Maximising the impact of online fundraising

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: Economics


Over the past three years researchers at University of Bristol, University of Warwick and McMaster University have developed a productive research collaboration with Justgiving. The main area of work has been the administration of a large scale survey to more than one million of Justgiving's users (primarily fundraisers and sponsors). The researchers have also explored the research potential of a small sample of Justgiving's transactional data, using it to analyse peer effects in giving. The survey provided a wealth of information on individuals' characteristics and motivations, but has limited information on fundraisers' and sponsors' actual behaviour. The transactional data, by contrast, has detailed information on fundraising and donations, but little information on the individuals themselves.

The aim of this project is to match transactional data provided by Justgiving to the survey respondents in order to create a uniquely rich dataset that combines information on individual characteristics and motivations AND actual fundraising and donations. This will allow us to develop a richer understanding of online fundraising behaviour and to test hypotheses about how individual characteristics and motivations shape giving. The project will involve preparing and cleaning the data and undertaking some descriptive analysis that will shed light on how people engage in different ways with giving on Justgiving and what determines fundraising success/ levels of sponsorship.

The immediate research questions that can be addressed using these data have been developed with Justgiving to help give them greater insights into their business. As the descriptive work progresses, we will run a one-day workshop with Justgiving to discuss emerging research findings, to allow them to provide insights from their experience and from complementary, qualitative focus-group research and to develop ideas about potential mechanisms that could further enhance online fundraising that could easily be tested via online experiments.

At the end of the project we will organise a seminar jointly with Justgiving in order to disseminate the key findings more widely. We ran a similar event in February 2012 that attracted academics, people from within charities and policy-makers both as speakers and participants. This was very well-received and following the seminar, Justgiving were keen to invite a larger number of their client charities to a similar event.

Planned Impact

Who will benefit from this project - and how will they benefit?

In the short-term and the longer-term, Justgiving - and their charity clients - will gain a greater understanding of the behaviour of fundraisers and sponsors which will help to maximise the impact of online fundraising for their charity clients and for individual fundraisers. This will help them to improve their online fundraising business.

Through disseminating the findings more widely (to the sector), the project will benefit other charities and sector bodies who will gain insights into donor behaviour. Feedback from the last workshop indicated that charities typically did not have access to these kind of models and analysis of donor behaviour and appreciated academic research that was made accessible to users. These kind of insights from research can be useful in shaping fundraising strategies.

In the longer term, the project and particularly the findings from any experiments that lead on from the research will benefit policy-makers who are keen to raise the level of giving and will be able to draw lessons on what might work.

In the longer term the project will also benefit the academic community by adding to the evidence base on what motivates donors and what influences their behaviour.


10 25 50
publication icon
A. Payne, K. Scharf, S. Smith CESIfo Conference Volume

publication icon
Raihani N (2015) Competitive Helping in Online Giving in Current Biology

publication icon
Sanders M (2016) Can simple prompts increase bequest giving? Field evidence from a legal call centre in Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization

publication icon
Scharf K (2016) Relational altruism and giving in social groups in Journal of Public Economics

Description Online fundraising is an important activity for many charities. Millions of people in the UK have used the major platforms (including JustGiving) to raise money for charity. One in five donors report having sponsored someone during the past 12 months. The aim of this grant was to develop JustGiving transactional data for research purposes and to analyse the data to gain insights into fundraiser and donor motivations and behaviour in relation to online fundraising.
A number of separate research projects have followed from the award, focusing on:
Considering fundraiser types and characteristics of a successful fundraising page
The relationship between fundraising outcomes and the fundraiser's social group size - showing that people in smaller social groups tend to give less to the fundraiser.
Competitive helping in online donations - showing that male donors tend to compete around large donations where there is an attractive female fundraiser.
Ongoing work on the effect of fundraising targets and competition in fundraising.
Exploitation Route We have disseminated the findings widely as they are likely to be useful to charities engaging in online fundraising. Specifically, we have demonstrated how transactional data can be used to gain insights into behaviour (a methodological contribution) and produced specific research findings that shed light on how to do more effective fundraising (a substantive contribution).
Sectors Other

Description We disseminated the findings at numerous practitioner presentations, including a one-day workshop attended by 100+ charity fundraising professionals. This has led to a number of outcomes Further interest in collaboration Interest in use of organisational data for research and insights Interest in our research findings eg on the effect of large donations A high level of global media interest in eg competitive helping research findings. Overall, we are changing the way that organisations think about using data to develop insights into fundraising behaviour
First Year Of Impact 2013
Sector Other
Impact Types Policy & public services

Description JustGiving 
Organisation JustGiving
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Research direction and delivery
Collaborator Contribution Data and conference
Impact Reports, blogs, conferences
Start Year 2010
Description Talk to fundraisers 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact Presentation at meeting of CSPAN fundraising committee
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
Description Talks to 6th formers 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Two talks to 6th formers drawing on research
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
Description Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact questions and new research

new research
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
Description media interest (competitive helping) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Global media interest

More global media interest
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015