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Why charities use face-to-face fundraising

Written by Josh White

13/06/2022| Blog

If you are a new fundraising professional who is thinking of or has recently entered the face-to-face industry there is little information available that would offer detail on why face to face is a “thing”.

Face to face fundraising has been around for over 25 years and you can find established industries in most economically developed nations around the world. So how did it get to this point? Most make the obvious assumption that (as with any type of fundraising) it generates money for the charity in question, and that would be correct. However, when you then ask the question why charities use face-to-face as opposed to another type of fundraising it can be quite tricky to have a robust response.

For this kind of fundraising to be undertaken on every continent around the world and with the number of charities that use the method always rising, there must be something more to it surely?

As someone not familiar with the method you could argue,

 “Sure, I understand the fundraiser is gathering donations but it’s not exactly a massive amount of money and once you factor in wages and everything else there must be more effective ways of raising similar amounts of cash?”

This is a fairly typical synopsis from the general public who would have not engaged with a face-to- face fundraiser before. We know as fundraisers and as an industry that it’s so much more than that, and each element alone of what makes this fundraising stream so unique can be covered in great length and detail.

I wanted to offer insight from the thinking within charities to new fundraisers and professionals coming into our industry, which will hopefully fill in a few gaps and give an overview as to why charities use face-to-face fundraising to recruit new donors.

Reaching New Audiences

Via face-to-face fundraising (and the face-to-face fundraisers) charities can reach and connect with a new audience that they otherwise would find difficult to engage with. The traditional approaches used by charities such as direct mail, TV/media advertising and cold calling are tried and tested but only engage a limited demographic of the public. Fundraisers who themselves are a diverse group, are trained to engage with whoever is in-front of them or behind the next door. This means the fundraisers talk to a huge range of people from all walks of life and the new donors recruited will reflect that social diversity.

“But why do charities need to diversify their supporters?”

The principal strategy is that by engaging with wider groups in our society (age group, ethnic back grounds etc.) the profile of the organisation will grow. That additional exposure can then be nurtured into additional financial support to help grow the reach of the vital work the charities undertake.

The majority of donors recruited via face-to-face would not have become supporters of a specific charity if it wasn’t for the chance interaction they had on that day with a fundraiser. We can measure that, and we can see that nearly 750,000 new donors are recruited yearly (UK pre Covid figures) to charities via face-to-face.

Face-to-Face = Personable

The clue is in the name, the concept of the stream of fundraising is based on a face-to-face interaction. Be that on the street, doorstep or private site, fundraisers engage with members of the public in a personal setting. In this setting the fundraisers can engage potential donors like in very few other fundraising channels. The potential donor sees the fundraiser as the face of the charity, this builds a rapport that you just can’t replicate from a TV ad for example.

Using their exceptional communication skills, a fundraiser can cover the issue that the charity is working against and articulate how they have tangible solutions that will address the issues in a sustainable way. This creates urgency and a willingness to help that only a 1-2-1 interaction could produce. Because of that rapport and emotive interaction, you will see a stronger commitment to the donation (longer term) which is really important. Very few other fundraising channels can create relationships as strong between donor and charity as face-to-face!

Return on investment (ROI)

Another clue in the name. The word fundraising implies that this practice will generate funds. We know that fundraisers are asking people to pledge funds on a monthly basis to the charity they represent.

“How does the charity make any money if the fundraisers are being paid and you’re only asking for a small monthly donation”

As mentioned, fundraisers are building strong long-term relationships between the donor and the charity. Yes, the monthly amounts may seem small but when that relationship passes 4,5,6 years and beyond the return on investment from that donor is very positive and far outweighs the initial investment.

The ability of the fundraiser to secure long-term donors is key, but the charities also keep in touch with their donors to keep them informed as the relationship grows. They discuss the work the donors are supporting and any other way they think will help build that relationship and cultivate that long term support.

Like any kind of fundraising there is a cost (staff wages, site costs etc) but when undertaken correctly the return-on-investment figures are really strong and that return is passed on to fund the vital work charities perform.

As a generalisation you can comfortably say that for every £1 invested the charity would receive £3 back. Fundraisers and campaigns are always looking to ensure they are providing the best financial return on investment. They do this by monitoring their fundraising against key performance indicators (KPIs) that help field operations (fundraising teams) know what fundraising performance levels will yield a better ROI.


The Chartered Institute of Fundraising (CIoF) is the membership body for the fundraising sector.

“We champion our members’ excellence in fundraising. We support fundraisers through professional development and education. We connect fundraisers across all sectors and skill sets to share and learn with each other. So that together we can best serve our causes and communities both now and in the future”.

Chartered Institute of Fundraising

As well as developing the infrastructure of fundraising and offering training to its members its other major function is to champion and monitor that the best fundraising practice is observed. The face-to-face industry is a tightly regulated industry, by the Fundraising Regulator, with clear and strict rules that all involved must follow. The rules are set out in the CIoF rule books with a different rule book for street, door to door and private sites. The majority of rules are the same, but each stream does have its unique factors that require additional guidance.

The rules covered in the CIoF rule book are enforced by penalties and fines. To police the rules and hand out appropriate penalties the CIoF conduct a national mystery shopping programme who engage with face-to-face fundraisers posing as potential donors to ensure that fundraising is in line with the rules and guidance.

You could be forgiven for thinking that strict rules and policing would be seen in a negative light by the industry. However, that could not be further from the truth. A high level of due diligence and regulation is welcome with adherence to the rules a principle focus of every fundraising operation.

“Why do you want lots of rules?”

Face-to-face fundraising relies on trust from the public and their confidence in fundraisers. Poorly conducted fundraising and general conduct can shatter that confidence and undermine the credibility of the industry (and charity work in general!). It only takes one negative incident or example of poor practice to damage the industries and the charities involved credibility.

One upset member of the public could talk to a reporter about their experience and it can end up printed in the press. There has even been examples of reporters working as fundraisers “undercover” within agencies. It’s fair to say that some sections of the press are hostile to our method of fundraising (and many others!) but that will never change.

A new fundraiser before they start their first day fundraising will go over their relevant CIoF rule book in detail. Compliance is discussed at length and understanding is generally sense checked with a test. Many organisations are going further and run their own mystery shopping on top of the CIoF programmes.

Fundraising well, whilst safeguarding the public’s trust in our fundraising and the charity’s reputation is essential!

Innovative and forward thinking

How face-to-face fundraising is undertaken has been adapting and evolving since day one. New ideas to build stronger longer lasting relationships between donors and the causes are consistently being trialled. This is primarily focussed on 2 main areas.

The first is the donor experience- Giving the donor the best possible experience from the point of contact with the charity (fundraiser). For example, some private site teams offer “experiential fundraising” using props like virtual reality to give the donor an even more powerful insight of the charities work.

The second is efficiency or practicality of the payment- How the fundraiser facilitates the payment of the donation is a great example of innovation within the sector and its always evolving. Initially it was the classic form and clipboard for years. Thankfully now the norm is fundraisers using electronic devices which can validate a donor’s information, securely handle the donor’s personal data and produce a live accurate ongoing overview of results and KPIs for fundraisers, teams and entire campaigns. These platforms are consistently developed and improved to offer the best user experience, helping make the sign-up process for the donor and the results reporting for the fundraiser more efficient.

Driven by the new normal of working in during Covid-19, fundraising platforms have developed so fundraisers can recruit a new donor without them having to touch the device (to give a signature). It’s also gone as far as some platforms having the option to be used as telemarketing software. So, for example when in lock down a fundraiser can still recruit new donors but over the phone from home!

It’s this kind of resilience and forward thinking that keeps face-to-face relevant in an ever-changing world. As we move forward new techniques and ideas allow face-to-face fundraisers reach more people and build stronger long-lasting relationships between them and the charity.

Diversification of fundraising channels

Traditional fundraising methods that are tried and tested work really well for many organisations. Some-times so well there really is little need for a charity to look elsewhere for other incomes. However, some organisations look to diversify their fundraising and it’s this that helps mitigate their risk by not placing all their eggs in one basket. By spreading a charity’s fundraising across multiple types of fundraising channels they are spreading the risk and helping provide a more secure financial position.

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