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Once again charities are being accused of irresponsible behaviour towards vulnerable donors. What should we be doing to avoid this?

The Management Centre

In this blog, =mc Fundraising expert Angela Cluff discusses the impact of the recent Olive Cooke story on charities and non-profits. Discover (or remind yourself) what works, what doesn’t, and what’s best for your donors…

Whatever the truth of the circumstances behind the sad death of Olive Cooke it raises serious issues for leaders in fundraising charities – fundraisers, senior teams and Boards.

Media coverage focussed, at least initially, on suggestions that she had been overwhelmed by ‘junk mail’ asking for money. Later reports said that Olive’s family thought charities were intrusive but not responsible for her death. Charities – some she supported, some she didn’t – lined up to defend their position.

But the damage has been done. And we’re left with yet another high profile media story about fundraising being more like selling double glazing than, well, selling double glazing.

Charities want reliable, unrestricted income – the sort of money that comes from small sum donors who give for all sorts of reasons at all sorts of times, often connected to things we can’t track or measure. We can’t possibly know each person individually but we can value and respect them. And that builds the trust needed for long term giving.

So how do you get that trust? There is a lot of noise about innovation and ‘being brave’ (brave?!). But why not first try these five boringly tried and tested things that might just get you the result you want:

  1. Give your supporters control over their giving:let them decide how and when they want to hear from you. This doesn’t mean don’t ask; it means ask well.
  2. Invest in the back room systems and processes that mean you know who they are: especially invest in the people who contact you, particularly those who phone. That’s the golden opportunity for your supporter care team to cement his or her passion for and commitment to your organisation – or to destroy it.
  3. Stop chasing short-term cash at any cost: invest in relationships that will drive long-term giving.
  4. Engage your CEO, senior team and Board in the discussion: say no to unachievable short-term goals that demand donors are treated as cashpoints.
  5. Stop doing things that put your organisation in the way of a donor’s desire to support your work.

Fundraising is not the same as selling – and here’s the difference. I need a mobile phone – as a working mum my life (and my children’s lives) doesn’t function without one. This automatically puts me on the back foot when it comes to dealing with a rubbish provider. So though I might rant and rave at their ineptitude, however badly they treat me I’m more likely than not to stay with them as I can’t risk even more disruption by moving my business.

If, on the other hand, a charity treats me badly, the answer is simple – I stop giving.

Two more examples. The first left me disappointed, the second will inspire me to do more. The day after the first Nepal earthquake I proactively gave to an international development agency. Within 24 hours they sent me an ‘offer’ to give again to unlock the benefit of a match fund. As a fundraiser, I get it. As a donor, my warm glow of giving was obliterated, and I was left instead feeling guilty that apparently I hadn’t done enough. It’s not about not asking, it is about asking in a way that continues to make me feel good about what I have already done and what I’m choosing to do now.

The second example – thank you Mind – convinced me there is a place for calling me on my landline. I hate charity calls at home – they’re always inconvenient and usually it’s really obvious what they want but they don’t say it. So a few months ago when Mind rang me about Gift Aid, I was ready to end the call as quickly as possible. But the caller was truly exceptional – no hint of a script, just a friendly professional call. I stayed on the line and Mind has my Gift Aid declaration – even though I’m pretty sure they had it already. I left the call happy and genuinely thinking better of Mind as an organisation. I haven’t yet made another gift – but at some point I will. Mind – unless someone from there is reading this – won’t know that call radically increased my connection to them.

Fundraising is not selling. Inspiring donors to believe in your organisation to solve the problem you exist to address is the only sustainable fundraising strategy. Do everything that aligns with that – and resist doing things that get in the way.

What’s next?

For further information on how =mc can help with your fundraising, visit our Fundraising Consultancy pages or call +44(0)20 7978 1516 to speak to a member of the team.

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Angela Cluff

About Angela Cluff

Angela is an expert in fundraising strategy and a specialist in major donor fundraising. She has led major consultancy projects for UK and international organisations including UNICEF International, MS...

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