Stephen Pidgeon: Where are the CEOs as we come under attack?

I grieve for senior fundraisers in the sector who are currently being hung out to dry in the media, writes our columnist

Stephen Pidgeon
Stephen Pidgeon

I've been on such an emotional rollercoaster these past few days. I'm writing this from the Institute of Fundraising's convention, though I'm aware you'll not be reading it for a couple of weeks. Bear with me. I grieve for my colleagues and friends - senior fundraisers in the sector who are currently being hung out to dry in the media. These are good people, dedicated people, who commit their energy and time to their causes because they can actually make a difference to people's lives. With the dead weight of their massive responsibilities, they deserve every penny they earn.

Sadly, this pressure will not disappear quickly. Far too many commentators, who should know better, are seizing the chance to catch the media's eye. But where are the quiet and powerful voices of the chief executives and trustees of our major charities, pointing out the phenomenal growth in fundraising achieved by our colleagues and the huge impact of this money on our beneficiaries? They are keeping their heads down, hoping the whole thing will go away. I'm pretty disgusted by most of them - although chief executive Justin Forsyth has this morning shown strong support for his fundraisers at Save the Children. Well done, Justin.

We have to make changes. If there is one conclusion we should draw from this onslaught, it is that we must, more robustly, resist pressure from the trustees to deliver short-term cash, demanding instead that they allow us to nurture our wonderful supporters in the expectation that one day, if we have treated them well, they will take pleasure in leaving us money in their wills.

But speaking of an emotional rollercoaster, this next emotion is incredulity. In a conference presentation, I learned of the new legacy marketing strategies of Barnardo's and the Children's Society. Similar charities in their fields of work, their roots in the church and so on, they'd both set about devising their new strategies in the same way. These delightful presenters showed how they'd researched their audience, trialled their propositions and chosen their creative platforms.

The outcome of these parallel strategies? Diametrically opposite! It is laughable (or very sad) that supposedly robust research can produce for Barnardo's a proposition based on "You can leave a vulnerable child someone they can turn to", but for the Children's Society ends up with the utterly predictable, ghastly "We've been fighting childhood poverty and neglect for over 130 years - please leave us a gift in your will".

But the biggest emotion for me this week was my fundraising colleagues' kindness in giving me the Lifetime Contribution Award at Monday's dinner. I really couldn't handle it - I have no idea how people make acceptance speeches. It was a very special moment in my life. I am enormously proud that I'm a fundraiser!

Stephen Pidgeon is a consultant and a teacher

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