Stephen Cook: Fundraising is about striking the right balance between charity and donor

Many convention sessions contain brilliant ideas for achieving this, writes the editor of Third Sector

Stephen Cook
Stephen Cook

In an interview to be published tomorrow in Convention Daily, the newspaper that Third Sector produces for delegates, Beth Breeze of the University of Kent makes two key points about fundraising. The first is that people like to give - it makes them feel good and can even be good for their health. The second, somewhat paradoxically, is that being asked to give is not necessarily a pleasurable experience: it can result in mixed feelings, including resentment or guilt.

Some people - a number of the wealthy or the unusually benevolent - will do their giving unprompted. But in the main it falls to fundraisers to bridge the gap between those two emotional truths pointed out by Breeze, with all the uncertainty and risk that involves in a society where there is no consensus about giving.

At one end of the spectrum, for example, some people feel it right to give a tenth of their income, following the old religious principle of the tithe; at the other end are those who think the functions of charity should be carried out by the taxpayer-funded welfare state. It can be hard to predict what attitude individuals will take.

The greatest reward for fundraisers is to receive a positive answer from a happy donor. Alternatively, they might get a negative answer from someone who doesn't feel bad about saying no, in which case no damage is done.

It's more troubling when they get a positive answer from an unhappy customer - someone who does give, but who feels pressured or guilt-tripped and goes away feeling bad; the worst scenario is that they are told no, and the customer goes away feeling antagonistic towards fundraisers - and possibly towards charity and giving in general.

Striking the right balance in this delicate negotiation between charity and donor is what professional fundraising is all about, and many of the sessions at the convention tease out the latest ideas - some of them brilliant, others less so.

Some fundraisers are less concerned than others about upsetting potential donors; they think that, if people don't like being asked, they should just deal with it - and anyway they're less upset than they say they are. But the best have this aspect high in their minds - they know that people need to feel good about giving, and that a one-off donation is worth little if it's going to be last one they - or other charities - will get.

Stephen Cook is editor of Third Sector

- Read more on this year's IoF National Convention

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