Give Long and Prosper; 3 lessons we must learn to preserve fundraising's future

After some tough times in the media for fundraising recently, Joe Saxton looks what we can learn and how to make sure it doesn't happen again.

After some tough times in the media for fundraising recently, Joe Saxton looks what we can learn and how to make sure it doesn't happen again.

There has been a lot about fundraising practices in both the sector and national news in the last few weeks. We have had the furore about Olive Cooke, The Sun’s exposé of charity chief executive salaries and the Daily Mail’s ‘investigation’ into telephone fundraising agency practices.

There are those who will cry foul about how the fundraising community was portrayed by the media in the light of the Olive Cooke affair. Many will feel disgruntled about the hypocrisy of journalists taking potshots at salary levels that are lower than those earned by many writing these kinds of stories. 

I have three thoughts about what has happened in the last few weeks: 

  1. Even if Olive Cooke was not hounded to death by charity fundraisers, people have a negative enough view of modern fundraising practices to believe it is possible that she was. Just reading the online comments and talking to friends and family, it’s clear that modern fundraising practices at best bewilder and at worst infuriate many people. 

  2. If every charity followed every element of the IoF’s Code of Fundraising practice, most of what nfpSynergy's research reveals as ‘very annoying’ for people would still take place. The Code does not curtail a number of the practices that people find annoying: too many mailings, free gifts, telephone calls at home and so on. 

  3. As a sector, we are very poor at explaining why we do what we do. Much as people don’t like fundraising, if we explained better that free gifts raise more money than no free gifts, that telephone calls at home are very cost-effective and the like, then people would be more understanding. At the moment I fear that many people don’t even think we are calculating mercenaries, but bumblingly incompetent. It looks like we just waste their money. We need to explain, explain, explain and there has been precious little sign of that in either the media or directly to donors recently.

One of the difficulties that charities face is that while people are happy to be rude to companies, they are more reserved when talking directly to charities. Though they are often disdainful about charities generally, they tend to be much more reserved about a specific charity, especially if they give to it. Indeed, for the older generation, being rude about a charity is akin to slagging off Mother Teresa. This makes honest and direct feedback harder to come by.

A little-known part of fundraising’s self-regulation system is the Fundraising Promise (it doesn’t even come up in a search on the Institute of Fundraising website). It contains a range of strong statements about how donors should expect to be treated. 

Two useful statements among a number are: “If you tell us you don’t want to be contacted in a particular way, we will not do so” and “we take care not to cause undue disruption or nuisance”.

Powerful as these statements are, they are no use unless donors know about them and hold charities to account. For example, I would have said that the first statement should make knocking on a door with a ‘no cold calling’ sticker forbidden. If the Code of Practice is the letter of the law on self-regulation, then these are the spirit of it.

Amongst all the other things that the sector needs to do to get its house in order, providing donors with a much better sense of their rights when it comes to giving is a key ingredient. Donors need to know that it’s fine to say “no” and not feel guilty. They also need to know that if they feel hounded, something is awry in the fundraising process. 

In the end, giving to charity should be a source of pleasure and satisfaction for the donor. When it’s a source of guilt and anxiety instead, we know something has gone very wrong.

Joe Saxton

Donor you agree? Or have we raised your ire? Leave us a comment below. 

Joe originally wrote this piece for - you can view that one here.


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