Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg

Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg
Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg © Gernot Keller, 2007
Blinkered Justice articles also appear on CrimeTalk and Government In The Lab

Monday, 20 June 2011

Fundraising (mal)practices

© Dr Barnados Homes
Yes, it has been some time.  My apologies for the delay in the next instalment.

I am returning with a story that I have had some personal experience of. Recently, I received a telephone call from a well-known charity asking me to increase my monthly donation. Despite explaining my personal circumstances, the fundraisers, whom I am assuming are the charity’s partners, ignored what I was telling them and continued to badger me for extra monies. My over-riding feeling following this phone call was a desire to withdraw my support; I have not done so. This was the second time that I have been pestered by a well-known charity in the exact same manner.

Third Force News report that fundraising complaints rose in 2010, following a report by the Fundraising Standards Board (FRSB). As one might imagine of an industry that regulates itself, the report lacks any real substance. It uses figures and percentages to sustain its findings, without offering much in the way of further insight. Whilst it notes the increased volume of complaints, it explains it away as being due to an increase in membership to the FRSB over the same period. Approximately 196 charities joined the FRSB during 2010, an increase of 21%. Yet, complaint levels rose by 66% overall. Therefore, there appears to be a threefold increase in the number of complaints that has not been explained adequately.

Compared to the number of complaints made in 2008, this years increase is another step in the wrong direction.  The main fundraising complaints (addressed direct mail, telephone, doorstep face to face) have increased significantly (279%) in the last 2 years. The FRSB report would benefit from explanations regarding how the figures were collated, what proportion of complaints were dealt at source etc. It should also consider including forms of qualitative evidence, in the form of charity fundraisers, and their customers comments, that might add further insight into the types of problems that they face.  

At the end of last year, David Robinson, a proponent of David Cameron’s “big society”, warned that government cuts to voluntary sector budgets would lead to welfare problems:

“Next year those who need our services – many amongst the most vulnerable in the country – will need them more. The expenditure cuts are a double whammy in communities like ours, increasing unemployment (the public sector is the biggest local employer) and closing services at the same time”.  
 “Without buildings, leadership, training, and support we can’t grow our “little platoons” quickly enough to fill the gaps. Indeed we won’t even be able to sustain them at their current level. Cuts in public expenditure in many areas of our work, coupled with major changes in Legal Aid and New Deal mean most of our budget for 2011/2012 is at risk. Ultimately this will diminish our community not make it stronger.”

Whilst these comments post-date what appears to have been taking place in the voluntary sector, it is a concern. If charities with larger budgets have already been targeting ordinary members of the public in a cold-calling, hard-sell fashion, then surely we can only expect to hear more from them over the next few years, when government cuts hits deeper. I understand the voluntary sector's need to secure private, as well as corporate funding.  However, it is obvious that they have outsourced this part of the business to private companies who have little/no interest in the aims of the charity that they represent. 

Charities serve a vital purpose, providing support to those in need. However, if the purpose of charity is to provide welfare support, the voluntary sector needs to re-assess how best to ensure continued help from members of the public; if they pursue their current fundraising practices, alienating those who donate is likely to cause further social harm rather than relieve it.

If anyone has been affected by questionable charitable fundraising techniques, then I would like to hear from you. Please either contact me by email, or leave your comments below. 
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