Newsmaker: Candid man - Alan Gosschalk Director of fundraising, Shelter

Indira Das-Gupta

Alan Gosschalk is a man on a mission. The director of fundraising at Shelter is determined to restore public faith in charities and is leading the call for a pro-active campaign to address the issue. "We need to educate the media and move the focus away from costs," he says. "We are partly to blame ourselves for creating this perception that £2 a month can change the world. The fact is that this is not always the case."

Gosschalk has been arguing for the sector to shape up for more than a year, and now that he is leading the steering group looking into the matter he is perfectly placed to have a real influence on the future of charity fundraising. He first began to think about the need to improve its image following a series of scandals involving the Scottish charities Moonbeams and Breast Cancer Relief two years ago.

He says: "That really damaged public confidence - 52 per cent of the public said they were less likely to give to charity as a result. But there was a successful campaign in Scotland to turn things around.

"Shortly afterwards, there was a Money Box investigation into charity fundraising. But most charities that were approached to take part refused, presumably out of fear of being misrepresented. I decided to take part and it was fine. If I were a journalist, I would probably see their refusal to participate as a bit dodgy."

This straight talking and ability to admit that mistakes have been made is refreshing. In fact, Gosschalk hints that he would like to be even more candid, but is wary of looking like he is "slagging off the sector".

He will admit, however, that some of the public's misunderstanding has been perpetuated by the charities themselves. He says: "There has been a certain amount of competition about who has got the lowest costs, but low administration costs are only part of the picture. The public doesn't understand the need to invest money in securing a charity's future, and people think there's no regulation.

"Research also shows that people think the amount that goes to the cause itself is less than it really is. This means that we are not communicating properly."

Gosschalk hopes that the steering group will address these misconceptions through a co-ordinated response. It began life with representatives from about 10 similar-sized charities and, after consulting the NCVO, the top 50 charities were invited to join in.

Gosschalk explains: "We chose the biggest charities because they get the most publicity, and we reasoned that the smaller ones will follow in their footsteps. At our meeting in January, there was a unanimous agreement that something needed to be done, so the idea for a dedicated unit, jointly funded by the sector to tackle the problem, came about.

"The sector has a lot of work to do in educating both the public and the media, and it's not going to happen overnight. We need to get the message across and be consistent by reacting to scandals quickly and in a more pro-active sense."

Perhaps surprisingly, tougher regulations for street fundraisers, or 'chuggers', do not appear to be on Gosschalk's agenda. He says: "You only get money if you ask for it, and some people were critical of direct mail when it was first introduced. It's inevitable that people will sometimes overstep the mark, but in general I think it's an effective way of fundraising."

It is still too early to predict exactly what impact the steering group will have, with feedback coming in from charities until the end of the month. But if the first step to solving a problem is admitting it exists, then with Gosschalk's guidance the sector should already be well on its way.

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