Interview: Joe Saxton

The veteran campaigner who recently won the Institute of Fundraising award for 'lifetime contribution' tells Andy Hillier why he likes working on policy and reform

Joe Saxton
Joe Saxton

When Joe Saxton collected the Lifetime Contribution Award at the Institute of Fundraising National Awards earlier this month, he did not use his acceptance speech to thank the usual array of colleagues and family. Instead, he took the opportunity to talk about the need to liberate fundraising.

For Saxton, co-founder of the third sector research consultancy nfpSynergy and a former chair of the IoF, too much legislation prevents fundraisers from doing their jobs. He is particularly angered by the cap placed on charities that run lotteries. Under the existing rules, charities are prevented from running lotteries that have annual turnovers of more than £10m.

"When I look at lotteries, it's quite extraordinary," he says, speaking almost two weeks after winning the IoF award. "The £10m cap is designed to protect the National Lottery - and before we had the lottery it was a cap designed to prevent gambling. It amazes me that a Tory government is keen on stifling competition and promoting a monopoly."

The strict rule that at least 20 per cent of the proceeds from every lottery must go to good causes and no more than 80 per cent should be spent on running costs deters charities from setting them up, he says. "I've talked to organisations that have had to stop their lottery work because they couldn't build it up sufficiently so that every lottery they ran met the 80:20 per cent rule," he says. He would favour allowing charities to meet the 20 per cent rule over the space of a year or even three years.

Charities are placed at a further disadvantage, he says, because they are limited to offering only £400,000 in prize money and no one lottery game can exceed £4m in turnover.

Encouraging lotteries

So does this mean he supports the Health Lottery, set up by the media tycoon Richard Desmond, which has been criticised by some in the charity sector? "I'm agnostic about the Health Lottery," he says. "I don't think it's a good thing; I don't think it's a bad thing. But I'd rather have a market where lots of charities could compete freely and any charity could have a big lottery."

He is critical of the third sector representative bodies that have opposed the Health Lottery on the grounds that it gives only the minimum 20p in the pound to charities, compared with the 28p the National Lottery gives to good causes. Saxton believes that if all lotteries were required to give 28 per cent of the proceeds to good causes, it would cut the amount of money that charities raise because, given the running costs, fewer of them would be able to afford to set up lotteries.

Corporate Gift Aid is another area in need of reform, says Saxton, who points out that 10 years ago it was charities that received the tax relief when companies made donations. Then, in an effort to make giving more attractive to businesses, the rules changed so that the company received it instead. "I'm not aware of any evidence that this has sparked more giving by companies," he says. "It's time for a good analysis of that change in legislation." He points out that there would have to be a rise of 25 per cent in corporate charitable giving just to make up for the loss of tax repaid to charities.

Saxton is also critical of local councils for trying to limit face-to-face fundraising. He believes that they should be assisting charities to find alternative sources of funding to make up for the loss of council grants instead of fuelling the "face-to-face-hating trolls" by coming out with derogatory comments. He accepts that face-to-face fundraising can be an irritation, but says the benefits far outweigh the negatives. "If the choice is giving charities the chance to spend more on their beneficiaries or the public feeling a little squeamish about having to say no to a face-to-face fundraiser, then I'll come down on the side of the charity," he says. At the same time, he would like charities to use less intrusive approaches, such as poster advertising, to generate more text donations.

Promoting payroll giving

During his speech at the IoF Convention, Nick Hurd, the Minister for Civil Society, called for more ideas to promote payroll giving. Saxton, though, is scathing. "Payroll giving is the British Leyland of fundraising techniques," he says. "If Nick Hurd wants ideas, I have a simple one: it is called workplace fundraising."

Instead of asking employees to sign up to a payroll-giving scheme, says Saxton, they should be encouraged to set up direct debits for charities of their choice and then ask their employers to match the donation. "The costs are lower, and you create a better relationship between the staff member and the charity because you don't lose people when they move jobs."

Saxton stood down as chair of the IoF in 2008 and there are plenty of fundraising experts around, so why doesn't he leave fundraising policy to others? "I can still do things in fundraising that others can't," says Saxton. "I carry on being involved because I think there are very few people who like the policy side of fundraising - most fundraisers want to put their heads down and get on with fundraising."

CV

2004: Co-founder, nfpSynergy
2001: Head of not-for-profit, Future Foundation
1997: Director of communications, RNID
1991: Account director, rising to deputy director of client services, Brann Direct Marketing
1988: Supporters manager, rising to acting head of appeals, Oxfam

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