International Aid and Donors Profiled

In a recent ComRes survey commissioned by Plan, 50% of the British public agreed that in the current economic climate, the UK government should reduce the financial support it gives to developing countries – compared with 33% who disagree. This was despite the increasing media attention being given to the unfolding severe famine in East Africa.


In light of the current public mood, the way that charities engage with prospective donors is even more important.

The growing public antipathy towards UK aid spending could be due partly to the fact that many people feel their money is not best spent – 50% agree that money spent overseas on aid is wasted, whilst 19% disagree.

In fact, the Spring 2010 DFID ‘public attitudes towards development’ survey suggests that increasingly people feel “corruption in poor countries makes it pointless to donate” – more than half of respondents agree with this statement.

ComRes has analysed the way the public responds to media coverage of disasters and the advertising commissioned by charities. Findings indicate that almost all members of the public recall media coverage of disasters – just 4% couldn’t recall any coverage. A large majority of this is received via TV and newspapers (recollected by 92% and 67% respectively).

Crucially however, only 26% of respondents could recall having seen or heard coverage via charity advertising (posters, flyers, etc.) about humanitarian disasters overseas.

The study suggests that media coverage is an effective way of encouraging donors – 51% agree they are likely to donate to a charity following media coverage. However, only 36% of respondents say that they have actually been prompted to donate in response to media coverage of humanitarian disasters. This suggests that more can be done in this area to elicit donations.

Indeed, most people agree that reporting is ‘fair and neutral’, ‘coverage of children is compelling’ and ‘revisiting family stories is compelling’, yet 58% still feel that reporting is ‘sentimental and sensationalist’.
This is a very hard balance to achieve – emotive coverage encourages support and giving, yet people believe the media risks being sensationalist. The study suggests that on the whole, the media just about gets this balance right – 32% agree that they find ‘media coverage of humanitarian disasters distressing and they try to avoid it’, compared to 68% who disagree.

Among people who had donated money to charity, only 11% subsequently received correspondence of some kind regarding how their money was being spent.  This is despite clear evidence that one of the main concerns of potential donors is that they do not know where their money is going.  One question remains – what is the best way of communicating this information to donors?

Profile of donors

Interestingly, the data shows that women (56%) are more likely to donate to appeals from charities following disasters than men (46%).

There are also interesting age trends that are worth examination by international development charities. Younger people are more likely than older people to donate to appeals from charities following natural disasters. However, older people are much more likely to say that they have been prompted to donate money due to media coverage of humanitarian disasters.

Age Group 18-24 25-34 35-44 45-54 55-64 64+
I have been prompted to donate money due to media coverage of humanitarian disasters (%) 28 34 34 32 40 46
I am likely to donate to appeals from charities following natural disasters (%) 57 59 46 43 48 52


The findings suggest that:

• Media coverage is indeed a more effective way of persuading older people to donate.
• Alternatively, that while younger people tend to say that they are likely to donate to appeals, in reality, older people are far more likely to actually donate money. This would seem to fit in with the traditional profile of older women being the most likely donors to international charities.

This provokes a dilemma for international aid charities – do they seek ways to encourage those that do not currently donate? Or should they target those that are currently most likely to?