Stephen Pidgeon: Our task goes hand in hand with campaigning

The results are hugely positive when fundraising and campaigning march together, writes our columnist

Stephen Pidgeon
Stephen Pidgeon

I hesitate to raise again the topic of the lobbying act. Many have offered opinions on it and Lord Hodgson is now looking at the way it is working in practice. Surely that's good news after his sensible review of the Charities Act 2006.

Certainly, it seems daft that the little charity Ash (Action on Smoking and Health), with its income of less than £1m, is constrained by the act, yet the impact of lobbying by cigarette manufacturers seems to be undimmed.

My brief in writing this column is fundraising, not campaigning. But if the two march hand in hand, then the results are hugely positive. Greenpeace and Amnesty now recruit donors by engaging people first with lobbying campaigns, and charities could do the same if only they spoke out boldly.

Every charity that ever existed was started by a visionary who was bent on change. Where has that pioneering zeal gone – that desire to change opinion and right wrongs? Occasionally it surfaces, as it did in 2009, when Save the Children expressed its pithy view on the futility of the Israel-Palestine conflict. The charity's adverts, headlined "Enough is Enough" and with the simple message "Text Ceasefire to 81819", attracted 190,000 new supporters.

The subsequent phone calls by the charity converted more than 9 per cent of them to regular monthly givers. The annual income generated probably exceeded £1m – and all from a few advertisements with a strong statement of belief. Few took the logical view that Save the Children's impact in the conflict would be negligible. Grateful for the opportunity to express a view, thousands of people texted their support.

So why don't many more charities campaign and lobby – by which I simply mean voicing strong views and inviting the public to share them? Why doesn't the local charity for blind people, for example, run a campaign in the local paper demanding that the local authority provide the services it is required by statute to provide?

From a fundraising point of view, nothing could be more valuable. The fundraising consultant Nick Allen, presenting figures from the American Civil Liberties Union, showed that donors who also campaigned for a cause gave 26 per cent more money to it than those who didn't.

In crude terms, if donors choose to support a campaign, then their lifetime value goes up. They are more loyal and they give more. From a fundraising point of view, I don't mind what the campaign is about or whether it is successful. The satisfaction the donor feels from joining the campaign is wholly positive.

But it does require fundraisers and campaigners to work together. I know of two overseas development charities where the databases are still kept separate. That is truly pathetic; the chief executives should bang heads together. That, at least, would be a strong expression of opinion.

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