Posts Tagged: charity fundraising

What the sacked chugger told me

Last week I interviewed the face-to-face fundraiser who was dismissed by development charity EveryChild after he left a folder containing donors’ direct debit details on a street in Norwich city centre.

The incident sparked an investigation by the Information Commissioner’s Office, which enforces the Data Protection Act.

But when we met, he had a bigger story to tell: a view from the front line of face-to-face fundraising. It was a story of targets, job insecurity, rivalry and frustration as even the best-performing fundraisers worried that a few bad days could cost them their jobs.

This led fundraisers to do things that were “ethically dubious,” he told me, such as pestering and pressuring members of the public and signing up friends and family members, knowing they would cancel their direct debits.

Charities will argue that everyone works to targets these days, and their beneficiaries would lose out if fundraisers didn’t raise funds.

But I think this approach is misguided. Street fundraisers are the first point of contact between a charity and the public, and it only takes a few bad apples to discredit the whole system of face-to-face fundraising which, if done well, can be a good source of income and an effective way of spreading a charity’s message.

The reality is that, like the EveryChild fundraiser, most street fundraisers are unaccustomed to the world of work. They’re young, enthusiastic, idealistic and often deeply committed to a charity’s cause – a great asset for the sector.

But they don’t respond well to being treated as cash cows: this fundraiser told me he felt “expendable” and was treated as “a statistic”. And when things go wrong, they go badly wrong, tarnishing charities in the eyes of people who could otherwise have become valuable donors.

Charities should adopt a different approach: they should lower the targets and reward fundraisers for building good relationships with members of the public, even if those people do not sign up.

They should see fundraisers as ambassadors and awareness-raisers too, perhaps combining ‘prospecting’ with fundraising so fundraisers can offer people the choice of giving immediately or being added to a list of supporters.

Granted, it wouldn’t raise as much money in the short term, and there’s no real guarantee that it would in the long-term either. But happy, committed fundraisers who are less prone to misbehaving – and more inclined to support the charity when they’re older, wealthier and more professional – could be just what the sector needs.

And what of the EveryChild fundraiser? He told me yesterday that he’s got a job at another charity, but not in street fundraising. I expect he’ll do well.

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Charities should respect scheduling restrictions on their television ads

The full report explaining the decision by the ASA this week not to uphold five complaints from television viewers about an advert by Care International shines some light on behind-the-scenes to-ing and fro-ing that goes on over scheduling restrictions applied to charity advertising.

The watchdog’s report explains how advertising clearance company Clearcast initially approved the advert with no timing restriction, even though it featured malnourished and distressed children. But after broadcasters expressed doubts, Clearcast added a proviso that television companies should consider carefully whether the ad should be broadcast in breaks around programmes for the under 9s.

Why would a charity seeking direct debits want to advertise on Cartoon Network and Boomerang in the first place? After all, infants won’t be donating £2 a month.

The answer lies in parent’s viewing habits: very often, they half watch and half listen to children’s television, often for hours. So for advertisers, avoiding a timing restriction at all costs – even a “consider carefully” note –becomes a goal in itself. Though intended as advice, such a note can cause broadcasters to balk at screening an ad, which in turn can hinder a charity’s plans to advertise to parents.

Care appears to have respected Clearcast’s decision and was rewarded with the ASA’s backing, but not every charity does so. Some charities and their agencies have been known to beg, plead, threaten, nag and even use emotional blackmail to persuade clearance staff and broadcasters to drop a proposed timing restriction.

How do I know? I used to work at Clearcast’s predecessor, the Broadcast Advertsing Clearance Centre, and I vividly recall how one inernational aid charity chief executive yelled at a colleague: “If people die because of this it will be your fault!” But such railroading more often than not proved counter productive, particularly when viewer complaints came rolling in.

The broadcasters know their audiences and keep in touch with their views. They are well placed to make sound decisions about scheduling restrictions, and their judgement is usually sound. Charities should respect it.

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Gravity could make virtual chugging a reality

Gravity is a new social networking site that could prove extremely useful for charity campaigning and fundraising. A number of charities and sector organisations, such as Whizz-Kidz and UK Fundraising, are already there.

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Charities’ public image on runners’ online forums is extremely low

A contributor to an online running forum I frequent recently told the tale of someone who’d secured a place in the London Marathon through a gold bond owned by a well-known charity, then pulled out because of injury. But she was being chased by the charity for the full amount she’d agreed to raise.

The thread eventually ran to nearly 300 posts, and threw up a range of issues we’ve all seen before, including pay rates for charity chief executives and the amount charities spend on administration. If we didn’t know it already, these are topics that stir up public passions – and not always in a positive way for the sector.

According to the contributor, the charity later relented and deferred the injured runner’s place: a sensible move that might well have kept the supporter onside.

As with any message board, some extreme opinions were voiced. One poster attacked the fundraising ‘feeding frenzy’ of the London Marathon, claiming charities had taken over an event founded only to improve the quality of British distance running (not entirely true: one founding principle was to raise money for sporting and recreational facilities in London; another emphasised the ‘fun’ element of the event).

It was even suggested that by becoming so charity-focused, the London Marathon was actually driving down standards of British marathon running – a debatable point at best, but sadly not the point of this blog post (unless anyone out there has an opinion).

It was predictable and hardly surprising that a large number of contributors said they would shun the charity involved in future and tell others to do the same, even after it had apparently changed its mind. More disturbing were those who said such indefensible actions as this were why they never ran for charity and rolled out their own stories of perfidious fundraisers attempting to extract money from them in all sorts of ways short of actual mugging. In some quarters it’s clear that the public image of the sector is extremely low.

Of course, some people spend their whole lives being outraged, and naturally I’m in danger of over-emphasising the importance of one tiny corner of the internet, a medium in which the most extreme voices – or, perhaps more correctly, the most negative voices – tend to shout loudest.

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Digitial media: put someone senior in charge

News online doesn’t just travel fast – it’s live. Twitter and other social media mean stories are published and read as they happen, which presents charities with a problem if they want to react quickly to events.

When news of the earthquake in Haiti broke on January 12, the American Red Cross didn’t hang around; it launched an email fundraising campaign three hours after the first story was published online, according to Thomas Gensemer, managing partner of digital media agency Blue State Digital, the company credited with the success of Barack Obama’s online election campaign.

I met him and his colleague, Matthew McGregor, the agency’s London director, last week and they explained why such organisational nimbleness is, for charities, in their words, “absolutely crucial to fundraising success”. Charities, they say, need plans in place to cut through hierarchies of sign-offs and approvals.

So what would a digital media-ready organisational structure look like?

McGregor describes digital media as “a thread that should run through the whole organsiation.” Gensemer suggests a senior member of staff coordinate digital media across all departments, including fundraising, press and so on. That way, he says, it’s taken seriously.

“It’s likely to be where we’ll be in a couple of years time,” he says.

Will senior charity executives take digital media seriously enough to take the tip now?

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MP ‘sees nothing but a fudge’ on phasing out of cheques

If charities thought cheques being phased out by 2018 was a foregone conclusion, they might have to think again.

The Payments Council proposed the move last year and has been consulting charities and sector umbrella bodies, as well as small businesses and other groups. Many, including Citizen’s Advice and the Institute of Fundraising, had come round to the idea that the end of cheques was inevitable and it was better to help the Payments Council manage the process than to campaign against it.

But the MPs on the Treasury select committee, which met at Portcullis House, Westminster, on Tuesday, were less easily swayed by the idea.

“I want to keep cheques,” John McFall, Labour and Co-operative Party MP and chair of the committee, told Paul Smee, the Payments Council’s chief executive, as he pulled a chequebook out of his pocket with a flourish.

“It’s beyond belief that the use of cheques is in terminal decline,” he said, pointing out that they accounted for transactions worth £1.4 trillion in 2008.

Andrew Tyrie, Conservative MP for Chichester, put Smee even more firmly non the spot. “Your members benefit from the decline of cheques,” he said. “What gives you the right to decide this?” Tyrie criticised Smee for being unable to provide an estimated figure for the how much the move would cost consumers.

Smee said the decision had been taken in a transparent way and in consultation with those affected by the phasing out of cheques. He said there would be a review in 2016, by which time the alternatives would have to be “available, accessible and already being used” in order for cheques to be phased out.

But that wasn’t enough to satisfy the MPs. “I can’t see anything other than a fudge here,” said McFall. Sir Peter Viggers, the Conservative MP for Gosport, summarised his view to laughs from the panel. “You and I are in terminal decline,” he said. “But we wouldn’t welcome the setting of an end date to close us down!”

So, should charities stop worrying about how they’ll live without cheques? The committee has no powers to prevent the move, but it has asked Smee to produce an independently verified cost-benefit analysis and then return to answer more questions. Smee was also warned that Parliament could, if necessary, intervene on the issue.

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Cashback websites promising charity donations? Don’t get excited

Last week was a busy one for online fundraising.

First, Oxfam announced the launch of Compare for Good, a price comparison website that will donate two thirds of its profits to the charity.

Then ‘cashback’ website Quidco announced it will follow suit. Like Compare for Good, it makes money from commission paid by online retailers for directing shoppers to their sites. It pays that money straight into shoppers’ bank accounts, but soon Quidco will start allowing users to give the cash to charities instead.

So should charities start getting excited about this ‘cash for free’? After all, Quidco claims it could raise £35m for the sector this year.

Well, not yet. Until December last year, the Clever Squirrel website, which reclaims advisers’ fees on insurance policies and other financial products that are sold directly to the public, gave the reclaimed money to charities.

But after it carried out research that found 20 times more people wanted to keep the money themselves than have it given to charity, Clever Squirrel started giving the money straight to individuals. Since then, it has seen its number of users skyrocket.

The Giving Machine, a site similar to Quidco that lets users give part of the commission payment to a school or registered charity, proves a similar point. Users can’t keep the ‘free’ money for themselves, but the majority choose to donate it to local schools rather than charities – presumably to help their own children.

The theory behind these sites is that if people are offered money for free, they’ll be happy to give it away. But it seems most people are not. Whether due to greed, hardship or a mixture of both, members of the public want to keep all the money they can get.

So I’d be very surprised if a lot of people started giving away their Quidco cash. The Compare for Good model, which doesn’t let users keep the money but does offer them a useful service, looks more viable for the time being.

That is, until another price comparison site starts putting its commission payments back in shoppers’ pockets.

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Making sense of social media is like herding cats

We had half-an-hour to go before the panel I was chairing at the Media 140 event on social media in the third sector event last week was due to face the audience. Fear was setting in.

Huddled in the corner, the panellists and I were chatting about the kinds of questions I would be putting to them before opening up the session to the audience in the room and on the web. And while we had all worked with social media, the sense that we might be out of our depth was creeping in.

“What does that question mean?” asked one panellist, pointing to the question ‘Where is our community?’ which had been suggested as a discussion topic.

“Er, not too sure to be honest,” I replied. After a bit of thought I figured we had better skip that one, much to the panel’s relief. No one could be quite sure if it was an important question or just gibberish (although I’m almost certain it was the latter).

Trying to identify what works and what doesn’t in social media is like trying to herd cats. Sometimes social media initiatives fail for no discernible reason. Sometimes they succeed, but we’re at a loss to know why.

Ten years ago most people were only just online, and we still had time to make a cup of coffee while our dial-up connections loaded up websites. So it’s laughable to think that anyone should already have some magic formula for something as emergent and bottom-up as social media.

We really shouldn’t get intimidated or worried by it, especially since there’s so little financial risk involved.

Social media is a chance to experiment and play. Your social media experiments might not result in what you planned, but the unexpected isn’t always the unwelcome.

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An extra five hundred million for charities? Here’s why See the Difference is too good to be true

According to Dominic Vallely, one of the founders of the soon-to-launch charity video sharing website See the Difference, it is like being at the beginning of Google. At least that’s what he told me when I visited his offices last week.

Vallely restated his bold claim in terms more relevant to the sector. “Children in Need and Comic Relief pioneered the idea of donating through a telethon,” he said. “We’re pioneering the next big thing: the video revolution for charities.”

It’s difficult to believe that fundraising is about to be radically shaken up – after all, a lot of charities already have videos on their websites and share these on Facebook and Twitter.

But Vallely, who was previously a senior producer at the BBC, has some big backers, including Microsoft and Virgin Money Giving. He’s ambitious: he has set the website a fundraising target of nearly £500m in its first five years.

And there’s more to it than just a library of charities’ videos, which would rely on donors bothering to go to the website and watch them. The point is to make the charities’ work a talking point, so people email videos to their friends and post them on their blogs and social networking pages, just like they do with YouTube already.

But before charities start getting over-excited, there are a few things to bear in mind. You can’t just send the videos you’ve already made: they have to fit the See the Difference model of telling a story that highlights a specific project, and pledging to tell supporters exactly how their money was spent.

This means making sometimes complicated accounting arrangements so you can ensure that £10 donated to a specific school in, say, Tanzania, is actually given to that school.

The site intends to cater for a young, headstrong generation who demand to know exactly how charities spend their money and who are sceptical that a monthly direct debit would be absorbed into general running costs.

If See the Difference gets these people giving, it will have succeeded where many charities have failed. But the website could have a different effect: of reducing unrestricted income as people give directly to specific projects.

And in the long term, it creates a cultural shift. Charities are telling their supporters, in effect, that they have a right to decide where their money goes. Surely a charity’s staff, who have knowledge and experience in their field, should decide on the most sensible allocation of funding? Will it become tough to raise general funds if a “donor choice” attitude becomes widespread?

But there could be £500m at stake here – about a one per cent increase in the total level of giving in 2008/09. For that amount, giving more of a say to demanding donors could be a risk worth taking.

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Sharing online applications? That’s charitable

Popular opinion has it that charities are reluctant to share expertise and resources with one another. Which is why Child’s i Foundation‘s promise to make available for free its digital tools to other charities stands out as an act of goodwill.

Digital expertise is something Child’s i has in spades. The British charity, which was set up in 2008 to build a home for abandoned babies in Uganda, makes a point of using only free or low-cost resources. Up until a few months ago, for example, its website was created solely out of a free WordPress blog, though it has recently switched to a more sophisticated site.

Its developers have also created a bespoke code for its Buy a Brick fundraising campaign online, which has so far raised more than £10,000. And soon, the charity promises, the codes to both the website and the Buy a Brick tool will be available free to any charity that wants to use them.

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