Stephen Pidgeon: With the sector at a crossroads, we should play the long game

We have to protect the sector from the damage that is done by over-zealous charities looking for short-term gain, writes our columnist

Stephen Pidgeon
Stephen Pidgeon

Our sector is at something of a crossroads. It's nothing dramatic; nothing will happen this month or even this year. But we are at the point where most fundraisers in the UK now know what they should be doing to build relationships with their donors – their minor donors, I mean. For example, fundraisers now know the importance of the welcome process, not just the thank-you letter. They know, theoretically, the importance of avoiding phrases like "Please give us a donation and we will...", because everyone knows people give to people not to charities and an ask for money that starts "Please give us a donation..." is inevitably asking for a gift to a charity.

Furthermore, the wisdom that a fundraising letter should use the word "you" (the donor) much more than the word "we" (the charity) no longer comes as any surprise. And the misguided folk who declare that online fundraising will replace its offline counterpart have now been proven to be impossibly naive, with all fundraisers now understanding the joy of integrated messages and encouraging donors to use as many media as possible to connect with their favourite charities.

All this is known and widely understood. So what is the crossroads I speak of? It involves a series of decisions that are as much in the hands of trustees and chief executives as in those of fundraisers, though fundraisers have to articulate the key issues. We must now start thinking in the long-term, not the short-term. Recruiting a new donor to the database, from whatever source, should be the start of a relationship between that donor and the charity that suits both parties, not just the charity.

If money from legacies is so readily available simply by asking for it in the right way (I wrote of this last month) then to mess with the relationship by over-demanding and being insensitive to what the donor clearly feels is just daft.

Long-term thinking must prevail. As fundraisers, we all know that, but clearly it doesn't suit us. How can trustees be persuaded to sanction long-term fundraising, for instance, if very few fundraisers are able to articulate lifetime values for each type of new donor recruited? Few fundraisers have these figures at their fingertips.

How can trustees believe their fundraisers are thinking in the long term if our Institute of Fundraising is prepared to sanction the ignoring of notices on doorsteps that say "no cold callers" in the simplistic hope that it doesn't include charities asking for monthly gifts? We should honour such notices, not ignore them. We have to protect the sector as a whole from the damage that is done by over-zealous charities looking for short-term gain.

We can't have it both ways. If we want our trustees and bosses to think in the long term, and we do, then we have to do it ourselves and argue the case based on proper statistics and accurate research.

Stephen Pidgeon is a consultant and a teacher

Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus