Over the last decade a slow motion drama has unfolded between fundraisers and the public from whom they want to fundraise. As fundraisers have had to raise ever more amounts to fund the work of their organisations, they have blocked their ears to the voices of donors who have tried to tell them that they don’t like the techniques they now deploy.
We have told ourselves that a mild irritation is a small price to pay for raising the money that changes lives. We have kidded ourselves that the end justifies the means.
We have hidden our heads in the sand when people tell us their stories of being ‘besieged’, of the multiple mailings they have received, of the telephone calls at home. Ironically, we have indeed let face-to-face fundraising act as the loathsome villain for the whole of fundraising. The volume of outcry from journalists and the public have let us be willing dupes and believe that face-to-face is the bad apple of the bunch. Face-to-face is not even the tip of the iceberg. Research we released just before Christmas
shows that face-to-face is third on the list after fundraising ‘on your doorstep’ and ‘telephone calls at home’.
Modern fundraising techniques can be hugely successful, but the very basis of that success is also the basis of the irritation. They literally and metaphorically stop people in their tracks.
Will we still have this logjam in five or ten years’ time? Will the fundraising community go on accepting irritation as a necessary by-product of modern fundraising. I don’t think we should. Aside from all the evidence we gather, two incidences for me have been critical.
As a company we have bought a couple of balloons in a virtual fundraising balloon race. For no major reason I decided not to take part this autumn. The charity has my mobile number, so when they ring me and as the number comes on my screen, I ignore the calls. I would guess they have tried to ring me 30 times. This feels to me like a bombardment of calls. Should we accept that its ok for a member of the public to be called 30 times without a response. When is enough, enough?
The second incident came out of a conversation with my dad. He’s a retired doctor. Active in his community and a donor to many charities. On a long car journey he told me about his frustration with the number of appeals and wondered whether the economics stacks up. He told me there is only one charity that has asked how often he wants to hear from them: Botton Village in North Yorkshire. From all the charities he supports, the only one that actually asks him as a donor what he wants is the one I first heard about on the fundraising circuit in the early 1990s. For all the talk of being donor-centric, of listening to supporters, only one (tiny) charity has been brave and foresighted over the last 25 years to regularly ask its supporters what they want. How depressing.
What is the fundraising community doing about this? All the Institute of Fundraising’s codes, the PFRA and the FRSB are a huge achievement and make me proud. But if every charity kept to every code would public irritation even diminish, let alone disappear? My heart says yes, my head says no.
We need to do more. Here are three simple ideas:
The ‘I don’t give on the street’ label pin. The telephone preference service (TPS) allows people to opt out of sales calls from anybody. We need some kind of visible symbol that people can wear which basically says ‘I don’t give to street fundraisers’. This would be a kind of TPS on the street. Street fundraisers would need to agree to simply ignore anybody wearing the badge.
The ‘I don’t give on the doorstep’ sticker. If people don’t want to give on the doorstep they should be allowed to opt out just as they are able to with the telephone. A simple sticker in the front window, as there used to be with free newspapers, would suffice.
FRSB membership means charities should ask their donors what they want. I think every fundraising direct marketing team that aspires to good practice should ask their donors how often they want to hear from them. Simple as that.
I realise that if these three proposals were implemented they would reduce the number of people who give. That makes me pause for thought. However I think the fundraising community needs to accept that the level of annoyance and aggravation felt about fundraising needs to be reduced. The current level is not sustainable.
These three suggestions would provide a simple way in which people can opt out of being asked and through which charities could begin to reduce the pressure cooker of frustration that many people feel.
Has Joe raised a good point? Or has your pressure cooker been turned up? Leave us a comment below.
This article also features on the Guardian's Voluntary Sector Network here. Joe is a regular columnist for the Network.