Our unique and extraordinary charity sector has suffered a series of damaging attacks. The Etherington report and a politically driven agenda threaten to undermine our fundraising practice and damage our work in a very serious way.
But this needs to be seen in a broader context, it is one of a number of other concerted attempts to silence and control the voice and power of the voluntary sector.
These have included the new Lobbying Act passed before the last election, which effectively silenced or subdued many important voices in the sector. Further measures are now being developed to tighten down on the space to campaign and challenge. This will be important for the government as the cuts to our public sector and society as a whole drive deeper into the body politic.
The recent attacks by the Daily Mail and the response of NCVO has suggested that the problem is not the lack of funds needed for addressing the scandal of inequality and poverty – but rather the overzealous efforts of fundraisers.
We also need to remember that the ‘scandal’ of the so called ‘Olive Cooke’ problem is not based on fact – it is not truthful reporting, her family has explicitly denied the link between her suicide and the charity mailings she received. The only so called ‘evidence ‘has been the reporting of some bad practice by suppliers and I do not know anyone working in fundraising who does not make real efforts every day to improve our work and our results.
However, we do have some robust evidence about how donors feel, through the recent survey by Professor Adrian Sargeant which surveyed over a million donors. The vast percentage of the many thousands who responded were satisfied with their experience as donors.
Of course there is always room for improvement in terms of best practice. Of course the drive for income can sometimes lead to short term thinking and poor performance. But all the charities I have worked with over the last 30 years take their donors seriously and work hard to improve their donor care – and it makes sense to do so.
The Daily Mail has a very poor history of driving ill-informed and dangerous campaigns. Perhaps one of the worse was a few years ago when they had a ‘shock horror’ story about the link between Autism and the MMR vaccine. This was not based on robust science and evidence – dramatic and inaccurate reporting led to serious damage to one of the ‘pearls’ of our public health programme – the vaccination of children.
And the ‘evidence’ used by the NCVO for their report – interviews with 27 members of the public, yes 27! And a very short consultation with other bodies which took place at the height of the holiday season in the August. The measures recommended – particularly the Fundraising Preference Service and the ‘opt in’ will be a disaster for our sector and an inappropriate sledgehammer to crack a very tiny nut.
These measures have been recommended by a hastily, poorly prepared report that does not even understand the consequences of the recommendations, one of the most damaging to the sector I have seen in my 30 years of fundraising.
We are facing a challenge now of serious damage being done to one of the other ‘ pearls’ of British society – our diverse, powerful and courageous charitable sector . A sector that has vaccinated millions of children, brought clean water to millions of thirsty people, that passionately works to protect our environment, our heritage and speaks out for those who are oppressed and in fear of their lives.
I am proud to have worked for so many brilliant charities – who struggle every day with such big and difficult issues, all over the world. I’m proud to be a Trustee of extraordinary charities working with passion, courage and evidence to save lives and make the world a better place – let’s not allow the vital donations for these great charities, big and small, to be compromised by the Daily Mail and all those who want to undermine and fetter our brave and important work.
Lyndall Stein is a leading authority in campaigning, income generation and communications. She has been working for a variety of organisations including CARE International UK, VSO and the New Economics Foundation, and was interim CEO at the Resource Alliance. She was Director of Marketing at the Terrence Higgins Trust 1997-1999 and Head of Fundraising from 1992-1995. She was the first Fundraising Director for the Big Issue Foundation from 1995-1997.
She developed the first individual fundraising program for the African National Congress in the 1980’s and chaired Votes for Freedom, the initiative that raised several million for South Africa’s first democratic election. She is Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Sheila Mckechnie Foundation which supports and trains campaigners.
Main image: sealed evidence by John Roman Images on Shutterstock.com
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