Alistair McLean: Face-to-face is a success, but we must consider quality as well as quantity

Better training would go a long way towards addressing public concern about street fundraising, says the chief executive of the Fundraising Standards Board

Alistair McLean
Alistair McLean

There is no doubt that face-to-face is a very successful fundraising technique. At its recent annual general meeting, the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association reported that more than 860,000 donors signed up on the street in 2011/12, the highest number ever.

But recent media coverage and comment from the public show that face-to-face can also be a real pinch point for public dissatisfaction about fundraising. It is by no means at the top of our complaints chart, but complaints have more than doubled over the past year to almost 1,100, against a relative volume drop of 22 per cent reported by our members. This clearly indicates that the public has some concerns.

More than 41 million approaches were made on the streets of the UK in 2011, meaning that many of the same people are being asked on a regular basis. It is crucial that the balance of quality against quantity is considered.

So how can fundraisers ensure they are making a clear and effective ask, without going too far, perhaps leaving the charity to pay recruitment fees for donors that aren’t going to stick with them? Fundraisers must balance the right to ask with the understanding that over-persistence might end up attracting only short-term donors. That’s not easy.

At the Fundraising Standards Board, we get feedback from the public and it strikes me that better training would go a long way towards improving the ask. Many fundraisers have little or no experience before they set out on the street to represent some of the largest charity brands in the world. It is crucial that the right people are recruited and properly trained – about the process, best practice and the charities behind each campaign.

The institute’s code for face-to-face fundraising clearly sets out the standards expected of fundraisers, and the PFRA’s rule book goes even further. Spot checks like the ones carried out by the PFRA are an important way of finding out if everything is going smoothly. Charities must also make sure that any third party working for them is committed to these standards.

All this comes at a cost, but how do you put a cost on the potential reputational damage and the knock-on effect on public trust and confidence in the sector when things go wrong?

Alistair McLean is chief executive of the Fundraising Standards Board

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