Why be vegan?

A lot of people have asked me why I’m vegan recently, so I thought I’d do a post to answer everyone past, present and future at once. In short, there are three reasons:

  • I don’t support animal cruelty
  • I don’t want to cause uneccessary damage to the environment
  • It’s better for my health than a diet involving meat and dairy

Each of these categories could easily be their own post, but I’ll just summarise the main points of each.

Animal cruelty

Most animals raised for meat come from factory farms, where poor conditions include tight living quarters where the animals often can’t even turn around. Animals are slaughtered in abattoirs by stunning them with an electric shock or a bolt gun, are tied upside down and then have their throats slit.

What about dairy and eggs?

It’s obvious but many people don’t think about the fact that cows (and all milk producing animals) only produce milk while they are pregnant or shortly after. Cows are typically forcibly impregnated, and the male calves are either slaughtered on birth or raised for meat so the mother’s milk can be harvested. The females are killed once they can no longer consistently produce milk. Chickens living in close quarters have their beaks removed to stop them from fighting each other, and can be put under intense 24 hour light to make them lay eggs faster.

What about cruelty free farms?

‘Cruelty free’ is a bit of a misnomer. You can raise an animal in pleasant living conditions their whole life and kill them without them feeling a thing, but that doesn’t justify it any more than you might consider it sane to kill and eat your dog because you like the taste and you do it ‘humanely’.

I thought about including images of factory farming but they might be too hard for some to see, so have a happy pig instead. If you've never seen photos and you're up to it, you should look them up. Image from geograph.org.uk.
I thought about including images of factory farming but they might be too hard for some to see, so have a happy/smug pig instead. If you’ve never seen photos and you’re up to it, you should look them up. Image from geograph.org.uk.

But if you’re still not convinced…


The effects of animal product consumption on the environment are many-fold.

  • It takes 2-2.5 acres of land to grow one cow in a factory farm*. Free range farming is even worse, and can take 10 times the amount of land or even more*. To use some figures from the documentary Cowspiracy, growing beef on a free range farm, and assuming the average meat intake of an American, it would take 3.7 billion acres of land to satisfy beef demand, yet there are only 1.9 billion acres of land on mainland USA*. Not all of this is suitable land either, and the population keeps on growing, which means a lot of land needs to be cleared!
  • Factory farms produce significant amounts of waste which ends up in waterways and eventually in the ocean, producing dead zones and harming marine life, and just wrecks the environment in general.
  • Livestock has a major greenhouse footprint, and not just from cow farts! The transportation and other associated activities all take energy, not to mention that it takes many kilograms of grain to produce one kilogram of meat. Cattle alone accounts for 18% of global greenhouse emissions, compared to just 13% in the transport sector*.

Howard Lyman, a former cattle rancher, has stated that “You can’t eat meat and call yourself an environmentalist.”*

But if you’re still not convinced, do it for yourself.


  • Most chronic health diseases such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes can be cured with a plant-based, whole foods diet. The risk of getting cancer is non-trivially lower, and even erectile dysfunction is completely curable through a vegan diet!
  • Most health concerns about a vegan diet are moot. Vegans get more than enough protein, calcium and iron just by eating a variety of plants. The only supplement a vegan needs to take is vitamin B12, and there are many fortified food options such as soy milk and nutritional yeast available.
  • Livestock are given antibiotics en masse to keep them alive, contributing to global antibiotic resistance.


Once you learn a lot about meat and the livestock industry, it’s hard to continue supporting it without some severe level of cognitive dissonance and hypocrisy. I intend to do an extended piece on hypocrisy in general, but in the meantime, here are some of my favourite examples.

  • “I get distraught when a lion is needlessly shot dead by a dentist or dogs are eaten, but don’t mind when a cow is needlessly killed for my enjoyment, even though there are plenty of alternative products.”
  • “I can’t change, I’ve been doing this my whole life and humans have been doing it for a long time.” If this is an excuse you use, it’s hard to justify getting upset at slavers of the 17th century, as they could say the exact same thing to justify their ‘choice’, even though they’re not just choosing for themselves.
  • “It’s wrong to force your opinion on your kids and make them eat vegan.” Generally said by people who force their way of eating meat on their kids. Also said by those who don’t mind advertisements that tell (not suggest) people to eat meat, e.g. ‘Real men eat…’ above a meat section (I couldn’t make this up).
  • “Ugh tofu tastes disgusting!” Referring to an uncooked tofu. A bag of flour also tastes pretty bland uncooked.
  • “Aren’t you concerned about your health?” Generally said by people who consume a lot of red meat and cow milk, which are both quite bad for your health.

Your impact

If you consume an average amount of meat, every day you have the choice to save 4164 litres of water, 20 kg of grain, 2.8 square metres of forest, 9 kg of CO2 and 1 animal’s life*.

Bonus impact

If, like me, you decide you want to do more, you might consider donating to a charity such as the Humane League who produce and distribute advertising to encourage people to consume less animal products. In fact, the Humane League is so effective at what it does, it takes less than $1 to reduce 1 year of animal suffering, not including the other benefits.

Effect on me

People often ask me what the hardest part about being vegan is. “I bet you really miss meat.” “How do you get all your protein?” The hardest, and only hard part about being vegan is being insulted by non-vegans who don’t understand. I work in a professional setting and regularly am made fun of for my ethical choice. People might think it’s just a bit of fun, but it hurts, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s bullying, and it’s not ok. There’s no difference between making fun of someone for being vegan and calling them a rabbit or joking that you’ll make a salad for them and making fun of someone for what they wear or any other choice they make. I’ve been told by someone that they were embarrassed to introduce me to their friends because I was vegetarian. Even if you don’t decide to consume less animal products, I urge you to take care with what you say about those who do. Besides that, I’ve never been happier or felt more satisfied in life since going vegetarian and eventually vegan.

I hope you also decide to make the switch for the environment, for the animals and for yourself. If you have any questions I would love for you to get in touch or leave a comment!


If you’d like to hear more I’d highly recommend you watch Cowspiracy, which is now available free on Youtube. A lot of the figures and facts used here (marked with a *) are sourced from there.

Effective Altruism and Ethical Science

This piece was co-authored by Robert Farquharson and myself in response to what we believe is a key misconception about moral relativism, especially in the context of Effective Altruism.

Peter Singer’s practical ethics argues that we have a remarkable opportunity and moral obligations to help those less geopolitically fortunate than ourselves. This has formed the basis for the Effective Altruism (EA) movement. What makes this model of philanthropy different to previous versions is the focus on effectiveness: EA takes a rigorously quantitative approach to assessing and engaging in ethical behaviour. The results have been more than interesting. As it turns out, saving a life or seriously reducing global poverty (see Peter Singer’s The Life You Can Save) is surprisingly within our reach, giving us cause for hope. Our philanthropic missteps, however, are lamentably all too human. There are many cases of well-meant charitable causes that have, upon analysis, been found to cause more harm than good. By approaching these moral problems with the clarity and rigour of the scientific method, EA combines “the heart with the head”. This better equips us to avoid future missteps, and maximise the positive outcomes we can achieve. As the argument goes, we can and should do the most good possible.

EA has not been embraced without criticism. A prominent counterargument EA receives is that it has no grounds to comment on an objective view of ethics. Science is about measurement, and morality is about values, so we commonly perceive these as independent realms. After all, how can we measure morality? What facts about the world tell us what we should value? This is particularly problematic because, often enough, even members within the EA community itself will concede this point. People who are already dedicated to improving human well-being according to the best available evidence are unwilling to defend the moral objectivity of such a cause, preferring instead some version of moral relativism. Perhaps we can measure something about what we think about morality, but who’s to say that it can be universalised? Many of us are resigned to this kind of subjective, context sensitive view of morality, particularly when it comes to cross-cultural claims. What seems right to me may not seem so to you, but that’s okay. What’s right in our culture isn’t always going to be right in another culture, and it would be presumptuous at best to impose that view on others. Or so the argument goes.

The aim of this piece is be to discuss this line of criticism. First, the misconception that science has nothing to say about morality will be addressed. There are moral facts to be observed, these facts are just psychological and physical facts, about the world and the conscious creatures within it. Second, a double-standard that is often applied to potential objective claims to morality will be highlighted. A common rebuttal is that a science of morality can’t be fundamentally based on an assumption lest it become ‘subjective’ after all. However, most if not all other scientific domains operate in just such a way, and yet their philosophical and scientific credentials are never in doubt. Being objective is the not the same as being absolute, self-justifying, or unchanging.

It is our view that EA’s integrity as a movement precisely relies on making such objective claims to moral facts, e.g. that not all charities are equal. Being a fledgling, but promising form of a moral science, it is thus crucial for EAs to clear the air on the superiority and validity of the movement’s theoretical commitments. Responding to these criticisms could have implications for our understanding and discourse surrounding morality beyond just the EA community.

We will say here that, as a community, focusing on the ethical obligations over the opportunity that EA presents is potentially not the most effective way to encourage people to become effective altruists, but it is an important concern that we have decided to address here. This should by no means be an introduction to EA if you haven’t heard of it before! I’d recommend one of the many EA books out there, or this TED Talk by Peter Singer.

The Argument from EA

In The Life You Can Save, Peter Singer proposes 3 premises:

1) Suffering and death from lack of food, shelter and medical care are bad.

2) If it is in your power to prevent something bad from happening, it is wrong not to do so.

3) By donating to aid agencies, you can prevent suffering and death from lack of food, shelter and medical care, at little cost to yourself.

If you agree with these premises, then Singer’s conclusion is that by not donating to aid agencies, you are doing something wrong. At the very least, you’re missing an opportunity to do something right. By breaking the logic down into these steps, it is hard to argue with, or to claim that individuals can have different ‘versions’ of morality that are equally as valid. However, while the third premise seems straightforward to most people, the first two are tougher to swallow. Accepting the third leads to a simple matter of calculus, some aid agencies just don’t prevent suffering and death as well as others. The numbers sell most people on the effectiveness clause. But why is altruism good, and why must I help? Isn’t suffering just subjective?  

The Measure of Morality: Suffering, Wellbeing, & How to Find Them.

Philosopher/Neuroscientist Sam Harris invites us to imagine the ‘Worst Possible World’ (WPW). The WPW is hellish, where every conscious creature experiences the worst possible misery it can for as long as it can. Think burning alive, but that is the only conscious experience you will ever have. This is a bad state of affairs, if the word ‘bad’ means anything at all. The pain and misery being suffered in the WPW, and conversely the happiness and flourishing that we relish in this world, are realised as experiences in consciousness. This makes them subjective in one sense, in that they can’t exist in the absence of a conscious subject ‘feeling’ them. However, this doesn’t make judgements about their character merely subjective, in the sense of always ‘relative’.

If you think that pain, misery, and suffering, are merely subjective tastes, and are unsure why you shouldn’t value those states instead of things like love, laughter, and satiety, you’re thoroughly confused. Conscious experience is, by its very nature, already and immediately coloured with a certain kind of character. If you’re not sure whether or not a child dying famished and diseased is having a conscious experience on the negative end of the spectrum somewhere, you’re not playing by the same rules. The only philosophical assumption you need to make here is that suffering the worst possible misery you can for as long as you can is, indeed, the minima of conscious experience. The starving child is hovering somewhere near this minima.
Once we accept this superficial fact about the nature of conscious experience, we can honestly admit that any changes that lead us away from the WPW are what we mean when we say ‘morally good’. Whatever reprieve we can offer the inhabitants of the WPW, however small, would potentially be the clearest case of a moral behaviour there is. If it’s within your power, at little to no cost to you, merely offering a 10 minute window of painless respite for the immiserated sufferers of the WPW is something you ought to do. Singer’s drowning child example leans on the same principle. To leave the dying children of the developing world in such a state of persistent misery, when we could easily do otherwise, is a moral failing.

So, notions of good and bad, right and wrong, have everything to do with the changing character of experience in conscious creatures. Every moral judgement comes down to how much and in what direction an action changes the conscious experience of some agent. Bringing someone closer to the worst possible misery they can experience is movement in the wrong direction. Again, if you’re unsure about this, try and find a conscious merit in dying from forced starvation.

With changes in consciousness as our basis, we can begin measuring those changes. If we know anything about consciousness at all, we know that it correlates meaningfully with brain states. Brain states are just a kind of physical state though, and thus completely amenable to objective inquiry. Some things lead to those brain states which cause experiences of pain, misery, and suffering, while others lead to the brain states that correlate with euphoria, heightened self-esteem, and the rest of the positive emotions we all crave. Importantly, it’s possible to measure these causal relationships scientifically. That is, we can measure how some actions or social constructs regularly and reliably move conscious experience in particular directions. Our goal is to move towards well-being, loosely defined as having much of one’s experience situated on the positive end of the conscious spectrum.

To sum, if our notions of morality are about experiential changes in conscious creatures, and the manner in which those changes occur are amenable to scientific inquiry, we can measure morality just like any other physical quantity. Moreover, EAs regularly do this. There is an important distinction to make between the character of the experiences themselves, and the things that reliably lead to them. A dangerous kind of moral relativism sneaks in when we confuse these two things. There are many ways to move our conscious experiences, but there will be a fact of the matter about which things move them in what direction. Science has, in fact, a lot to say about morality.

The Big Lebowski Response

While most people are convinced by this consequentialist notion of changes in conscious experience, there is a recalcitrant meme that is often cited in reply. Just like the scene in ‘The Big Lebowski’ where the Dude says, “Yeah, well, you know…that’s just, like, your opinion, man”, we often hear that it’s just all relative. Who’s to say I should value experiences like love, euphoria, compassion, and all the rest? Alternatively, who’s to say that my versions of justice and fairness are the same as yours? And, finally, what gives you the right to enforce your version on me? Science is perceived as not just silent on these issues, but in principle incapable of addressing them.

To quote a critic, “The point is this: Effective Altruism, while very welcome, is not an “objective” look at the value of philanthropy; instead it is a method replete with philosophical assumptions. And that’s fine, so long as everyone realizes it”. The problem, it seems, is that nothing ‘objective’ can be based on a ‘philosophical assumption’. If it isn’t truly objective, it’s just your opinion, and therefore lacks any normative force that actual sciences would have. This is plainly false.

Everyday Empiricism

To address the first point regarding the relativity of subjective experience, it’s easy to see how this form of response would be absurd when you transpose it into any other scientific domain. For example, take physical health and medical science. There is nothing in modern health science that can tell you why you ought to value being alive or free of disease, with absolute self-justifying or ‘scientific force’. However, we just do value these things. At the base of medical science are the ‘philosophical assumptions’ that being alive is better than being dead, and consequently, that the goal of medicine is to mitigate and prevent things that cause premature death. Once we all accept this, we can investigate the objective, causal relationships between certain physical quantities and their consequences with regards to how they move us towards that goal. If the Dude were to come to you with a gangrenous leg and say, “Who are you to say you’re healthier than me? That’s just your opinion, I don’t value being free of disease and pain”, we’d dismiss him as either simply ignorant of the facts, or of unsound mind.

We’ve all come to the conclusion that sensible adults value not dying prematurely of preventable ailments, and we don’t need to be medical professionals to know that such a value statement is a good thing. We ought to value being alive, and nothing within medicine ‘scientifically’ justifies that. Finding right and wrong answers about medicine only becomes possible once we all agree that this is what we mean by ‘health’, and that we value it. The objectivity and scientific validity of medicine is never brought into question because of this foundational dependence on a ‘philosophical assumption’ though. So, by assuming that seeking out intrinsically positive conscious states, and avoiding negative ones, as our broad and loose goal set in the moral domain, we’re not doing anything different to the other sciences.

The second point on relativism speaks to the fact that different people or cultures talk about ‘morality’ in different ways. Things like ‘justice’ mean different things in different places, and even in the same place but at different times. It seems like we’re all zeroing in on the same meta-principles, but the devil is very much in the detail. Again, we can look at physical health as a useful analogy.

Take Jasmuheen, an advocate of ‘breatharianism’. She claims that she survived for years on very little to no food or water, but was nourished by “pranic energy” instead. Ostensibly, she’s talking about the same thing my local GP and dietitian are talking about, like ‘health’, ‘energy’, and ‘nourishment’. These are words they use too. What has science got to say about which version of health and nourishment I should value? Quite obviously, a lot.

When asked to demonstrate her claims for a TV experiment, Jasmuheen agreed to live in a hotel room, watched by a security guard to ensure she consumed no food or water, and was regularly monitored by a professional doctor. After 48 hours she was presenting symptoms of acute dehydration, stress, slurred speech, weight loss, and high blood pressure, to name a few. In other words, exactly what medical science predicts will happen if you stop consuming actual nourishment. After 4 days the experiment was abandoned on the advice of the doctor, as kidney failure and death were likely to follow, and the results were broadcast for everyone to see.

Who’s version of health should we value? Demonstrated by the physical consequences, consuming “pranic energy” isn’t as nourishing as terrestrial food and water. Notice that at no point are we obliged to humour Jasmuheen or breatharianism as offering a potential ‘alternative framework’ for physical health. It isn’t just about our opinions. The universe is not forgiving in this way; at least 3 incidents of breatharian followers died after trying to emulate Jasmuheen. The breatharian is talking about the same meta-principles, like health and nutrition, they’re just wrong about how to move towards them.

It isn’t dogmatic or imperialist to say that breatharianism is dangerous, and to point out the obvious; it is not conducive to health and well-being. We as a community, either directly or via the state, are perfectly able, if not obliged, to intervene with clear conscience, the same way we ‘dogmatically’ intervene and tax cigarettes, or vaccinate our children. Once we’re honest with ourselves about what our goals are, there will be evidence to suggest the best and worst ways of achieving them. Following the evidence wherever it may lead is anathema to dogmatism. If someone thinks their infant dying of preventable diseases is a good thing, we simply don’t have to take them seriously. Similarly, if they think exposing their baby to a dangerous disease is an alternative way to inoculate them, we don’t need to indulge their ignorance.

It’s important to notice that we all engage in this kind of empirical scepticism constantly; we’re all everyday empiricists. When I call a plumber to fix my pipes, it’s because I trust they have the relevant expertise to achieve the goal of ‘good plumbing’, i.e. flowing water out of my taps, and having no leaks. Knowledge of the facts of plumbing is what separates me from them. I don’t pretend to know an ‘alternative framework’ for good plumbing, nor do I argue with the valuation that good plumbing entails a lack of leaks. When my faucet spews water I don’t tell guests, “Who are you to say your plumbing is better than mine? To me, good plumbing is about water coming from as many places at once as possible”.

There is no difference when it comes to the domain of morality and the promotion of wellbeing; not all positions are equal. Others may be using the terms ‘morality’, and ‘well-being’. However, the question is not, “what do those things mean for them?”. If they don’t think morality has something to do with changing conscious states for the better, they’re like the weird plumber who values leaks, and we have to admit that openly. The more important question is, instead, “how well are those things working out for them?”. How satisfied are the weird plumber’s customers? On the other hand, if they do value conscious wellbeing, but they think systematically subjugating an entire gender is a possible route to that end, for example, they’re like the breatharian. They’re talking about the same meta-principles, but simply confused about the facts. Again, we have to admit this openly.

For EA’s, this is most relevant when the effective ways to do good are convoluted and counterintuitive. But just because these solutions are hard to find, or intuitively unpalatable, does not mean that there is no answer at all or that we shouldn’t try to find one. For example, an ethical shopper might avoid goods produced in sweatshops so as to not support the exploitative workplace practices. In Doing Good Better, William MacAskill explains that this is well intended, but is not the most effective way to help workers in developing nations, and can actually cause more harm than good. How? The sweatshop jobs are actually the most desired in some countries. The other jobs require hard labour and are lower paid, and for some the choice is between working in a sweatshop and unemployment. Boycotting sweatshops can eliminate these jobs. Furthermore, sweatshop goods tend to cost less than those produced elsewhere, so one is usually better off buying the sweatshop shirt and donating the savings to a charity that helps  the poor. This is just one of the endless examples of counterintuitive ways to maximise well-being.

The Absolute/Objective Conflation

Emphatically, this is not to say that there aren’t or won’t be many equivalent ways to be moral, or to promote well-being. There is no ‘one’ way to be healthy, or to have good plumbing either. Similarly, in light of new evidence and technology, both those definitions could change in the future; they are not absolute. For example, living to a ripe old age of 40 was considered healthy in the past, but with further advances in modern medicine and gerontology, living to 150 could be a modest goal for many people alive today. It just amounts to admitting that once we declare our goals honestly, there are also many ways not to achieve them, and we don’t have to be afraid to admit this. What’s healthier, eating a cucumber or a stick of celery? The answer to this question, if there is one, is probably trivial. That doesn’t undermine the objectivity of dietetics and nutrition. The inability to decide which of the two vegetables to eat for breakfast doesn’t make the distinction between food and poison any less real or consequential though. That is, tough questions we can’t answer yet don’t relegate the easy answers to merely being ‘low hanging fruit’ in an otherwise incomplete or problematic theory. Depending on what they specifically eat, a meat eater may be just as healthy as a vegetarian (think vegetarians who only eat potato chips), but that doesn’t mean we have to elevate breatharianism to the same plane. Having many ways to eat healthily is pluralism, claiming every way of eating is healthy is relativism.

The same goes for morality. There could be many ways to restructure our societies to better promote well-being, but this doesn’t detract from the fact that there will also be many ways to do the reverse. Indeed, we already know that there are many ways to do the reverse; for example, humanity frequently engaged in the slave trade. Pluralism is not the same thing as relativism, nor is being objective the same as being absolute, or unchanging.

The Promise of EA

We don’t suffer any illusions of relativism in most domains of our lives because we value evidence. We update our confidence in particular beliefs to correspond with the weight of the evidence in favour of them. It is this incursion by the scientific method into the realm of morality that makes EA what it is, and allows it to speak from an objective viewpoint, despite its philosophical assumptions. We value subjective well-being as the basis of morality in the same way we value physical health or good plumbing, and the science of well-being can’t begin until we’re similarly honest about that fact. EA is honest about this, and the measurements have already begun.

The separation of science and measurement from the realm of values and morality is a language game we don’t often play. It will be to the detriment of the entire global population if we continue to play it with perhaps the most important question we can ever ask: how can we grow and flourish together, for the well-being of all conscious creatures and the planet that sustains them? There may be multiple right answers, but we have to unapologetically admit that there will be wrong ones too. EA is in a position to lead the way on an empirical project of well-being, it just needs to embrace it.

By Robert Farquharson and Michael Dello-Iacovo

Choosing charities carefully is hard but necessary

The below comments are taken from my response to an article featured on www.adelaidenow.com.au. This article contained several fundamental flaws which are potentially harmful and need to be addressed, as The Advertiser has not made a move to issue a correction.

On December the 17th, Anthony Keane wrote a piece titled ‘Why you should choose charities wisely’ with quotes from Fausto Pastro and John Oliver suggesting reasons for vigilance when choosing which charities to support. Unfortunately, this article contained several major errors and misconceptions which should be cleared up.

Pastro says that “With donations, there is no right way or wrong way. Anything you do is right.” This claim is objectively wrong, and even potentially dangerous. Not all charities and programs are equally effective. In fact, some turn out to produce more harm than good. For example, the Scared Straight program has been run in USA since the 1970s and places teenage delinquents in a jail for several hours, where they are threatened and yelled at by guards and inmates. The idea is that the students will be so scared of prison they will stop committing crimes. Unfortunately, what sounds like a good idea doesn’t work, and is in fact outright harmful. Of nine studies performed on this program, two suggest that it has no impact, and seven suggest a negative impact. The teenagers would have been better off if they had not been in the program to begin with. Donating to a program like this would not be ‘right’.

In addition, some methods of improving societies are hundreds of times more effective than others, even for producing the same outcome. For example, take the following three methods of preventing or treating HIV and AIDS; surgical treatment for Kaposi’s sarcoma (an illness characteristic of AIDS), antiretroviral therapy, and education for high-risk groups. On a dollar to benefit basis, antiretroviral therapy is 50 times as effective as treating Kaposi’s sarcoma directly, while education is 1,400 times more effective. If one were to decide between supporting a program that treats Kaposi’s sarcoma and one that provides effective education, the choice should be clear. When we buy a new car, we shop around to find the best value for money. It’s surprising how little this is done with charities, and how often we trust the money is being spent well.

The article also criticises charities with high administration costs (staff salaries etc.), but in reality a high admin cost does not always mean an ineffective charity. Admin costs are an important and necessary part of running a charity, and if a charity spends an extra 10% on salary to attract a top management team which boosts effectiveness by 50%, this shouldn’t be vilified. With the example above, a charity providing education with 10% of their costs being admin would still be far more effective than one treating Kaposi’s sarcoma with admin costs of 1%.

To be fair, it’s hard to figure out which programs work. It takes randomised controlled trials and a lot of analysis. Luckily, a new breed of organisation is doing this work for us. Meta-charities such as GiveWell analyse the cost-effectiveness of charities to provide, free of charge, a list of the very best from across the world.

Unfortunately, 75% of charity programs end up having little to no impact, or even a negative impact. It’s not enough to pick the charities that seem good and have low administration costs. So when you donate, don’t just do your homework, do the right homework.

Salvation and Salivation – Part 3

As soon as Sta’bek left she pulled out her hexalink crystal and downloaded every political journal in reverse chronological order to physical storage. Just 30 seconds into the download her connection went dead. She was lucky he hadn’t just accessed the house computer with his neural implant the moment he left the room. No matter, she had the last 3 weeks of every political article written on human agricultural policy to play with.

She read through each article, almost all of which were pro-human consumption (those that weren’t were ridiculed and published in less mainstream news outlets), and thought of ways to counter each claim being made. The nutrition part was easy. There was plenty of research that linked human consumption to long term health issues, and it was surprisingly easy to show that the studies which ‘show’ that human is healthy were funded by the regional planetary government or humaneries. The environmental part was a little harder, but it was still true that it took hundreds of kilograms of food to make just one kilogram of human, not to mention the extra water, fuel and land required. Some of the newer colonies had stagnated and couldn’t afford the exorbitant prices charged for human exports, and would certainly benefit from the extra resources.

Law’bek glanced up at the window – already dark. Curse the short days on this forsaken rock. She rubbed her eyes and went searching for food. On phasing into the cold room, an overwhelmingly pungent scent ambushed her senses. Leftover human. Her appetite evaporated, she slid back through the meta-wall and ran back to her room. She reached for her crystal to bury herself once more in research, but it wasn’t there. Icy tendrils crept down her neck. What if he had seen-

“Not bad so far Law.” Law’bek jumped to her feet and whirled around.

“Drak’sah Rin,” she cursed, “how did you get in here?”

“The old fool’s security system could do with an upgrade.” Law’bek went orange. She despised her father, of course, but he was hers to despise. “With a bit of flourish it might be worthy of one of the top outlets.” By ‘we’ he meant ‘I’, of course. Why are the most gifted ones such glandings? Somehow she was able to swallow her pride and calm herself until the orange dissipated. For the humans, she reminded herself.

“Well, let’s get to work.” She said, smiling frostily.

Alex squeezed through the front door, sweating slightly under his own weight. “Take care of your sister, won’t you?” Alex wasn’t really looking for an answer; he was too caught up in his own ecstasy. Without looking back, he strutted proudly down the road towards the slaughterhouse. Jealous eyes with murderous glints followed him the whole way. Tony held back his tears for a moment, building a painful pressure, before succumbing to loud, violent sobs. Lucy looked up at him in innocent confusion. Not that she didn’t know her father was going to be eaten shortly; she was confused about Tony’s reaction.

“Itsa natural Tony.” As if that made everything better.

Later, at his lunch break, he sat apart from the rest of the farm gang, aimlessly sloshing his bread through the thin nutri-gruel. He was on water duty again today. Jim was absent, probably put down for disrupting the work gang, and his pusher-partner had been reassigned to fertilising. He was startled by the sound of the bench creaking across from him. He looked up and recoiled. The taskmaster only sat across from you if you were in trouble.

“Tony, I’m not here to hurt you.” She said in a surprisingly gentle voice. Tony didn’t believe it; he had seen her lull workers into a false sense of security before. She touched his hand. He looked up and saw her smiling. “I know how you feel.” Her voice went softer, almost impossible to hear. “And I feel the same.” His heart almost stopped. He felt dizzy and could hardly respond. “I’ve felt the same way as you since I was your age, and I’ve been working my way up from the inside ever since. I’m so close to being able to do something, but I need your help.” Tony was incredulous. It was all he could do to nod. Her gaze went from kind to serious. “But this sulking won’t help anyone. You need to be strong, or you won’t be of any use to me. Eat your food Tony. For me. For us all.”

She released his hand and sat back. Tony smiled up at her and raised the sopping wet bread to his mouth. He gingerly placed it on his tongue and swallowed. He closed his eyes, allowing himself to enjoy the flavour. When he opened them, they felt puffy. He tried to blink but found that he couldn’t, his eyes were slowly expanding and his eyelids wouldn’t reach around anymore. He struggled to his feet and knocked over the rest of the gruel in panic. He writhed on the ground as the pain took hold of his whole body. The taskmaster stood over him. He reached his hand up to her, silently begging, hoping. But she didn’t take it. The gruel was already a distant memory. All he could taste was the dust.

The sound of metal on metal was occasionally punctuated by a polite exclamation of wonder and compliments to the chef at the discovery of some subtle new flavour. Steak, sausages and pate were brought out in varying configurations and combinations for Sta’bek and his guests to enjoy. Law’bek sat sullenly at the end of the table. Her father gave her a reproaching look as she piled her plate with boring legumes which were supposed to be a garnish, but otherwise ignored her, focussing his charm and guile on the off-world delegates.

“Exquisite Sta’bek, simply exquisite. I’ve tasted human in holo but the reality is just so… enthralling. My delegation and I were just this week wondering why it’s so hard to come at Parliament Central on Gron’lek.”

“I’m actively campaigning for an increase in production. Our new breeding program has increased output by-”

“Yes very clever I’m sure, but we were wondering why no one has implemented farms on other worlds.” Sta’bek almost dropped his skewer. He had been dreading this moment. The exclusivity of humans being bred on this world was what had helped it grow so rapidly from a border colony to a bustling economy. If they were to lose the monopoly their way of life would surely end.

“Ah yes, the Minister for Finance and I were just the other day discussing how we might get financing for such a venture. All it would take is-”

“Minister Foy’gra.” Said the delegate, his smile hardening. An old political opponent. “Well I think that’s a terrible idea. Humans obviously belong on this world. You’re a fool for even listening to such nonsense.”

“Yes, of course Minister Grep’san, it was foolish of me to say.” Sta’bek averted his gaze and felt his face burn blue. Grep’san took this as embarrassment and turned away.

“Young Law’bek, you are saving the human for last I see?” Sta’bek’s colour flashed a panicked purple. Law’bek looked at Sta’bek, perhaps begging for reprieve.

Don’t make me say it. Her face seemed to say, a complex mix of colours swirling. But Sta’bek did not yield. “Show Minister Grep’san how much you enjoy our fine produce Law’bek.” For what seemed like an eternity, Law’bek held her father’s gaze. Finally she could suffer it no longer.

“This food is not what you think it is!” she blurted. “The humans are intelligent, they are treated cruelly and-”

“My dear Law’bek is suffering from protein deprivation.” Sta’bek announced, signalling to the guards. “Will you escort her upstairs?”

Law’bek rose to her feet before the surprised guards could start towards her. “No no, I’m old enough to escort myself.” As she turned to leave she noticed the younger, quiet delegate looking at her with wide eyes, which were averted so quickly she couldn’t be sure he was looking in the first place. As she left, the conversation gradually returned to normal.

Law’bek woke later from a fitful, broken slumber to a loud ping emanating from her crystal. Message. As she reached for it, she remembered that her hexalink access had been revoked. Odd, only ministers could override such a block. There was an item on her crystal from an anonymous author titled ‘The Truth’. She watched it, then re-watched it, then laughed. From footage of human working and living conditions taken the day before to old health publications that had been covered up, it was all the evidence she needed to convince Parliament Central to abolish human breeding. Of course, she would have to forge the author’s credentials, but she did have access to a certain minister’s hexalink account. She had never met a live human, but she knew how overjoyed they would be when they found out they would never end up on the plate of a Gorgesk politician or bureaucrat again.

That’s the end… for now! Drop your thoughts in the comments below.

Salvation and Salivation – Part 2

My mother was eaten last year. My father will be butchered tomorrow. And I will come of age in 16 years. It is 2182, and we are food.

Tony stared listlessly at his nutri-string, twirling it around his fork without eating. Alex was shovelling high fat coconut paste into his mouth with one hand and mending his shoe with his other. The image made Tony sick.

“Dad, doesn’t it strike you as odd that –”

“Not today Tony.” Said Alex, looking up and grinning broadly. “I’m in a good mood.” He turned his attention back to his food and shoe.

Not ever then. Couldn’t he see the senselessness? Tomorrow night Alex would be on the dinner plate of a Gorgesk politician or bureaucrat as steak, sausage, pâté, or all three. It was a great honour to be eaten by a high-ranking Gorgesk; the cause for Alex’s high spirits today. A high fat diet for the last 6 months had allowed him to finally crack 200 kg, amidst much celebration. ‘A good eating size’, as the Gorgesk children would say.

A blast of air through the old mechanical whistle signalled 10 minutes to shift-start. Alex noisily slurped the last drops of paste off his bowl and placed it in the wash trough. “See you tonight Tony!” he sang, not even glancing back.

“Yeah, see you.” Tony whispered. He handed Lucy her high protein lunch which she took without a word, skipping out the door on her way to trade school. Now that Tony was 14 he had started working in the fields, doing whatever odd job was required. He hadn’t done that well in trade school. Too much thinking, the headmistress said. If Tony was lucky he might work his way up to taskmaster, increasing his lifespan by 4 whole years. Good taskmasters were far too valuable to eat so young.

Tony stepped out of the small cabin and looked up. It had only taken 15 years for the Gorgesk industrial might to demolish the skyline of human cities and replace it with their own, but the knowledge that another version of this world had even existed was lost to humans. Tony had known no other sight, but something told him that things had once been different. Flashing neon lights and holo-screens lit up the grey morning sky showcasing the ultimate neural-holo entertainment or the finest cut of human, and how good it was with a rich mushroom sauce stuffed in between two slices of lightly toasted bread.

The whistle blew for the second time. Startled out of his reverie, Tony sprinted down the dusty path to his designated land plot.

“Stop eating them?” Sta’bek laughed. “What have you been dripping? I want some.” He rose from a leather-backed chair and started gathering his crystals for work.

“I’m serious,” groaned the exasperated Gorgesk child. “It’s cruel to keep humans locked up. Rin’des was saying –”

“Rin’des says a lot of things. Such young radicals ought to be incinerated. Lucky for your friend I’m not the Minister for Intelligence.” Sta’bek looked despondently at his daughter. “I used to be like you, you know; so young and full of idealism. But then I grew up and realised there are two sides to every story. We don’t treat humans cruelly; we keep them in wide open spaces so they have room to move and be happy. Besides, they wouldn’t exist at all if we weren’t breeding them.”

“But what’s the difference between humans and other animals?”

“Why Law’bek.” Sta’bek smiled patronisingly. “We breed them. Food is what they’re for!”

“That doesn’t make it right! Besides, papers from the Academy of Health on Gres’nak all show how unhealthy human is.”

Sta’bek’s shrugged. “Vested interests. Gres’nak produces high protein grasses and has lost half its market share since we started exporting human.”

“Can the same not be said of us?”

“That’s enough. I’m the Minister of Agriculture, and I’m not going to stand here and be lectured by an uneducated girl. I’m banning your hexalink access for a week. You’re becoming radicalised.” His insides burning, he covered the distance to the meta-wall in three strides. Just before he passed through, his hearts softened and he sighed. “What if you were stuck on a deserted planet and there was nothing but humans to eat? What would you do Law’bek? You wouldn’t starve yourself, be reasonable.” He glanced back, hoping to see some change of heart.

“What if you lived in the Gorgesk Empire where there was an abundance of all types of food and we didn’t have to cause suffering to other life forms?”

Bile rose in Sta’bek’s mouth and his face turned a dull orange. Pincers shaking, he struggled to contain his rage. “One month.” The door closed.

Dust. Tony trod through the soft, ashen soil, dragging his heels. He was carrying water for two humans pushing a plough through the earth who were apparently accustomed to the dry air. Tony was so parched he drank almost as much water as his work companions. Their muscles were well defined from 8 years of back breaking farm work, 14 hours a day. It was a wonder they had made it, plough pushers were notorious for dropping dead within a few years. A lack of will to serve the Gorgesk, the superintendent would boom. An unjust system, Tony would murmur.

Finally summoning the courage to speak his mind, he quickened his pace to catch the pair and spoke as quietly as he could. His voice caught for a moment as he fought through the bottled up emotions. “My father is being slaughtered tomorrow.” He croaked.

“Congratulations.” Said the female neutrally said without turning. The male just grunted.

“No, that’s not what I-”

“Stop, we get it. Alex was lucky enough to get a token desk job and grow fit for a bureau’s belly. Pushers can only dream of being such delicacies.” The male scowled but remained silent.

“It’s all wrong! We shouldn’t have to live for the Gorgesk. We are our own people, we deserve to be…” Tony trailed off. He couldn’t think of a word that described what he felt. Tony stole a glance at the taskmaster who was eyeing him warily from a distance, whip in hand. The ultimate insult, surely, to have convinced humans to whip humans. Tony waited until she had turned away before continuing. “We shouldn’t let the Gorgesk eat us.”

The woman paled but kept pushing. Thinking perhaps he had not been heard, Tony got a little closer. “We should-”


The force of the blow sent Tony and the jug flying to ground, the precious water greedily guzzled by the soil. Tasting blood mingled with the dust, he tried to stand, but was struck down by another fist. The male was standing over him, eyes wild. “You would have us all incinerated! And for what?”

“Jim, he’s so young!”

“I’m done Liz, this has to stop. His words will poison us all. This is how it has always been, and this is how it always will be.” A buzzing noise caused Jim to turn just in time to see the whip, which caught him on the bridge of his nose instead of the ear it was aiming for. The pain was so intense that for a moment, he could only bring a shaking hand to the ruined mess.

“Did anyone else hear the whistle? I didn’t. Is my hearing shot in my old age?”

“No taskmaster.” Liz answered for Jim as he struggled to come to terms with his new face.

“Good. Back to the plough.” The taskmaster lazily powered down her electro-whip and slung it over her shoulder, stroking it with one hand and watching the plough pushers go. A gift from the superintendent for her years of service. A good taskmaster will live 4 years longer, the best maybe 5. Tamara was 36 and still had not received a call to the slaughterhouse. Tony had heard this was against even Gorgesk agricultural regulations, but loopholes were always found in extenuating circumstances. “It’s unfortunate that the superintendent chose today to show our plot to the off-world visitors.” Tony only now noticed the 6 Gorgesk on the hill behind them, their gaze following Jim and the plough. One was the superintendent and two were armed guards, but the other three were unfamiliar, wearing exotic colours and cloths. One was holding a small recording device and watched the scene unfold with wide, panicked eyes. “Why was he hitting you, boy?” Tamara knew his name. Holding his nose, Tony rose to his knees.

“I’d tell you if I knew, taskmaster.”

“Always a trouble maker.” Tamara said softly, still watching Jim go. Tony wasn’t sure who she was referring to.

Salvation and Salivation – Part 1

Part 1 of my latest science fiction short story.

“This crime most heinous shall be punished by death.” He knew they were coming, but the words still pierced his heart like no others. The simple act of defiance had seemed so innocent just 48 hours ago. A single tear rolled down his cheek, and he turned his head to one side, so Sarah and Lucy wouldn’t see. They would rather see him die astride his white horse than fall off. He wouldn’t take that from them, not after everything else he had put them through.

The recently formed death squad were clumsy and slow to finish tying him to the stake, and slower still to light the dry kindling below. Smoke and ash quickly filled the air, blowing directly towards the Gorgesk president and her staff in the cool breeze. The humans in the smokes’ path were starting to squint as their eyes watered, but the Gorgesk were protected by the genetically modified keratin mesh over their eyes. Bastards. The Earth Defence had capitulated just over 3 years ago, but Kursk still had trouble accepting his new rulers. They declared Earth a republic of the Gorgesk Federation of Independence (a loose translation at best), expecting humanity to be happy with the gifts of technology and longevity, but they underestimated how highly humans value freedom and autonomy.

The fire began to lick his boots, which insulated his soft feet from the better part of the searing heat. For now. Little Lucy was looking up at him with a brave face. She was just too young to remember an Earth under human rule. She would not weep for her father for she had already been taught the truth at school; Earth had always been the rightful property of the Gorgesk. To defy them didn’t result in death, it was death itself. A spark rose from the shifting kindling, sailing up ever so slowly on a gust of wind, finally landing on his cotton trousers, which burst into flames. Don’t fall off.

He had trouble believing he was the first human to stand in the path of a Gorgesk minister. How could he have known she was uplinked? When she collided obliviously with his solid, meaty mass she rebounded and landed awkwardly, twisting her spine. Gorgesk and their brittle spines, he cursed inwardly. They had sentenced him to a life of labour on Mars, an existence of exclusion but relative comfort, but after Minister Les’qua passed from coma to death the verdict was quickly revised. The Gorgesk high judge was jittery after hearing the description of Kursks’ actions. It was almost as though challenging the Gorgesk challenged belief.

The firestorm was sizzling his skin now, and crept up his clothes, almost reaching the collar. His face was flushed, and it was only partly from the shame. Don’t fall off. He resisted the urge to squirm as he felt his chest baking from the intense temperature. His blood boiled out and congealed over his stomach like a rich red sauce. The basted body roasted away in a most tantalising manner.

The presidents’ attendant shifted uncomfortably as the smell of the crackling, seared meat reached him. It wasn’t long before the whole attendance was getting restless and looking around. Only the president herself stood impassively. Sarah looked away, embarrassed, unable to meet his eyes. The stake itself had caught alight, infusing the heady concoction with a hint of cedar. One of the Gorgesk guards had lost his stance of attention and stared, salivating, at the grilled human. Kursk was now but a shell of his self, mentally and physically. As he passed, he was thankful the inferno was hot enough to evaporate the waterfall before it could be seen.

Having consumed most of its fuel, the fire began to burn out. The stake broke off at the bottom and rolled across the coals, resting near the feet of President Nah’dok. There was a minute of silence as the crowd looked at Nah’dok expectantly. Sarah shuddered with realisation at what would take place next. She felt no fear, and that terrified her.

Nah’dok took a laser knife from her guards’ belt and bent down. The still scorching flesh was overpowering in every way, fat oozing from holes in the crisped skin. A charred bone protruded from a large hand, which Nah’dok effortlessly liberated. Holding it up to her nose, she breathed deeply. Her skin flushed dark green. She had never been so… ravenous. She sucked on the morsel, gently at first, and was rewarded with a cut of ambrosia. She chewed, and it just melted in her mouth. Unable to control herself, she popped the rest of the plump sausage in her mouth, crunching on the blackened bone. She gave a small squeal of delight as her taste buds were received by the chewy marrow, the best part of all. Closing her eyes, she swallowed and sighed. It was a long time before she opened them.

Remembering she was not alone, she forced herself to stand. “All humans are to return to their dwellings and assemble at the city centre at noon tomorrow. There is to be a grand announcement.” As they filed obediently out of the room, she handed the knife back to her guard. “I want this in my room in an hour. Tell the rest of the inner cabinet to join me. We have a new export.”

Stay tuned for part 2 next week!

How effective is face to face fundraising?

Recently I did some work for Charity Science on the effectiveness of a number of fundraising methods, with a focus on face to face (F2F) fundraising, which involves ‘door to door’ or ‘on the street’ solicitations for donations, with a focus on acquiring monthly donations. The benefits of monthly donations over larger, once off donations are they provide a steady stream of income that is more reliable, and can be used to maintain base operations in times of financial struggle when individual donations are thin.

I performed a brief literature review, and I have posted some of my notes below. If you are with a charity and are considering whether to undertake F2F fundraising, this may be a good starting point.

Reasons for lapse: The case of face-to-face donors (Sargeant & Jay 2003)

F2F fundraising experienced a significant amount of criticism in its early days. This paper concludes that donors are largely satisfied with the recruitment process and lapse mainly because of changing financial circumstances than feelings of having been pressured into supporting, despite media claims.

69% of survey participants were aware of the charity before the recruiter approached them, and 54% were familiar with their work. The paper concludes that this means there is a ‘substantial degree of brand awareness but rather less understanding of services and programs’. I disagree slightly with the wording here – while the sample size is high enough that the difference is likely statistically significant, 54% is not substantially less than 69%.

Over 60% of participants said that they agreed to talk to the recruiter because they were friendly and unthreatening. Lapsed supporters (those who has signed up for monthly donations but had since stopped) were significantly more likely to have been under some pressure of time than remaining active supporters.

Those that felt pressured into offering support were significantly more likely to lapse than those who weren’t, but this doesn’t necessarily imply causality (donors who would have lapsed anyway may claim they felt pressured). Those that were impressed by what the recruiter had to say were significantly less likely to lapse, but again, for the same reasons, this doesn’t imply causality. It is interesting to note that the difficulty and length of time taken to offer support did not appear to play a major role in reasons for lapsing.

The general consensus in the literature is that around half of donors recruited through F2F will lapse after 1 year, with an average length of support of around 5 years, which can be used to estimate your return on investment per donor acquired.

The paper says that F2F reaches a younger donor audience, but younger donors appear to show a higher lapse rate, partly due to lower average income.

Most donors appear to prefer quarterly communications from the charity. 14% of active donors state they would be happy to not hear from the organisations they support at all. It is interesting to note that lapsed supporters are significantly more interested in acknowledgements for their gift (23% compared to 13%). This may indicate that those donors who lapse are likely to care less about intrinsically doing good and more about getting some kind of recognition of their support. The majority of lapsed and active supporters (around 80%) prefer to hear about the work the charity undertakes, with less (around 55%) interested in how their money has been used in the past, and less still (around 25%) interested in other ways they can support the organisation.

Of the remaining active supporters, about 73% indicated they had about the same level of commitment to the charity compared to when they first started giving. This sounds low, but around 22% said they were more committed, compared to 5% that said they were less committed.

The most startling conclusion was that there is no significant difference between lapsed and active supporters in the trust they put in the charity. That is to say, trust does not appear to play a role in the reason for donors lapsing.

It was noted that, of the lapsed donors, about half expected that their support would last for a year or less when they first signed up. When asked whether they would support the charity again, 66% of lapsed supporters said that they would, which supports the idea that donors lapse primarily due to changing financial circumstances than anything to do with their feelings towards the charity. I would caution putting too much faith in this conclusion though, as survey participants like to rationalise their past choices and have incentive to lie in a survey to save face. People generally don’t want to say that they stopped donating because they decided they would prefer to spend the money on themselves, even in an anonymous survey.

Applying relationship management theory to the fundraising process for individual donors (Waters, 2008)

This paper aimed to measure the relationships that non-profit organisations develop with their donors and examine the differences between levels of giving.

Major gift donors were more likely to have stronger trust, satisfaction and commitment with the organisation than the annual gift donors did. Donors who gave multiple times to an organisation rated their relationship with the organisation as being stronger than the one-time donors did. The paper appears to argue for more resources being spent on donor stewardship and relationship management strategies (including F2F and related activities) to increase donations. I’m not particularly impressed by the above conclusions, as they say nothing of causality. In a sense, it seems obvious that someone with stronger trust and commitment will be donating more to the charity. What would be more useful is a longitudinal study that demonstrates the effects of increasing levels of stewardship over time. In Waters (2008) (summarised below), there is more reference to the fact that increased donor relations and stewardship can result in increased donor loyalty, though I’m still not convinced on causality.

Factors influencing the break even probabilities of agency recruited low value charity donors (Bennett 2013)

This paper examined the factors that may affect the likelihood of a donor recruited through F2F reaching the financial break even point within a certain period of time, defined as the point when a supporters total donations exceeded the recruiting agency’s fee, induction costs and annual donor maintenance costs.

Interesting to note that apparently a number of agencies refund a proportion of their fee if a donor cancels within a certain period, usually 12 months (Sargeant & Hudson 2008), which should improve the economics of such a test.

“In 2009, the average value of each standing order acquired through F2F agency employee solicitation was 90 pounds per annum (Quigley 2010), while the average fee paid to external agencies varied between 80 and 160 pounds per donor (Jones 2010).” Other costs the client charity incurs include the costs of printing and mailing a welcome pack to the new donor, processing the standing order, entering the donor into a database, phoning them, printing and mailing regular newsletters etc. According to the paper, it seems that, even for a 5 year donor, the costs can quickly add up to a loss for the charity.

According to the Professional Fundraising Regulatory Association (PFRA 2011), the fee paid to an external agency will be recovered within 8-16 months on average if a new donor can be persuaded to give 10 pounds a month. Including additional costs, the expected break even point is 26-28 months.

Another consideration is that regular donors may be more likely to make additional ad hoc contributions such as donations in response to direct mail/email appeals or other requests and donations. On a related note, according to Fleming and Tappin (2009), a lower value of monthly contribution for a donor is correlated with a higher rate of retention.

The author suggests that the conversion of low value regular donors into higher value supporters is a critical field of research, but one that has not been covered to date.

According to Sargeant 1998 and Aldrich 2000, regular donors rarely support a charity for more than 6 years, possibly due in part to one becoming ‘overfamiliar’, bored or disinterested with the charity, which is  an interesting claim.

One concern with asking people to just give a small amount is that it may make people less likely to donate a lot, and can remove feelings of guilt one might have about declining a tougher ask (MacQuillin 2011).

The paper advocates segmenting a charity’s donor relationship management policies to better target and serve low value donors. “The present study demonstrated that many of the low value supporters most likely to break even within 4 years and/or to uplift their standing orders shared certain characteristics; notably a strong sense of obligation, relationship proneness, involvement with the charity’s cause, low personal inertia, satisfaction with the charity, willingness to accept incentives, and a tendency to experience ‘warm glow’ when making donations.”

Therefore charities can implement measures to specifically nurture these tendencies for low value donors. An example might be making it easier for people who donate for ‘warm glows’ to feel the warm glows, e.g. “via the transmission of profuse congratulatory messages when issuing thanks for gifts.” When asking for extra money, thanking donors for being ‘compassionate’ can increase gifts by as much as 10% (Hudson 2011).

Incentives such as invitations to parties appear to be effective ways to increase donation levels, which suggests that investment into these incentives may be worthwhile. Examples of such incentives can be found in Bennett 2007.

Benchmarking charity performance: Returns from direct marketing in fundraising (Sargeant et al 2006)

The paper presents the results of a study of 150 UK charities, and indicates the ROI that can be achieved through each of the marketing tools/techniques used. They suggest that most charities lose money on donor recruitment activities and that the overall returns from direct marketing activities are comparatively low compared to other forms such as major gift, trust and corporate solicitation, which, according to the paper, “can often generate over 10 pounds for every 1 pound of investment. (see Sargeant and Kaehler 1999)”

Door drops and off-the-page advertising perform poorly in terms of ROI compared to alternative media. Direct response TV appears promising, but has a high cost per donor which reflects the high levels of up-front investment.

F2F cost per donor compares favourably with other cold recruitment strategies and promotes longer-term committed giving.

Measuring stewardship in public relations: A test exploring impact on the fundraising relationship (Waters 2009)

This paper suggests that donors favour reciprocity (gratitude of charity for donations), responsibility (keeping promises), reporting and relationship nurturing, and that they have a significant impact on how donors evaluate their relationship with the charity. Spending more time on donor relations and stewardship can result in more donor loyalty according to O’Neil (2007), though I’m still not convinced on the causality here.


Overall, F2F fundraising is a good way to build public awareness of your charity and develop a base income and group of supporters, though the returns are generally lower than other forms of marketing such as major gift, trust and corporate solicitation.

If you have any thoughts or comments, feel free to leave them below. If you’d like a more targeted analysis of fundraising for your charity, please get in touch and I’d be happy to help out.


Aldrich, T. (2000). Reactivating lapsed donors: A case study. International Journal of Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Marketing, 5(3), 288–293.

Bennett, R. (2007). Giving to the giver: Can charities use premium incentives to stimulate donations? Journal of Promotion Management, 13(3/4), 261–280.

Fleming, M., & Tappin, R. (2009). Face to face donor cancellation rates (attrition): Establishing a benchmark. International Journal of Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Marketing, 14, 341–352.

Hudson, S. (2011). Telling donors how much others have given brings in more. Third Sector Online,6 July 2011. Accessed August 24, 2011, from www.thirdsector.co.uk.

Jones, M. (2010). Charity donors ‘pay fundraisers’, BBC News, 26 August 2010. Accessed August 25, 2011, from http://news.bbc.co.uk.

MacQuillin, I. (2011). A nudge in the wrong direction, UK Fundraising, 9 June 2011, pp. 1–5. Accessed August 18, 2011, from www.fundraising.co.uk.

O’Neil, J. (2007). The link between strong public relationships and donor support. Public Relations Review, 33(1), 99–102.

Professional Fundraising Regulatory Association (PFRA). (2011). Face to face fundraising. London: PFRA. Accessed August 24, 2011, from www.pfra.org.uk.

Quigley, R. (2010). Revealed: how fees for high street ‘chuggers’ are eating up the millions you donate to charity. Mail Online, 27 August 2010. Accessed August 25, 2011, from www.dailymail.co.uk.

Sargeant, A., & Hudson, J. (2008). Donor retention: An exploratory study of door to door recruits. International Journal of Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Marketing, 13(1), 89–101.

Sargeant, Adrian and Juergen Kaehler (1999), “Returns on Fundraising Expenditures in the Voluntary Sector”, Nonprofit Management and Leadership, 10(1), p.5-19.

Sargeant, A. (1998). Donor lifetime value: An empirical analysis. Journal of Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Marketing, 3(4), 283–297.