“Mind Your Language”: Faith Based Giving

6th July by Andrew Barton

Published on


In May we heard from the brilliant Basit Khan from Friday Promotions about Islamic Philanthropy and the role ‘giving’ plays in the faith and broader culture. 

AAW continues its focus on the untapped potential that many not for profits have in terms of faith based giving, with a piece from our friend and colleague Andrew Barton.

Andrew is one of our most respected fundraisers who has achieved brilliant results, predominately in the Individual Giving/Mass Marketing space, for many leading INGOs including Oxfam, World Vision and Christian Aid.

In recent years he has been supporting organisations via his own consultancy practice and is someone who all of us at AAW are always delighted to partner with!

Andrew’s professional background, as well as his own person beliefs, gives him a unique insight into faith-based giving and he shares some great insight with us here today.

Andrew Barton image


Many surveys of charitable giving have pointed to the importance of faith in giving. And, on average, faith-motivated givers do give at higher amounts than their counterparts.  Higher lifetime value has undoubtedly attracted the interest of many charities to be more intentional about faith-based giving.

My faith created a passion for fighting the injustice of poverty. It was faith that drew me out of a career in banking into the charity sector As a result, I’ve spent most of the last 16 years working in international development for both secular and faith-based organisations (Oxfam, World Vision and Christian Aid). Since going freelance in 2016, I’ve consulted with other faith-based organisations in the sector (CAFOD, Islamic Relief, All We Can and Medair).  And I’m fascinated by the psychology of faith-based giving.

The Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) all have a focus on the duty to look after one’s neighbour. Basit Khan wrote a great blog on engaging Muslim audiences I’ll focus my reflections more on the Christian market but we both believe strongly in engaging audiences with authenticity and speaking their language.

The Christian market in the UK is in some ways fuzzier than the Muslim or Jewish one. Around one-third of English adults might self-identify as “Church of England” but that really isn’t very much help to a fundraising strategist, because for many being Church of England isn’t actually core to their identity. Their group identity is much more likely to be as Liverpool fans, animal lovers, walking enthusiasts or Scots.

Another element of fuzziness is that while just over half of UK adults now report to having “no religion”, the majority of the “nones” are not atheists. Many will have absorbed some Christian values in their formative years.

The Christian audience is definitely not one audience: it is much more fragmented than the Muslim or Jewish audience.

It’s well known that church membership and Sunday attendance has been falling for many years with church attendance dropping from 4.1m in 1990 to 2.8m in 2020.  But within this overall trend there are pockets of growth especially among many of the smaller (often diaspora) groupings. As a result, UK churchgoers are more diverse than they’ve ever been, with over 200 denominations at last count.

And a final nuance is generational differences among Christians from the same church tradition.  For example, within many evangelical traditions, younger evangelicals are more likely to be focused on being “good news” through social justice while their baby boomer counterparts are more likely to be concerned about being “good news” through giving people opportunity to hear Biblical truth spoken.

So where does that leave the fundraising strategist in a non faith-based charity?

Five key points:

  1. “Mind your language”. Specifically, find language that has Christian resonance but also works equally well for those of no faith. Love, kindness, compassion and hope are words that are likely to have particular resonance.  Be confident in your language. Don’t try to be too overt in your faith-based connection if you and your copywriters are unsure.
  2. Think about how your cause connects. All the Abrahamic faiths have a concern for the poor, the refugee, the orphan and the widow. (In Jewish thought this is a mitzvah -a command - to “do justice” or tsedekah).  There is therefore a disposition to give beyond the immediate and the local.  It’s no coincidence that New Philanthropy Capital in their 2016 paper “Faith Matters” noted that faith-based charities made up 48% of all overseas aid charities, 45% of human rights charities and 39% of anti-poverty charities.
  3. Target especially in digital media. There are great opportunities for religious based targeting within the Facebook Ads Manager tool. You may pay more per impression, but conversion uplift can bring in an excellent cost per donor (and lifetime value). By contrast, Google has a much stricter policy of not targeting based on religion.
  4. Think donor identity in your communication. Don’t just focus on need (the situational motivation). Do ask yourself whether donors might be giving as a reflection of who they are (the identity motivation). This can be particularly important in legacy communications given that people are much more self-reflective when thinking about legacy gifts.  If you are testing multiple copy variants in Facebook advertising for example, try and see if you can make identity salient. This of course is the one area where the faith-based charity can be much more single-minded and intentional.
  5. Use supporter surveys to unveil donor motivations for supporting your organisation. For example, get supporters to choose five adjectives that describe them, and five that describe them as supporters of your organisation. You will undoubtedly discover a lot about the particular moral identities that drive support, and secular charities may find some “sweet spots” here between moral and faith identity.

Do apply all this thinking in your one to one engagements with prospective major donors. Be curious about them and their drivers for giving. Even if you don’t feel that you understand faith, be open to hearing what donors say.

To sum up: don’t be afraid of engaging with faith. Be thoughtful about it. And mind your language!

If you’d like to talk further about your fundraising strategies in faith-based giving, especially in the multi-layered Christian space, then please get in touch at andrewbarton.consulting@gmail.com.