Time to listen to the experts, says Mark Astarita

Institute of Fundraising chair-elect says everyone has an opinion - and they're mostly wrong

Mark Astarita
Mark Astarita

Mark Astarita, the chair-elect of the Institute of Fundraising has been struck by the resilience of giving during the economic downturn. Giving to the British Red Cross, where he is director of fundraising, has risen by more than 10 per cent over the past year, for example.

He says older people on fixed incomes are the main drivers of the increase. "They are almost certainly poorer and yet their giving has gone up," he says. "Maybe people have become more reflective as things have got tougher. It's been a surprise, and it's heart-warming."

Yet he says that even though 53 per cent of people in the UK give, "it means the other half don't, and that should be of concern to everyone".

He mentions the latest Sunday Times Rich List, which found that donations from the country's top 100 philanthropists fell by almost a third in 2009/10. "That can't be fair at a time like this."

Astarita has been a fundraiser for more than two decades. The main game in town, he says, is individual giving, and increasing it is crucial for fundraisers everywhere.

He is certain that payroll giving isn't the answer. "It hasn't worked," he says. "Charities large and small wonder if it ever will, and the only people who really love it are those who make loads of money from managing the transactions. If government and others bleat on about payroll giving over the next few weeks, I'll scream."

Astarita would like to see more effective tax incentives for people who donate goods or property. He also wants banks to be required to issue their customers with charity cheques, which only charities can cash, or charity debit cards. As the new chair of the IoF, the membership body for UK fundraisers, he is now in a strong position to advocate these changes.

But he has plenty of other tasks. Perhaps the biggest one at the moment is helping to find a new chief executive for the organisation. Amanda McLean, the most recent incumbent, resigned suddenly in March after only four months.

Astarita has a simple strategy for finding the right candidate. "We're going to make as much noise as possible that we're looking for someone great," he says. "Six of us are involved in the interview process. We will have no trouble finding a fantastic person."

He says now is a "defining moment for fundraising and giving" and that he expects the IoF to play a "pivotal role in bringing forward ideas and themes to get more people giving and people giving more".

Indeed, he says, it is about time the experts were listened to. He says everyone - and philanthropists in particular - has an opinion about fundraising, but "they're mostly wrong".

"Philanthropists have the biggest voice in town," he says. "If they want to see a minister, they'll be seen. The beneficiaries should have more power, and I think fundraisers have an important role to play in bridging the gap between the beneficiaries and the donors."

Another task he has set himself is to increase the institute's membership. "We've got 5,000 members now," he says. "We've not had the transformational change in membership that we would like."

He suggests ideas such as free membership for people aged under 30, but emphasises he is still considering the best way ahead. "Could we get to 10,000 or 15,000?" he asks. "How can we get to that point? That's a challenge for us."

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