presenting these findings in isolation could lead to misconceptions about the opportunity.
Increasing sophistication of Australian charities and superior digital technology is driving more giving among younger Australians – who are increasingly social, digital, mobile, and educated. But these trends also make it more challenging (and expensive) to recruit and retain young people.
Fundraising peer-to-peer events
At the same time, technology is making it easier for donors to give to their peers, support community events and fundraise for a cause of their choice. The growth of these activities has led to significant numbers of new donors. But this growth is coming too quickly to be manageable. Charities successful at recruiting Generation Y and Z through peer-to-peer and community events haven’t yet learned how to retain those new donors.
Consequently, these activities are often unprofitable and usually less successful than fundraising that is focused on older donors – who have more time, more disposable income and can be targeted through traditional, less expensive channels.
6.) CHECKLIST TO HELP FUNDRAISERS EVALUATE RESEARCH
– Does the research draw from multiple sources, or does it rely on a single study to make assertions?
– Was the research based on quantitative data or self-reported responses? Was response bias considered in the research methodology
– What channels were used in the study? Does the channel make a difference and potentially introduce unwanted variables?
– Are their broader environmental, societal, political or economic trends that might be contributing to the research findings? What fundraising and philanthropy trends are happening in the background and are these acknowledged in the report?
If you take a close, critical look at the research that comes across your desk, and take the time to read the report in full before you make any decisions, you should be able to avoid acting on misleading information.
1 – Australian Giving 2019, good2give.ngo/wp-content/ uploads/2019/03/CAF-Australia-Giving-Report-2019. pdf, good2give, March 2019
2 – Summary Understanding Digital Behaviours Report, beconnected.esafety.gov.au, Australian Government, March 2018
3 – Gen Y emerge as Australia’s most generous givers, probonoaustralia.com.au/news/2019/03/ gen-y-emerge-australias-generous-givers/, ProBono Australia, March 2019
4 – Australian Community Trends Report, mccrindle.com. au/insights/blog/australian-community-trends-report/, McCrindle, 2017
5 – The Next Generation of Australian and New Zealander Giving, institute.blackbaud.com/wp-content/ uploads/2018/08/10013_NextGenerationOfGiving_2018_Australia_Final.pdf, Blackbaud, August 2018
6 – Pareto Benchmarking 2019, fpmagazine.com.au/ top-five-digital-trends-from-pareto-benchmarking-2019-367109/, Pareto Fundraising, May 2019
7 – Generation Z, 2qean3b1jjd1s87812ool5ji-wpengine. netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/ GenZGenAlpha.pdf, McCrindle, 2019