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A Fundraising Defence Council? It depends what you want to defend

Do we need a Fundraising Defence Council to defend the sector’s “right to ask”, as Mark Astarita, the chair of the Institute of Fundraising, proposed at the IoF convention a few weeks ago?

We certainly would if some Guardian commentators got their way. One was quoted last year by Conservative MP Charlie Elphicke as saying we should “arm the unemployed with AK47s and allow them to shoot down chuggers like dogs”.

If that proposal comes to pass, then definitely the answer’s yes. But up until that point, do we need one? I think my answer is that it depends what you want to defend.

One thing that needs defending is charities’ right to spend money on fundraising.

The public don’t like charities spending cash on anything other than beneficiaries, and so charities tend to pretend all their money goes to the front line. This needs to change.

The British public aren’t stupid or stingy, just misinformed; and so someone needs to explain the truth: charities have to spend money on raising money. And, for that matter, they have to spend money on administration, too, because like everyone else, they need to pay their receptionists. And their rent.

So if that’s what you want a Fundraising Defence Council for, I’m all for it*. It’s past time, really, that someone explained the need to spend cash on fundraising.

But let’s be careful a defence council doesn’t turn into an attack council. Defending fundraising does not involve pretending it is beyond criticism.

Charities do sometimes get it wrong. Face-to-face fundraisers are sometimes too aggressive. The elderly and vulnerable are sometimes pestered by too much direct mail. There are streets where people get knocked up too often by door-to-door fundraisers.

The sector needs to face up to these facts, and improve its practices, rather than bluster and pretend that all fundraisers are as pure as the driven snow.

So if “defend our right to ask” means “defend our right to pester anyone we like, whenever we damn well please”, I’m not so sure.

* Although I’m not sure I like the name. It sounds a bit like an arm of NATO.