Stephen Pidgeon: We must improve the lot of hospice fundraisers

If you think your charity doesn't understand your craft, try this sector, writes our columnist

Stephen Pidgeon
Stephen Pidgeon

This piece is about hospice fundraising. That might not be what you do, but you should understand that if UK hospices ever got their act together, cooperating on common strategies and creating fundraising materials that were really motivating, then national charities would find their share of national donations severely dented. Hospices together raise about £1bn a year, but most are grossly under-performing.

Hospices enjoy unparalleled advantages, they are the essence of local fundraising – every donor in the country knows their nearest hospice – and, through the allocation of sensible territories, they don’t compete with each other.

Populations in these territories are low of course, so marketing budgets are tight and even a good fundraising outcome is numbered in the low tens of thousands of pounds. So practically all marketing materials are written in-house and designed locally by graphic artists with little understanding of what motivates good people to donate or take part in events.

Practically every hospice in the country runs a "Light Up a Life" ceremony in early December, an emotionally charged event to celebrate people loved and lost. Most run other "in memory" appeals based on forget-me-nots or sunflowers. Coffee mornings are ubiquitous, as are tea and cake gatherings, midnight walks and men’s walks. Every hospice sells weekly lottery tickets and regular prize draws. Nearly every one runs a Will Week.

Yet, for each event and appeal, every hospice creates new materials asking for their donors’ support. The materials produced reflect the fundraiser’s lack of experience, and much of it is poor. It then has to run the gauntlet of those with "sign-off" power, who know nothing about fundraising. If those of you in national charities feel your colleagues don’t understand your craft, you should try working in the hospice sector. Many colleagues make no effort to conceal their dislike of fundraising. The worst refuse to let fundraisers either photograph their patients or seek their permission to feature their stories.

Mercifully, such idiocy is now rare. I’d like to think that is partly the result of my widely distributed recommendation that disapproving staff should be reminded regularly that fundraising pays their salaries. But I suspect it’s more likely to have been the result of wonderful hospice fundraisers working hard to involve their nursing and other colleagues.

Hospice UK has done virtually nothing in the past to promote good fundraising. With new leadership must come a new focus. For each of the common fundraising campaigns, the national body should commission well-crafted fundraising materials for hospices to use. They can be converted into local livery with a local story added for impact.

Hospice UK should set up test strategies to improve the materials, collating results from every hospice that uses them. Complaints from medical or other staff would be neutralised and, rather than being asked to "keep the doors open for a day", donors would take pleasure in the power of their donations to change the end-of-life experience of loved ones and neighbours.

Stephen Pidgeon is a consultant and a teacher

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