Fundraising news, ideas and inspiration for professional charity fundraisers

Who is a fundraiser (and who is going to save fundraising)?

Who is a fundraiser (and who is going to save fundraising)?

“Every city or house divided against itself shall not stand” Matthew 12:25

So far 584 telephone fundraisers, who each spoke to more donors in a single day than any fundraising director does in a year, lost their jobs. And it’s surely only a matter of time before many more street and door fundraisers will be looking for work too.

Sacrificing 584 fundraisers to cover the asses of the people who hired them is a stain on our sector’s conscience.

A couple of years ago the then chair of the made a brilliant, impassioned speech, calling on the sector to get behind the people who did the hard work of actually asking for money, crying

“…if you spend it, you should be bloody proud of those that raise it.”

Proud to be a fundraiser

Last year the ‘Proud Fundraiser’ campaign was launched to “promote the vital work fundraisers do and get entire charities behind the fundraising effort”.

Proud to be a fundraiser badge

Did we mean it, or was it just something we said at conferences to pep ourselves up? Where was that pride when it counted? Where is it for the 584 fundraisers suddenly out of work, with no warning, severance pay, or clue how they’ll pay the rent?

But maybe that’s not the sector’s responsibility – maybe they weren’t real fundraisers in the first place? The Directory of Social Change’s CEO couldn’t be clearer she doesn’t think they are:

“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.”

If that’s true we can be truly proud at how hard those 584 overstepping profit seekers have been stamped on! But is it true? It’s well publicised those at the top of the charities make pretty good personal profits. None of us should have a problem with that. In fact I bet all the coverage of fundraising director’s salaries and homes encouraged many to be the ‘best they can be’.


Charlie Hulme quotation on sacrificing 584 fundraisers' jobs

But what I’ve never understood is the mentality that says if you draw a salary to work for a single cause you are a pure fundraiser. Yet if you draw from the same pot for working for several you are somehow less so. It makes no sense (especially when you consider the massive migration of cause hopping careerists, and the constant crossover from charity to supplier and vice versa).

Daft, hypocritical but pervasive

However daft the logic, and hypocritical the attitude, it is none the less pervasive. No more so than now. And it’s killing the sector.

Have you ever noticed the people most vocal about the crisis in fundraising are usually the ones that wouldn’t be considered ‘real’ fundraisers by those who hire them to raise funds? Those with most contact with donors, those with a birds-eye view of the sector (by virtue of partnering with multiple charities), see things very differently than those who only see donors as anonymised data on a spreadsheet.

If instead of making 584 fundraisers unemployed we’d asked them what people were saying on the calls they were being paid to make, we’d see things differently. But first hand reports of enormous donor dissatisfaction are ignored in favour of the comforting data that says complaints aren’t rising and giving hasn’t dropped.


Mindless deference to spreadsheets

That would be great if it were true. But the trouble with a mindless deference to spreadsheets is data cannot answer questions you do not ask.

Girl playing hide and seek

Of course complaints haven’t risen – we know people find it hard to complain to a charity. And we make it incredibly hard for them to complain. Our approach to supporter services is the same one my two year old daughter takes to playing hide and seek – if she can’t see me then I’m not there.

Of course giving hasn’t dipped – it’s remained static for years. This doesn’t tell us there’s no crisis, it tells us the same people are giving the same amounts, regardless of our efforts.

If our only reaction to the latest media mauling is to play the blame game, make a few sacrifices, smooth off a few rough edges and carry on regardless then we may as well all go home now. Giving won’t dip.

All kinds of commissions are being called to make sure whoever we hire will “…behave according to the values we expect”. Fine. But where is the commission that addresses the root cause of the problem?

Where is the commission that will ask what the common denominator of all the bad press telephone, direct mail, street and door fundraising have had (and that mobile and digital inevitably will have) is? The panel that will say this clearly isn’t about channel but about the mentality with which we use it?

Where is the commission that will say we have reaped what we’ve sown? That says if we continue to treat donors as widgets on an assembly line, bombarding them with zero understanding of what they’d give to and why we’ll turn our sector into at best a nuisance at worst an irrelevance? And then none of us will be fundraisers.


Charlie Hulme is Managing Director of Donor Voice.



11,756 total views, 1 views today

  • cheesyfriday

    Dave, you think it’s bad that charities are “greedy”, but those greedy charities have ensured that more people have access to clean water and vaccinations than at any time in history. They didn’t do that by sitting on the sidelines waiting for people like you to notice them. They did it be making themselves and their cuases well known.
    The meek may inherit the earth eventually(as I see you like bible quotes), but they aren’t going to end world hunger in the meantime.
    The sector is getting it right now because an unholy alliance of right wing papers are intent on destroying everything that they percieve as left wing. The NHS, the BBC, the union movement, the welfare state. If you think it’s any coincidence that the Mail/Times/Sun axis has chosen this moment to attack charities and fundraisers then wait and see who they come for next. You don’t have to look hard to see the agenda, it’s barely hidden.
    There may be some examples of bad practice in the sector but they’re far outnumbered by examples of positive change and amazing work, and to see this undermined by the kind of newspapers that would hack a missing school girls voicemail is disgusting, disgraceful and indefensible. That they should do it in the name of a woman who spent her life fundraising for charities and who wished no harm to come to those good causes just adds and extra layer of filth to a grubby attack by grubby newspapers.

    • Dave

      Dear, oh dear.

      Two quotes for you from the above article.

      “If our only reaction to the latest media mauling is to play the blame
      game, make a few sacrifices, smooth off a few rough edges and carry on
      regardless then we may as well all go home now. Giving won’t dip”

      “Where is the commission that will say we have reaped what we’ve sown?
      That says if we continue to treat donors as widgets on an assembly line,
      bombarding them with zero understanding of what they’d give to and why
      we’ll turn our sector into at best a nuisance at worst an irrelevance?
      And then none of us will be fundraisers”.

      I’m afraid that’s the point being put forward by the author and I fully agree with it. I don’t think you took the time or the care to read what was being proposed. My point is – and which I think you deliberately ignored so you could have a little rant – is that smaller charities treat me with more respect as a donor than the larger ones who keep cropping in this kind of scandal, be it street or telephone fundraising, time after time. For example: If I receive a phone call asking me to increase my donation and have to say “no” 3 times before my response is accepted then I find that is incredibly disrespectul to me as a donor. The ends do not justify the means – and I think I’ve had enough experience of pushy fundraising tactics to decide which charites I will and will not support. In short I’m afraid I won’t be swayed by your lazy attitude which takes exception at the fact my patience with the methods employed by certain organisations has been exhausted to the point that I no longer want anything to do with them. That’s the fault of the charity and its fundraising strategy – not me. I’ll just take my donations elsewhere to another organisation. It’s the loss of the charity and there’s enough of them out there for me to pick and choose who I give to.

      As far as your conspiracy worldview (axis of the Mail/Times/Sun –
      really?, axis of evil is it?) goes I’m afraid it’s probably a little
      less dramatic than you imply. Charities have always a target for media
      attention (as have public services, hospitals, schools, companies, media
      personalities etc. etc.) and generally when one outlet gets hold of a story
      the rest jump on the bandwagon. This story has also been covered and discussed in the Guardian, the Independent and the Times. Or are they all in this conspiracy of yours?

      The whole gist of this article warns against oversimplifying the issues and taking a reactionary position which is too easily adopted by you and “people like you”. I’m afraid the sector is “getting it” because self regulation has failed, too many charities have put securing additional donations above the donor relationship and grubby practices were exposed by the tabloids which would never have come to light otherwise. That’s all there is to it.

  • Dave

    Good grief –

    First of all charity fundraising has always been a target for the newspapers. It hasn’t *just* happened. You may dislike the coverage from certain newspapers. However I did not dispute your assessment of “grubby journalism”. They’re tabloids for gods sake! What did you expect? They demonise everyone – not just fundraisers! (However your critique of the the press goes beyond the debates in fundraising and into wider debate on how issues are represented in the media and whether self regulation is effective. It’s a non-starter and distracts from the issues raised by this article). I did point out to you that critiques of fundraising go beyond your “unholy alliance” therefore you can’t just blame particular elements of the press for giving you a bad rap.

    Secondly fundraising does need to improve. I can tell you that from my personal experience as a potential donor. I can tell you that some charities approaches have been unnecessarily intrusive and counter-productive. I can also tell you that I’ve found responses from “supporter care teams” superficial and finally I can tell you that it’s the larger charities (I won’t name drop – I wouldn’t want you to accuse me of running a smear campaign) that I’ve had that experience with and which hasn’t been repeated with smaller organisations. My statement, as I indicated in my initial post and in my reply to you, was based on experience – not assumption. How you’ve “pretty much stated” me is a deliberate misrepresentation of what I wrote (again!). In fact had I felt listened to by a so-called supporter care teams I may well have softened my stance to those organisations. Your assertion that I simply “disagree with some fundraising practices” as if it is a preference is simply inaccurate . I won’t go into detail but suffice to say I experienced repeated breaches of the code of conduct. And as I pointed out the ends don’t justify the means. Fundraising is a competitive market (there’s only so much avaialble funds that I have) – and charities need to make sure that they get the approach to the donor right. I am under no obligation to give to the first organisation that asks me – and if a charity fools around and doesn’t monitor it’s fundraisers properly then that trust has been broken. It also makes the whole decision about who I give to a hell of a lot easier.

    ” But first hand reports of enormous donor dissatisfaction are ignored in
    favour of the comforting data that says complaints aren’t rising and
    giving hasn’t dropped.”

    From the above article.

    In fact judging from your responses – and your obsession with the media coverage which was an issue that you introduced, neglecting the position put forward in the article above, – my guess is you probably work as a fundraiser (probably in one of the entry level grades, street or phone – not a team leader) and for one of the larger charities. It would certainly explain your tone – especially your last paragraph.

    My point is – and I’ll say it again – is that those smaller organisations have secured me as an ongoing donor long term. So instead of taking offence at what I’ve said – maybe you should be asking what it is that those organisations have done – and are still doing – right to keep me on their books…

    • cheesyfriday

      Dave, whilst fundraising (along with all the other institutions I mentioned, unions, the BBC etc.) have always been targets for the press I don’t think I’m alone in believing that the current level and tone of coverage is unusual, if not unprecedented. The unexpected election result in May (no-one expected such a large Tory majority) has emboldened the right wing politicians and press to push harder than they had previously dared. You may think it’s a leap to link this to the coverage of charity fundraising, but to me it links in to a press narrative that dehumanizes migrants, portrays disabled people as lazy, and insists the foreign aid budget is a waste. It’s a narrative of greed, spite and selfishness. You mention that it’s not just the Sun, Mail and Telegraph who’ve covered this, but you can’t surely dispute that the coverage has been more negative in those papers than the Guardian and Independent? (The Times is almost as Tory as the Telegraph so I expect more of the same from them).

      You say that you don’t dispute that much of the journalism around fundraising is “grubby”, yet you also state that the sector is “getting everything it deserves”
      So does it deserve to be demonized in the tabloid press? Does it deserve for it’s CEO’s to have their house prices printed as if they were a news story. Does the RSPCA deserve to be “hounded” (pun intended) by pro fox hunting newspapers (including broadsheets BTW)? And just because “that’s what tabloids do” does that mean everyone should just accept it?

      Referencing the article, do 584 fundraisers deserve to lose their jobs?

      You ask “what did you expect?”, well I expect a bit more honesty from those at the top, and a more robust defence of those they employ to do the heavy lifting.

      I expect at least one newspaper to offer a counterpoint to the current press onslaught. (The Guardian has done a fair bit of this but even they caved in eventually and ran some negative pieces before going quiet on the issue.)

      And I expect some reference to what has been achieved with the money raised, because currently the press are able to dictate a narrative that implies that a) fundraising is annoying, b) it’s not cost effective and c) all of the money is wasted.

      You may disagree, but I think that people’s perception of fundraising is coloured by their perception of it’s effectiveness and usefulness. Supporters and the public in general are likely to find any kind of fundraising more irritating if they believe it’s useless or downright corrupt.

      But finally, yes, I do expect the sector to change and improve. We are in full agreement on that.

      But as the above article suggests, it’s disingenuous to pretend that this is all the fault of greedy paid fundraisers taking advantage of pure and noble charities, and it’s not a reasonable response to use them as a human shield against press criticism.
      (And BTW, media coverage wasn’t an idea I introduced, it’s in the article we’re commentating on, so I naturally assumed it was part of the “everything it deserves” that you referred to in your first post. 584 fundraisers wouldn’t have lost their jobs without that media coverage so it’s pertinent to the issue we’re discussing.)

      You mention several times that smaller charities treat you with more respect, more as an individual. Of course they do! They have less supporters to care for, and you as an individual are a larger proportion of their revenue. And you are correct, large charities should be doing the same for all of their donors. Lots of them talk about it, few of them do it.

      But those same large charities are called to account for the fundraising budget more publicly (yes, media again, but seeing as how that’s where most supporters get their information from it’s quite relevant), so the temptation to keep costs down by treating supporters as units on a balance sheet and outsourcing to the cheapest supplier must be high. I do not dispute that this is a bad way to treat donors. But if it’s going to change then charities need to start justifying spending more on fundraising to potentially, in the short term, raise less. And if they’re not prepared to start fighting their corner about why they’re important and why fundraising is at heart of everything they do then that change is going to be even harder for them to justify.

      If I have misrepresented your point of view then I can only repeat “I’m sure your view of things is more nuanced than your first comment would suggest”, and your subsequent comments have conformed that indeed, it is more nuanced and evidenced than your first comment, and I don’t disagree with most of what you’ve said or indeed the premise of the article.

      What I do profoundly disagree with is the way that the sector is allowing the debate to be framed and the way they’re allowing a few sections of the press dictate the narrative.

      • Dave

        This is my last post on this subject.

        We’re going to have to disagree on the press coverage – it is nothing new. The same furore happened a few years ago with TAG campaigns (2012 – Daily Telegraph – found to be in breach of code of conduct by FRSB). Suffice to say some reports of the tragic story of Olive Cooke were handled insensitively – or grubby – and for clarity I do not dispute that. However other coverage which is perceived as negative does not necessarily mean grubby. There are plenty of examples of coverage which were quite rightly reported (such as a certain environmental organisations financial woes). That could be argued as negative – for me that’s information.

        If elements of the sector do not regulate fundraising activities properly (which in my experience many a time it didn’t), doesn’t respond to donors concerns effectively (which again it didn’t in my case – several times) then unfortunately I do lack sympathy when those same issues end up on the front page of the tabloids.There are plenty of people working within the charity sector who also agree the direction of travel is wrong (the ex-company director of Gogen for one – which I didn’t expect: see below) – their voices just aren’t heard as often.

        In respect of Gogen the fact is no-one is clear as to how many rules were broken and whether the practices reported by the Mail was from a maverick or more widespread. My suspicion it’s the latter (targets do have a habit of encouraging perverse behaviour) although I’m happy to be corrected when the FRSB issue their final report. I would note Gogen had a complaint upheld against them by the FRSB back in Oct 2014 They were always going to be a target for any media interest – and it could be argued as whether anything went wrong in respect of the FRSB taking their eye of the ball. That hasn’t made it into the media as far as I’m aware – probably just as well.

        (By the way just to mention that I didn’t tip off the Daily Mail. The initiative was all theirs)

        The comments from GoGen’s company director, Giuseppe Iantosca, makes for interesting reading.

        ““Whether we knock on doors, stop people in the street, telephone or mail
        them, it needs to be done in a more responsible way, with clearer
        guidance, more support and less pressure. It is vitally important that
        charities and industry bodies take more responsibility for the
        fundraising that happens under their watch, including that by the
        agencies they instruct to carry out their work”

        No argument from me. I’ve held that view for a few years.

        Organisations that can afford to use particular fundraising strategies need to think carefully about the impact they have on potential donors. As I’ve said – it’s a market – and the deciding factor will be the individual experience of the donor. Charities need to be a lot smarter on what they do and how they engage people. Goodwill will only go so far.

        As a way forward a lot could change if the powers that be – the IOF / FRSB – took the not-so-radical but as far as I know unprecedented step of consulting with the public – fundraising market research!. Properly! Not appealing to amounts of money raised or low numbers of (reported) complaints or moralising on the duty of charities to act on behalf of their beneficiaries, but taking time out to actually talk to people/donors/potential donors and find out what is – or isn’t – working for them. It could provide a credible alternative to the media narrative (or worst case scenario – reinforce it) and at least it would give an impression that the charity sector is listening. Or it could even take a step further and advise people on how to become smart donors – how to research charities for themselves. Make information accessible – or just tell people that it exists.

        Mounting a defence of fundraising as some individuals/organisations currently do without asking joe (or jane) public what they think is going to leave them wide open and until that discussion happens I’m afraid my view is that (collectively) the sector is inviting the current hostility upon itself (although points go to Friends of the Earth for making the effort to contact its donors on the back of the media coverage). The industry bodies bear a lot of responsibility here. There’s enough highly paid individuals in the IOF, FRSB & PFRA who could pull some levers and start to have that open conversation with the public. It should have been had years ago (2012, the investigation into TAG Campaigns and the ensuing media circus was the last wake-up call they had) – and the fact that they still aren’t having one speaks volumes.

        • cheesyfriday

          Thanks for your reply, and I too will make this my last comment.
          I agree with most of what you’ve just outlined, but as I mentioned before, if we are to have this conversation (about fundraising methods in general) then we can’t stand idly by and allow tabloids to dictate the narrative. But I agree with you 100% that we can’t and shouldn’t ignore or avoid the opinion of donors. As I’ve outlined previously, I believe the tone that papers take on fundraising will and does influence people’s views, and if we allow those papers to poison the debate before we even start then it could sour the relationship between charities and donors even further.
          We will have to agree to disagree on the press coverage, and let’s see where they go next. I feel there’s an all out assault on compassion going on in our newspapers (unless you’re a Lion with an english name in which case there’s compassion in abundance), and it makes me uncomfortable. But I don’t believe that the sector is above criticism, I just reserve the right to reply.
          We shall also have to disagree on how much hostility the sector deserves, but again, to clarify, that doesn’t mean I believe it’s blameless or deserves a free pass. But the people in the front line who’ve lost their jobs don’t deserve to be demonized for doing a difficult job and raising millions of pounds, and in the vast majority of (unreported) cases, doing it very well. If it was all universally awful then it wouldn’t have worked at all.
          Thanks for your time, and for sharing your views, it’s been an interesting conversation.

  • RichT23

    I know exactly what you mean. Have you seen this article in the notoriously politically motivated “Bury Times” written by a representative of that well known anti-left wing organisation Age UK? It’s an absolute shocker – with its obviously exaggerated anecdotal evidence – from a supposed eye witness. When will this media persecution stop? Such appalling misrepresentation and grubby journalism for not presenting fundraising in a consistently positive light. Why I’ve a good mind to stop giving to this “charity” that supports and helps old people as a protest!

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