Opinion: Hot issue - Do charities take enough care to respond properly to their donors?

A new mystery donor survey has shown that many large charities fail to deal effectively with donors who contact them by telephone, post or email - and sometimes give them the impression that their donations are not needed.

NO - CHARLOTTE BRAY, course director, Professional Fundraising Consultancy

I have given regularly to charities by direct debit for some time. Last year I went to Australia to work for an animal charity. I wrote to my charities explaining the withdrawal of funds and reassured them that I would recommence giving as soon as I returned to Britain. I also included a donation to each. Out of a dozen, only three responded.

Another example that I found disappointing involved an aggressive marketing campaign for a well-known charity. Having worked as a charity copywriter, I know that literature often has to be blunt to encourage a response.

This particular example was, I felt, excessive. However, I had compiled a list of charities to give to at Christmas, so I included them, but had to wait until all my finances were sorted. The charity promptly sent me another letter, again using emotional blackmail. I give to charities I respect and causes I believe in out of my own generosity and conscience.

I do not appreciate marketing that makes you feel selfish or guilty.

A simple effort to thank a donor ensures goodwill and continuous giving.

Many of the charities I donate to do send out a newsletter or a postcard to let you know how your money is being spent. These are the charities that I recommend to my friends and colleagues.

NO - DAVID SENIOR, marketing director, Action Planning fundraising consultants

There has been a substantial improvement in donor care over the past year, but there remains demonstrable scope for improvement.

Even our very largest donors sometimes receive off-hand treatment. Our research team recently asked some of Britain's biggest givers to share their experiences with charity representatives at our 'Raising Funds From the Rich' conference and there were some real horror stories. Dame Steve Shirley fulminated at six-figure donations that went unacknowledged.

Lord Gavron called a charity to check his gift had been received, only to be told: "We've been too busy to send 'thank you' letters; we've had millions in."

Most charities would never make such mistakes, but relatively few make full use of their supporter lists. These people already care sufficiently about your cause to make donations. Basic sifting techniques, such as looking for cheques from donors who use private bankers, can help identify those who could give much more. Nurture them, consult them, spend time exploring their motivations for supporting your cause and give them additional opportunities for involvement. There could be a handsome return on your investment.

NO - STEPHEN LEE, director, Centre for Voluntary Sector Management, Henley Management College

Although it is clearly the case that more and more charities are happy to 'talk the talk' of relationship fundraising, the practical reality of being at the donor end of this equation all too often remains a pretty grim experience. Only recently, one national charity, happy to proclaim my opportunity to 'choose' the nature of the relationship I wanted with them, proceeded to disregard completely my expressed choice to receive no further communication by sending me a further eight follow-up fundraising mailshots.

This otherwise laughable scenario is in fact no laughing matter at all, because it represents all that the public would wish charity marketing not to be.

Our continued overbearing recourse to the sales perspective in the vast majority of communications received by supporters may well deliver marginal increases in response rates in the short term, but it also reveals a lot about the sector's continued ignorance of what relationship marketing really demands if it is to be sustainable in the longer term - and that is not ever seeking simply to close the next deal on the donor. Sadly, this is exactly what far too much donor care means in practice in the current context.

NO - BETH BREEZE, deputy director, Institute for Philanthropy

The most surprising aspect of the news that many donors feel inadequately appreciated is that this 'dog bites man' story is still creating headlines.

Most analyses of Britain's persistent phenomenon of under-giving refer to bad experiences on the part of donors. Our study of major donors contains numerous accounts of large gifts being inadequately acknowledged - for example, with standard form letters signed by junior staffers. One donor, having heard nothing in response to a £30,000 cheque, called the charity to ensure it had arrived safely and was told: "We're glad you called as we wanted to thank you."

This is not just an indictment of fundraisers. Chief executives and trustees must also accept a leadership role in thanking and stewarding relationships with donors.

Of course, many charities do respond properly to their donors. Just as the public's experiences of different private and public sector organisations fall on a spectrum from impressive to abysmal, we should beware generalising about charities' treatment of donors. But knowing that a bruised donor is less likely to respond generously in future to any appeal means it is in all of our interests to raise standards of donor care across the sector.

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