Thoughts following the reaction to Olive Cooke. Part 2

By Azadi Sheridan

Haven’t read Part 1? Read it now!

But Charities Have to Reach Donors

Fundraising is a competitive marketplace. Many charities compete to gain attention from a relatively small number of people with the capacity and propensity to give. This forces us to make gains wherever we can to bring a donation to our charity.

Roger Craver at The Agitator has strong views on this, and believes that the answer is to focus on retention. You then need to ask for money less often. “The true interests of the donor — given only lip service by the sector for decade upon decade — have truly been ignored” says Craver in his strong-worded response to Mrs Cooke’s death. “In short, the sector is finally paying the price for marketing at donors rather than partnering with them and listening to them”

Giles Pegram in April this year echoed the same sentiment: “Trustees look at cash received on a monthly basis. They are not being convinced that they should be looking at long term income, via donor satisfaction.” He followed this, in the thick of the Olive Cooke news, by saying in a blog on the seven things he would do differently as an appeals director if given the chance: “Spend at least as much on retention as you spend on recruitment.” A solution he proposes (along with Ken Burnett of Relationship Fundraising fame) is a commission to improve the donor experience.

But We Need to Fundraise To Make the World Better

We need fundraising in order to help make the world a better place. I do think the IoF’s Proud to be a Fundraiser is an excellent concept – that fundraising is a core part of charity. I worry that the sector is stuck in defensive mode and that the Daily Mail is on the lookout for yet more charity scandals rather than singing from the rooftops that fundraising is a blooming hard job, and that our society needs fundraisers to achieve, to succeed, to help make a difference in the world. This involves a lot of partners working together – both charities and for-profit organisations – doing work that the average donor doesn’t understand the subtleties of. However, Richard Turner describes the sector’s response as defensive and explains that “When attacked we are neurologically wired to defend. That’s how it feels the fundraising sector in the UK Is reacting. How to mitigate the damage. Where to place the blame.”

Adrian Salmon is a prominent name in the sector and his comments in this blog post really highlights some of this defensiveness:

“I read this post: www.thirdsector.co.uk/data-tells-public-fundraising-not-crisis/article/1356427 by Debra Allcock-Tyler yesterday, and the beginning of the third paragraph of it stood out and concerned me deeply:

“Of course there are bad apples that need to be well and truly mulched. Some of our private-sector, subcontracted fundraising organisations sometimes overstep the mark and don’t behave according to the values we expect. That’s because, unlike us, they’re in it for profit. But we stamp on them when we find out.”

‘It’s quite aggressive language from a sector leader towards suppliers the sector relies on, wouldn’t you say? ‘Mulched’, ‘we stamp on them’. Nasty. Not really the language of collaboration and partnership in a common cause.

“And I profoundly disagree with Debra’s analysis, “That’s because, unlike us, they’re in it for profit”. That’s an awful over-simplification. Simply being for-profit doesn’t mean you discard your values. No, the reason these practices have occurred is because they have been necessary to meet the demands of clients for ever higher results at ever lower cost. If a telephone or face to face agency wasn’t willing to do this, they faced the very real prospect of not being a viable concern.”

The Fundraising Standards Board’s reaction however has been to recommend wide-ranging changes to the Institute of Fundraising Code of Practice. This includes better protection for vulnerable people, clearer opt-in to names being shared on lists for third parties, and updates to opt-ins for telephone fundraising. There will be difficulties implementing this, but I really like that the changes are donor-focused. Thankfully, the IoF are starting to implement these changes in their code of practice starting with the opt-in check for TPS names.

Some of Olive Cooke’s family don’t agree that charity communication led to Olive’s death. Even if this is correct, this has brought to the surface a number of important concerns the public has about fundraising, and a change in how donors will be treated in the future. The latest news is that the FRSB and the ICO have an appetite to challenge charities abusing data protection, and I also see Oxfam reacting clearly and publicly to a different report about fundraising calling standards. It feels like the sector will come out of 2015 with a great deal of change. Change that makes giving donations better for donors – which has to be good for the fundraising sector, doesn’t it?

Haven’t read Part 1? Read it now!

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