Graham Kirby: Supporters should be heard at the top of charities

More transparent engagement might be uncomfortable for big charities, but in the world of social media it is becoming necessary, writes the former telephone fundraiser

Graham Kirby
Graham Kirby

Deference is dead. The sound you can hear is Twitter hammering the final nail into the coffin. The way that people interact with institutions has changed fundamentally. Increasingly, we are active participants rather than just passive subjects. Yet charities – which are supposed to harness people power for their campaigns – have failed to alter their unresponsive, top-down structures.

Is that why there is a deficit of trust? As a fundraiser, I heard the public's anger about high executive pay, controversial fundraising methods and administrative waste. So the danger for national charities is that people will turn away from them towards smaller, local organisations in which confidence is higher and which will hear their voices more easily. So the struggle for national charities to recruit supporters could get harder.

Why don't we make governance appointments more transparent and trustees accountable to supporters? Why not create forums where difficult questions can be asked – answered, even – and people can be brought into decision-making processes? Supporters' voices should be heard at the very top of charities.

Such engagement might be uncomfortable; but if charities truly want to be agents for social improvement, shouldn't their structures reflect that? And the beauty of technology is that the process can be cost-effective. Welcoming supporters as team members might help them understand the solutions for which charities imperfectly strive. And you never know – charities might find that these participants become more generous and committed supporters.

Graham Kirby is a former project manager and telephone fundraiser

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