Where now for fundraising?

When fundraising is seen as a public enemy, for sure it’s time to change.

To coincide with last Wednesday’s launch of the Etherington Review* the BBC published a poll revealing that 52 per cent of donors who give regularly to charity by standing order or direct debit feel ‘pressurised’ by fundraisers into increasing their donations. Eighteen per cent said they feel under ‘a lot of pressure’. The editor of BBC Radio 4’s PM programme, Joanna Carr, said, ‘We commissioned this poll to give us a better understanding of how much pressure charity-givers actually feel they are under to increase their donations.’

So how much pressure is appropriate to get someone to give to charity? Is it ever OK for any donor, anywhere, to feel pressurised into making or increasing a voluntary gift? When does fundraising move from comfortable, to uncomfortable, to unacceptable? And does it really matter all that much?

Judging by the ‘tsunami’ of critical comment that has filled the UK popular press these last several months, the viewing and listening public seems to think it does. The Government, shocked by the national outrage as the fundraising horror stories piled ever higher, demanded a prompt investigation.  On the day his review was published Sir Stuart Etherington, chair of the review panel, said, ‘I wish to be clear that charity fundraising has never been more important…This is why it is particularly crucial that we get fundraising right.

Fundraisers clearly live in interesting times.

It seems unarguable. It’s time to construct a better future, not dwell on a tainted past. Yet incredibly some fundraisers still seem to feel that the problem here is not the under-regulated misbehaviours of target-driven fundraisers, but a biased and vindictive media exaggerating the views of a vocal minority.

So this horrible summer of 2015 has to serve as a wake–up call for our sector. Reputation, after all, depends on perception. And anyone who doesn’t see that for huge swathes of our population their perception of charity fundraising has taken an unprecedented battering simply isn’t living in the real world.

Business as usual for the nation’s fundraisers is no longer an option. Which, for donors everywhere and for the future prosperity of our fabulous voluntary sector if we get the next steps right, might yet turn out to be a very good thing.

This week a group of senior voluntary sector figures backed by more than 120 fundraisers and concerned others have announced initial plans to set up an independent commission to report on and recommend, in detail, best practice that will put donors, not financial targets, back at the heart of British fundraising. The Commission on the Donor Experience will be formally launched towards the end of 2015 under the chairmanship of respected broadcaster and voluntary sector veteran Martyn Lewis CBE.

A lot of words have been employed to describe and dissect our current dilemma. Rather than rehash those now, I’d like to quote a comment from a much loved and respected senior fundraiser who was recently diagnosed with a life-limiting medical condition.

She wrote,

‘This year has been a tough one for people in our wonderful profession. The work we all do, the difference we make and even the role and importance of giving itself is being called into question. 

‘As a fundraiser, I always knew that donations change and save lives. And now, as a ‘beneficiary’,
I am seeing that magic from the sharp end.’

Liz Monks

The point is, for Liz and thousands, maybe millions like her, we fundraisers have a responsibility, a precious duty entrusted to us to improve forever the way large sectors of our public view fundraising in Britain.

That’s why the large group of fundraisers mentioned above has come together in this initiative and is asking all parts of the voluntary sector to join with them in making this Commission effective. Its purpose will be to define and improve how donors experience fundraisers and fundraising, to turn that experience, consistently and dependably, from often irritating and uncomfortable into a joyful, life-affirming way for anyone to make a tangible difference in a world of need.

What will the Commission on the Donor Experience do?

It will work in six main areas to turn a well-documented and accepted theory of donor-centred fundraising into consistent, sustainable practice. It will focus at least as much on what fundraisers should do, as what they shouldn’t. And it will consult widely and borrow heavily to achieve this.

  1. It will distil and define our best understanding of what donors want and how they feel.
  2. It will identify practical things fundraisers can do to ensure donors stay at the heart of all their actions.
  3. It will share and communicate that experience far and wide.
  4. It will ensure a better experience for new donors at and around the time of their first support.
  5. It will look at training and equipping all fundraisers to deliver the best practical donor experience. It will seek to define the skills, attributes and personal qualities they’ll need.
  6. It will consider not just the body of existing knowledge, but also what we don’t yet know – how we might innovatively reinvent the donor/cause relationship.

The ideas underpinning the Commission are supported broadly across the sector. Now all fundraisers and interested parties are invited to support, encourage and become actively involved in helping the Commission to deliver its goals. This Commission will work for the benefit of all donors, on behalf of the entire voluntary sector. So please, do get involved.

See also Giles Pegram’s blog, here.

Consultation documents from the Commission on the Donor Experience will be published on its website www.donor-experience.com as soon as possible. (NB the website is not yet functional, but will be soon).  To register for updates about the Commission please email me here.

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(*) Regulating fundraising for the future: Trust in charities, confidence in fundraising regulation. Download here.

NB. in addition to publication on 101fundraising this article appears also on Ken Burnett’s blog and UK Fundraising.

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