Street Fundraising: Is it Worth the Effort?

Part II of a two-part blog on whether street fundraising makes a valuable contribution to fundraising or just gives donors another reason to turn away

In my previous blog, I put street fundraising in the bigger context of the impact that multiple appeals and over-solicitation have on donors. With this as my overriding consideration, street fundraising still deserves to be assessed on its own merit. I have both good news and bad.

Brace Yourself for the Bad News First

Street fundraising is a donor acquisition program, and given what is happening in this arena, one has to wonder whether it’s worth it. While the number of not-for-profits that raise money continues to grow unabated, the number of people willing to give through volume-based acquisition appeals is declining. In the last five years, new donor numbers have fallen a cumulative median of 20.8%.[1] Donors cite two reasons: first, they are reducing, not increasing, the number of charitable organizations they support in order to maximize the value of any single gift they do make. Second, they are abandoning fundraising appeals that they know or perceive to be too costly. 75% of donors over the age of 65 and 63% of middle-aged donors say they are increasingly influenced by cost-per-dollar raised when choosing who they will support and how.[2]

Over-Solicitation and High Cost: A Lethal Combination for Fundraising

When there are two clip-board-clad, T-shirted youth on each of four corners of the intersection, don’t you think it crosses the donor’s mind that street fundraising might be costly? And fundraisers don’t seem to be helping their own case much on this issue. While listening to the radio recently, the show’s host was interviewing the Development Director of a well known charity that does street fundraising. When he asked about the percentage of funds raised that goes to running the program, the fundraiser deftly switched the subject. He asked again; again the interviewee avoided answering. This happened three times which only served to fixate listeners on the cost, not the benefits, of street fundraising.


Now the Good News

Does street fundraising have a place in a saturated fundraising environment? I have some unexpected and profitable advice.

There is a place for street fundraising – just not the way it’s being run right now. There is a group of donors out there who does not feel over-solicited, who is not being reached by other volume-based programs like direct mail or telemarketing, who is open to new approaches, who is compatible with the demographics and personality of your solicitors, and who has money. That’s where you should be focusing your street fundraising efforts – on young donors and prospects under the age of 35. And, since street fundraising is face-to-face, it’s easy to figure out who is and is not in your target group. Let your beleaguered, over-solicited older donors walk on by; they don’t need one more reason to question the cost-effectiveness of fundraising.

There’s more good news. Street fundraising is expensive – just like all other donor acquisition programs. But monthly giving (EFT) is our industry’s smartest antidote to the high cost of donor acquisition, and street fundraising is your best chance to sell it because you are face to face with the prospect. Train your solicitors to handle the sophisticated job of selling the benefits to your donors of signing up for your monthly giving program.

Street Fundraising Is a Leadership Issue

What separates great fundraisers from mediocre ones is their ability to consider their entire fundraising portfolio and the collective impact it is having on their donors. This includes the number of times they are asking for gifts and how they are doing it. It is time to stop throwing everything you do at every donor you have. They are no longer a passive, we’ll-think-the-best-of-charities-no-matter-how-they-treat-us homogenous group. Donors today are different – different from before and different from each other. Segmentation is essential in order to acquire the next generation of donors and to retain all donors, regardless of their age. And once you have them, restraint will be your greatest asset. [See previous blog: The Profitability of Restraint]


[1] Target Analytics, Q2 2011 Index of National Fundraising Performance

[2] The Cygnus Donor Surveys, 2010 and 2011, Penelope Burk


Showing 5 comments
  • Howard Freeman

    Great posts, Penelope. And very relevant for those of us living in large cities or moving in dense population circles (like malls).

    One tweak: that selling the benefits of EFT means expecting that prospective donors will know their checking account and routing numbers, or that they will take a form home with them, fill it out and get it back in to the charity. Seems a paper-intense option for a generation that is paperless.

    But these posts are points well taken. Thank you.

  • Tara Sudbury

    Thank you again, Penelope for articulating a feeling I have had for years but discounted, fearing I am alone in my perspective and concluding from time to time that it must be that I “just don’t get it” (fundraising appeals). I could never understand why we keep asking over and over again against a schedule we devise based on some formula. I sum up your teachings on this subject as working smarter not harder. Formula based fundraising has often got in the way of thinking our way through the next activity. What you are saying really is ” think about what you are doing, and how and measure it”, More thoughtful activity even if if flies if the face of formulas is in the end going to be more cost efficient and if its Donor centred will in time, yield loyalty. Great food for thought.
    Many thanks,

  • C Taylor


    There is a simple and joyful fix for the EFT problem you noted: accept credit and debit cards. Street solicitors who accept monthly contributions through EFTs can do so by accepting voided or first-month checks; those who wish to allow an even more paperless transaction can use cards, on forms that associate billing address and signature.

    All set! Monthly program a go.

  • concaper

    This article was written about two months before I started working for a F2F vendor… and I still work for them now.

    What a strange job!

    We have ivy league liberal arts grads working for us, we have some who never finished high school or attempted to grab a GED.

    Your article is very interesting. Personally I have concentrated on recruiting younger donors, but the company i work for puts a high priority on age 36+… these folks tend to stay on longer and are willing to commit larger monthly gifts.

    I tend not to bother the middle aged and elderly. They all seem to have accountants who take care of their giving or some kind of automatic donation out of their paychecks.

    We accept credit/debit and process gifts on an iPhone.

    I currently represent one of the largest NGO’s in the world. People of every background religious and political persuasion appreciate its long history and ongoing work on a local and global scale. Seeing the business lunch crowd breeze by us day after day is hilarious. In order to keep my sanity I try to remind myself that these are the most marketed-to folks in the history of our planet… and that as an undergrad I too snarkily ignorned and walked on by the environment people, the human rights people, the animal protection people etc…. I only ever signed up once.

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