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A reputation on the brink risks long term income

The Management Centre

The brilliant sunshine, the beauty of Richmond Park and the effort of running after a week off even combined were not enough to take my mind off fundraising this morning. Angela Cluff

It has been a week of media onslaught on our ethics and practices, with more today. If you are a director of fundraising I salute you for turning up to work. (I also salute those who have taken action by writing to donors to re-assure them directly.)

Like me, I’m sure you became a fundraiser to change the world, to help the migrant crisis, to save bees from climate change, to rebuild health systems after Ebola or any one of a myriad of vital, compelling and urgent causes that it would be morally repugnant to turn away from. But like me you’re anxious about the reputation our profession seems to be gaining.

There’s already been a lot written and a lot said this week about the problem we face. See https://tobinaldrich.wordpress.com and http://www.queerideas.co.uk for two of the best blogs I’ve seen. For me, our reputation is on the brink. And I do think reputation links to long term income. The media onslaught will come and go. Regulation may change. But our reputation – of at least trying to do the right thing – drives support. We squander it at our peril.

The Institute of Fundraising’s National Convention offered an opportunity for discussion with fellow professionals. What struck me from many of the conversations I had, was that we fundraisers aren’t too different from donors.

We too find some forms of fundraising downright irritating. I sat with one director of fundraising who didn’t answer her phone because she recognised the number as a call for a direct debit. Another confessed he personally objects to door to door fundraising. And I have wanted to scream at the number of repeat emails this week alone I have received from an organisation that I have taken one campaigning action for. Yes we all know on mass they ‘work’. But at what cost?

I think we are driving donors to stop giving, stop raising money or stop campaigning for fear of and irritation at what we will do to them if they do give, raise or campaign. That won’t be solved by regulation, codes or raising standards. It requires a fundamental rethink about what we want to achieve and how best we achieve it.

We need to put the needs and interests of the donor at the heart of everything we do. So thinking about what I respond well – and badly to – here are some things you can ask me to do and some that really annoy me.

You can ask me to increase my regular gift at least once a year (although some of you still don’t do this). You can ask me to give a gift on top of my regular gift whenever you have a specific reason. You can stop me on the street, you can ring me, you can email me and you can text me, provided I not already asked you not to.

But please if I say ‘no’, hear no and respect it. It probably doesn’t mean “no go away and never talk to me again”, but it might mean I’m not ready to give more or give again (yet) or perhaps I don’t like this form of communication. When you hear no ask me about no – can you call me again (or not)? Would I prefer you to contact me in a different way? Am I interested in your cause? Every time you ignore what I say you’re reinforcing my gut reaction to ignore you.

Banning forms of fundraising is ridiculous – as my talks with fundraisers this week demonstrated we are all irritated by some – but different – activities. The trouble is it is hard to predict who is going to be irritated by what. But if we all continue to just bang our head against the wall and carry on doing the same activity to donors who are not responding – or even worse, saying no – we are driving our long term potential down. And that’s not how fundraisers can contribute to saving the world. Which is what I want to get on with.

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Clare Segal, Director

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