“I got out of fundraising 15 years ago after the head of fundraising at a leading charity told me that he didn’t care about the unethical behaviour of a ‘professional’ payroll giving fundraising organisation as they were bringing in income that meant he could hit his targets. Self-regulation didn’t work then and it seems that little has changed.”
I saw this comment on a blog recently, which made for pretty depressing reading. However, I have also heard quite a few senior managers comment recently that since the media attention on fundraising practices, it is first time that trustees have actually shown any interest in the methods of fundraising used.
So I think we can safely say that typically many charities have a focus on getting the money in rather than how they get the funds.
There are two significant things to do about this:
- Adopt and publicise an ethical code
- Change the way you set targets
Ethical code for fundraising
Your reputation is formed based on the views that others have about your organisation, so you can enhance your reputation by surpassing their expectations with an ethical code.
What should such a code contain?
• Explain the reasons why you fundraise and maybe the proportion of your overall income that is raised from donations and where the other income comes from.
• Given the media attention on it, it would be a good idea to focus on donor acquisition. Does your charity buy lists of names and addresses? Do you use agencies to cold call? Do you sell or swap lists?
• If you do buy in lists, then say so, but explain why you do it. Don’t hide the truth as you will make things worse if someone sees your statement and knows it isn’t untrue.
• If you use agencies, do you check them out before you use them? It may be a good investment to actually meet the agency staff and tell them about your charity and your work. Hopefully, the staff will be more motivated to do a good job for your charity. Some charities check what agencies are doing and saying with ‘mystery shopping’ during the contract as well.
• Don’t forget to state in your code what you do not do – lots of charities have forms of fundraising they will not use or companies they will not take sponsorship from because of a conflict with their charitable objects.
Putting a code on your website will only work if it is plain English, straightforward, honest, concise and in a fairly prominent place.
Once you have the code in the public domain, you had better make sure people follow it. You may need to instigate a regular compliance check. For example, you state in your code that you always remove names from your cold calling list if they register for the telephone preference service.
Mistakes can be made for example, a new member of staff may not know your code well enough or you are short of staff and a backlog builds up. You have stated your policy but it is easy for this to fail when it comes to practice. So regular testing on a sample of changes should be undertaken. This will help staff to see that you are taking it seriously, but also to quickly detect aspects of the system that are not working well enough.
Change the way you set targets
If you set fundraisers short-term financial targets, then you should not be surprised that they then focus all their efforts on achieving the target. This is what drives unethical behaviour.
If you adopt an ethical code, you need to also have coherent ways of measuring performance and rewarding staff. Think about the way you want fundraisers to behave and ensure that you are rewarding the right behaviour. For example, it would be possible to judge performance on the pipeline of legacies, the relationships with funders and major donors.
Fundraisers are set targets by boards. We need boards to understand fundraising better and be prepared to think about longer term targets, encouraging and incentivising the right behaviour.
Main image: Choosing lightbulb by Haresh Mamad on Shutterstock.com
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