CONFERENCE PREVIEW: The Latest on Effective Asking

DOMINIC WOOD

How to make the processes of giving and receiving simpler will be a central topic at the Charities Aid Foundation's conference next week.

Borderless giving, the campaign to promote legacies, venture investment in charities, and the European Union as the world's largest donor will all be topics on the agenda for the expected 6,000 delegates to attend the Charities Aid Foundation's (CAF) annual conference next Thursday.

In the seminar "Legacies - exploring means and motivation", Professor Adrian Sargeant, chair of the Centre for Voluntary Sector Management at Henley Management College, will unveil the results of a new survey of 8,000 charity donors that will warm the hearts of direct marketers.

The people surveyed had either pledged a legacy or received a legacy communication from a charity. A third had been prompted to leave a legacy by a communication from a charity, while only a fifth had pledged to leave one because they had used the services of the charity.

Unobtrusive communications are the most favourable medium to raise the issue of legacies. Given the choice, 60 per cent would favour direct mail communications compared with 40 per cent choosing personal solicitations.

According to legacy specialist accountants Smee & Ford, the average residuary legacy is £23,040 and because of an ageing population, it is a growth market. However, despite huge potential benefits, the emotive nature of the subject prevents many charities from pushing the issue with direct marketing (DM).

Sargeant says: "The main problem is the idea that people are going to be upset by a DM communication. But our research suggests otherwise. An overwhelming 90 per cent of people felt that they would still give the same amount as a result of DM."

Even if some charities are swayed by this statistic, the stumbling block is that they find it hard to justify legacy spend. "They don't see the returns for such a long time and many allocate only a percentage of legacy income to their annual fundraising marketing spend," says Sargeant.

At the opposite end of the giving spectrum lies the world's biggest donor, the European Union. The problem for many charities, however, is that the EU is also the world's most difficult donor, beset by crippling bureaucracy, unsympathetic treatment by officials and delays in parting with promised cash.

In the seminar "Accessing the world's largest donor", Tony Venables, director at the European Citizen Action Service, will propose solutions to such complaints. "Judging by recent feedback there are some charities facing bankruptcy because of non-received funds and at the moment there are sometimes up to 15,000 applications for 150 grants, which is far too many. A simplified first round will prevent this."

He will also propose a prompt payment rule. "The general rule is to pay within 60 days. It should be 45 days. Problems occur because if the report isn't accepted they just stop the clock and hold up the whole amount, rather than part of it."

Larger projects must supply a bank guarantee for the commission to draw on in case the project is a failure and banks are not interested unless charities can give them full cash cover or capital to claim from. "Financial arrangements currently put far too much into a pre-determined straitjacket," says Venables.

CAF has been participating in initiatives to give charities greater choice in the way that they finance the work they do. It introduced Venturesome, the CAF Risk Capital Fund, in January. In the seminar "New ways to resource the sector", John Kingston, head of individual donor services at CAF, will be looking at its progress.

Kingston says: "Venturesome is positioned neither as a grant maker nor as a bank lender, but it is a supplier of 'patient capital'. It wants to get the money back so that it can be recycled to other charities. It aims to be paid back within three to five years, which is the lifetime of most projects and the right time to judge whether they are working or not."

But charities have to be concerned not just with getting the money. There are increasing calls for them to reveal what they are doing with the money, hence the seminar, "Should charities be more accountable?" This will focus on how charities should monitor their own performance. "The challenge for the sector is to come up with a scheme of its own," according to CAF's policy director Simon Hebditch, who will chair the seminar.

"We must first win the argument that charities should report on their own activities before deciding who does the independent verification," he says.

Accreditation will come under the spotlight. The cons of this, such as the element of mistrust it breeds, are outweighed by the final analysis, which Hebditch says, "will help to attract discerning donors if they can be assured that the money will be used in an effective way".

Like other sectors, the public sector is moving towards accreditation.

"There is no reason why charities should stand outside of that," says Hebditch.

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Flexible ticket options: Full day delegate (£140 + VAT) Morning seminar delegate (£65 +VAT) Afternoon seminar delegate (£65 + VAT) Workshops delegate (Free) Ticket hotline: 01732 520 074 Web site: www.CAFonline.org/conference ]]>

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