Have charities put fundraising before ethics, or are we all being judged by the worst of our colleagues?

FundraisingOver the last year or so, charities have been heavily criticised for their fundraising activities, not least following the tragic death of 93 year old Olive Cooke. In response, many charities have changed their fundraising habits.

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) has decided that they will only ask for donations from people who have given them expressed permission to be asked. They have calculated that this will cost them £35 million in lost revenue.

The British Red Cross has made a similar commitment. It expects its income from direct marketing to drop by up to 20%.

I am not sure whether this approach is correct, but might reflect the unease within these organisations about how large charities have behaved.

Surely we must be allowed to ask the public to support our work, but I agree that there should be limits on how we should do this. Pestering people with repeated direct mailings and phone calls, and chuggers on the streets who try to get you to take out a standing order for what is probably very worthwhile cause, have done a great disservice to charities.

At BHT we have been undertaking a review on our fundraising activities. Over recent years we have tried a number of community fundraising activities but, moving forward, we are likely to do far less of these high profile activities. We are still committed to having people running the Brighton Marathon and the Half Marathon, as well as the Brighton to Paris Cycle Ride.

Instead we are working with some other organisations who will be doing fundraising activities for us for free. (Our most recent Christmas Appeal video was professionally produced, again at no cost to BHT).

We regularly ask people to make standing order donations, and over the last year we have seen a significant increase in the number of people doing so.  We are extremely grateful for everyone who supports us this way.

I suspect that this increase in standing orders is down to two things:

  • growing concern about the number of people sleeping on the streets and,
  • the fact that we have actually asked people to donate in this way. In the past we have been far too British to do so!

What we do not do is bombard complete strangers with requests. We tend to put our appeals in our mailing lists and direct to people we come into contact with when speaking at churches or community groups.

We also ask people, through Facebook, our website and this blog, to support our work. (In case you wish to do so, please go to our website).

Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the National Council of Voluntary Organisations, has recently led a commission looking at fundraising with made recommendations to change practice. He has said: “Charities have been overfishing. If we hadn’t acted, they would have run out of fish”.

Parliament’s Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee held an enquiry in 2015 into fundraising and concluded that reforms to fundraising proposed by the Etherington Review did not go far enough.

Its chair, Bernard Jenkins MP, said that the reputations of charities across the board have been damaged. He focused on the important role that trustees should play: “This is the last chance for the trustees of charities, who allowed this to happen, to put their house in the order. Ultimately, the responsibility rests with them. No system of regulation can substitute for effective governance by trustees.”

Where I disagree with him is that not all charities can be treated the same. It is one thing to have several hundred people employed in your fundraising activities, costing hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Pounds. It is very different in organisations like BHT who do it on an absolute shoestring, expecting key members of staff to add these activities to their already heavy workloads.

Of course the rewards are different. We do not get anywhere near the same levels of income as some of our national partner organisations do. I will not accept the blame for the practice of others.

The one thing that we can guarantee in BHT is that if you were to take out a standing order it will be channelled to our work at First Base Day Centre which, over the next year, needs to fund raise £148,000 to support its work, or, if you prefer, to The Whitehawk Inn or our advice services. We really do need your support.

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