Communications: Are You Being Heard? Part Two - Ditching that saintly image

There are a growing number of initiatives aimed at tackling widely held public misconceptions about the voluntary sector. Here John Plummer examines why they are needed and whether they will succeed. Overleaf we offer a brief profile of 21 of these schemes.

Charities, it is still widely believed, are separate from government, staffed entirely by volunteers and spend every penny donated on the cause.

Noble stuff, but in most cases entirely wrong.

Yet these misapprehensions underpin much of the trust and goodwill behind giving. And there is concern that such outdated perceptions could blow up in charities' faces as people begin to discover what the voluntary sector is really about.

"We are seeing a culture change in the way the public thinks about the sector," says Nick Aldridge, director of strategy at chief executives body Acevo, which published the report Public Trust in the Management of Charities last year. "People are much more sceptical about the value of our work."

High-profile campaigns such as Make Poverty History, together with increased charity involvement in public service delivery, have dragged the sector into the spotlight and shown charity workers to be as much Richard Branson as they are Mother Teresa. But with the spotlight comes scrutiny, and unless charities present compelling cases for political campaigning, six-figure salaries and paying celebrity supporters' expenses, they may get bitten. "If people become more sceptical about how charities use their donations, they will be less inclined to give money," says Aldridge.

The issue extends beyond the relationship between charities and individual donors. One of the reasons voluntary organisations are delivering public services is that people trust them more than the state institutions they have replaced. "If that trust declines, service users will be less inclined to come to us," says Aldridge.

Charities, he says, need to step up their game by building a more honest basis for trust out of a more accurate portrayal of what they do - even if some people can't handle the truth. "There's a real chance there will be a difficult period because it's a big jump for people, particularly those who have given to charity all their lives," he says.

A wide range of initiatives, from the GuideStar website to the ImpACT coalition, have been set up to secure long-term trust in the sector by explaining what charities do and publishing the figures (see profiles right and overleaf). But it's still difficult to give donors a complete picture because, unlike profit-driven businesses, charities can't measure success purely by the bottom line.

The report Funding Success, published by New Philanthropy Capital, suggests this might explain some of the communication difficulties charities face.

"One of the reasons for charities' inability to clearly articulate their results is the difficulty of determining what to measure," states the report.

Nevertheless, it suggests there are sound reasons for trying. Many funders, it claims, regard high overheads that are properly accounted for as a sign of an efficiently run organisation rather than a waste of resources.

"Outcome measurement can be an important element of efforts to increase transparency," it states. "Armed with this information, donations will be more effectively targeted. Better information might also unlock more money by highlighting social problems and explaining what can be done to address them."

Some charities are already taking steps in this direction. The RNID introduced annual impact reporting to tell people about the effects of its work in a broader sense than an annual report would usually allow. Each impact report states the charity's aims for the year ahead and looks back at what has been achieved over the previous 12 months.

Brian Lamb, director of communications at the RNID, says the sector has been complacent about transparency because of the high level of trust it enjoys. "We have not been good at educating the public on issues such as why we do a lot of campaigning," he says. "But the more high-profile the sector becomes, the more people will ask questions."

Baroness Onora O'Neill, chair of the Nuffield Foundation, says building trust goes deeper than providing information. She points out that the additional reporting and accounting requirements imposed on institutions across all sectors in recent years may have made them more transparent, but it has not made them more trusted.

"Merely making evidence 'available' to the public, as the fashionable demand for transparency requires, is often not enough to secure trust," she wrote in last year's Acevo report. "If we are to judge for ourselves, we need genuine communication in which we can question and observe, check and even challenge the evidence that others present.

"Laying out the evidence, warts and all, may provide a rather better basis for placing - or refusing - trust than any number of glossy publications that trumpet unending success."

Not everyone thinks the public needs to be spoon-fed reams of information to maintain confidence in the sector. "There isn't any evidence that there is a crisis of confidence in charities," says Cathy Pharoah, research director at the Charities Aid Foundation.

The evidence supports her claim. In a Charity Commission report published in November last year, the public awarded charities 6.3 out of 10 on trust.

"This is a moderate score: although it is not poor, it certainly does not allow for complacency, and trust and confidence in charities will require careful monitoring," says the report. Hardly the sound of alarm bells.

Research by voluntary sector think tank nfpSynergy in 2002 and 2004 revealed high levels of trust, with people saying they trusted voluntary organisations more than government or business.

Pharoah believes key donors are savvier than they are portrayed. "There is heavy dependence on middle-class donors for charity income, and I would be amazed if they didn't realise charities had to pay to get professional staff," she says.

She believes the biggest threats to trust are the kind of scandals that blighted the Scottish voluntary sector in 2003. Two high-profile charities, Breast Cancer Research (Scotland) and Moonbeams, were exposed for spending a fraction of their profits on their causes. The revelations created intensely damaging media coverage that led to a 33 per cent decline in giving in Scotland.

Even charity stalwarts were shocked by how quickly the coverage snowballed as two bad stories turned into a sector-wide crisis. "Those two incidents caused a media frenzy as journalists took every opportunity to undermine the sector," says Fiona Duncan, director of external affairs at Capability Scotland.

After suffering a media grilling herself, Duncan launched Giving Scotland to redress the balance. Fourteen charities, plus the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations and the Institute of Fundraising Scotland, united to put out messages restoring confidence in charities. The Scottish Executive pledged £30,000 and, with donations from corporate supporters, the campaign was able to secure advertising worth £300,000 for a lightning two-week campaign over Christmas 2003.

Two months before the campaign was launched, The Herald newspaper published a poll revealing that 52 per cent of people were less likely to give because of the scandals. Giving Scotland asked the same question in February 2004 and this time more than half of the population said they were more likely to consider giving because of the campaign.

"We learned about strength in numbers and the importance of timing - because it was Christmas, we were able to get good coverage," says Duncan.

It was an effective rearguard campaign. The numerous proactive initiatives now under way across the UK give charities the chance to prevent the situation ever getting that bad again - but their success will depend on whether charities are prepared to shed their saintly image and rally to the cause of creating a newer, bolder one.

REGULATION

FUNDRAISING STANDARDS BOARD

The board is an independent, UK-wide, opt-in fundraising regulation scheme funded by the Home Office and the Scottish Executive. Charities will be required to comply with the Codes of Fundraising Practice, have efficient complaints handling schemes, tell donors about self-regulation and display the scheme's logo. The scheme will launch in autumn 2006.

HOW WILL IT HELP BRING PERCEPTIONS OF CHARITY UP TO DATE?

It will allow charities to demonstrate their commitment to best practice and provide them with a logo that can be applied to all fundraising appeals, adverts and donor correspondence. In time, it is hoped that prospective donors will look for the logo before agreeing to donate.

HOW CAN VOLUNTARY ORGANISATIONS BENEFIT/GET INVOLVED?

All those involved in charity fundraising can benefit from the new scheme.

It is hoped that raised standards will translate into increased trust and confidence in the charities that sign up to the scheme and in the sector more broadly.

Contact: The self-regulatory team at the Institute of Fundraising: www.institute-of-fundraising.org.uk.

PUBLIC FUNDRAISING REGULATORY ASSOCIATION

The PFRA is a charity-led membership organisation providing regulation of face-to-face fundraising. It has a code of practice, which is monitored by membership accreditation, mystery shopping and public feedback. It was established in July 2001 by the Institute of Fundraising, but is now constitutionally independent.

HOW WILL IT HELP BRING PERCEPTIONS OF CHARITY UP TO DATE?

The PFRA works to educate opinion formers and the public about the benefits and costs of face-to-face fundraising, and so reassure people that it is as effective and cost-efficient as other forms of fundraising and is appropriately regulated.

It has partnerships with more than 90 local authorities, establishing agreements that define how often public sites can be used, how many fundraisers can be present at any time and where teams can operate.

HOW CAN VOLUNTARY ORGANISATIONS BENEFIT/GET INVOLVED?

Members benefit from the relationships that the PFRA has developed with local authorities, use the quality standards and share information and good practice.

Contact: www.pfra.org.uk.

DONOR SERVICES

The Funding Network

Groups around the country hold meetings at which charities and social change organisations are invited to speak, and potential donors can take part in an open pledging session. The network has raised more than £980,000 for more than 140 projects since it was founded in 2002.

HOW WILL IT HELP BRING PERCEPTIONS OF CHARITY UP TO DATE?

Organisations can attend meetings with potential donors to present their work, take questions and explain what they do.

HOW CAN VOLUNTARY ORGANISATIONS BENEFIT/GET INVOLVED?

All applications to present are sponsored by one of the network's members.

Unsolicited applications of no more than 300 words are circulated to members.

Contact: www.thefundingnetwork.org.uk.

INTELLIGENT GIVING - See entry under websites.

INVESTING FOR GOOD

This community interest company offers online services, information and support to professional advisers advising high net worth customers on intelligent giving and social investments.

HOW WILL IT HELP BRING PERCEPTIONS OF CHARITY UP TO DATE?

The company gives donors the facility to create a bespoke 'giving portfolio' aligned with their philanthropic aims. Its toolkit includes screening and filtering of information, reliable and accurate reporting mechanisms, new charity financial products and independent philanthropic advice.

HOW CAN VOLUNTARY ORGANISATIONS BENEFIT/GET INVOLVED?

For charities, it will provide more and regular funding streams and reduce the cost of major-donor fundraising sourced from the financial services community. However, Investing for Good does not fundraise on behalf of any organisation.

Contact: www.investingforgood.org.

NEW PHILANTHROPY CAPITAL

NPC is a charity that provides advice to all types of donors on effective charitable giving through a combination of published research and tailored advice for individual donors.

HOW WILL IT HELP BRING PERCEPTIONS OF CHARITY UP TO DATE?

NPC encourages donors to select charities based on their track records rather than on the basis of emotional appeals, brand awareness or administration costs.

HOW CAN VOLUNTARY ORGANISATIONS BENEFIT/GET INVOLVED?

NPC highlights the achievements of many charities through research projects, publicity activities and its work with donors. It does not accept grant applications from charities. Charities can download its research reports via the body's website.

Contact: www.philanthropycapital.org.

PROJECTS

Corporate Community Involvement Series

This NCVO-run series of events is designed for people from the business sector with responsibility for developing and implementing community involvement and CSR strategies, and for people from voluntary and community organisations who work with business. It was launched in 2001.

HOW WILL IT HELP BRING PERCEPTIONS OF CHARITY UP TO DATE?

The events aim to provide the business sector with the latest information and news about the voluntary sector, the needs of voluntary and community organisations and the people and causes they serve.

HOW CAN VOLUNTARY ORGANISATIONS BENEFIT/GET INVOLVED?

Voluntary organisations can get involved by attending events, joining the discussions and suggesting topics for future events.

Contact: www.ncvo-vol.org.uk/ccis.

IMPACT COALITION

ImpACT is a coalition of more than 50 charities and trade bodies working to enhance public understanding of the sector and focus the public debate on the benefits charities bring, rather than on the costs of running them.

It was launched in July 2005.

HOW WILL IT HELP BRING PERCEPTIONS OF CHARITY UP TO DATE?

By being more proactive in informing the public, it will address some of the gaps in understanding and tackle some of the most commonly held myths.

HOW CAN VOLUNTARY ORGANISATIONS BENEFIT/GET INVOLVED?

Charities can sign up and access free resources such as a presentation for staff and a frequently asked questions document to help them answer donors' queries.

Contact: To sign up, email campbell.robb@ncvo-vol.org.uk. For information, email lucindaf@institute-of-fundraising.org.uk.

MP SECONDMENT SCHEME

This NCVO scheme offers MPs a chance to see voluntary and community organisations in action, and gives charities first-hand experience of working with parliamentarians by giving MPs the chance to spend up to 10 days with a voluntary organisation.

It was launched in 1999. The NCVO plans to relaunch its MEP secondment scheme in the spring.

HOW WILL IT HELP BRING PERCEPTIONS OF CHARITY UP TO DATE?

The scheme offers MPs a valuable insight into the strategic workings of an organisation and the opportunity to experience the challenges of working on the front line with some of the most marginalised individuals and communities in society.

HOW CAN VOLUNTARY ORGANISATIONS BENEFIT/GET INVOLVED?

Although there are always more applications from voluntary organisations than MPs to join the scheme, further applications from the sector will be welcome later this year.

Contact: pete.moorey@ncvo-vol.org.uk.

PHILANTHROPY UK

Philanthropy UK is an informal consortium, hosted by the Association of Charitable Foundations, that is dedicated to supporting the voluntary sector by working to promote increasing levels of charitable giving. The project ran from 2001 to 2004 and continues to publish a free quarterly newsletter.

HOW WILL IT HELP BRING PERCEPTIONS OF CHARITY UP TO DATE?

The organisation's publications, including the Philanthropy UK newsletter and A Guide to Giving, shed light on the variety of methods of giving and disseminate knowledge about philanthropy in the UK.

HOW CAN VOLUNTARY ORGANISATIONS BENEFIT/GET INVOLVED?

Voluntary organisations can subscribe to the newsletter and can contribute items of news and information that are of interest to the philanthropy community.

Contact: www.philanthropyuk.org.

VOLUNTARY SECTOR MANAGEMENT OF PUBLIC SERVICE DELIVERY NETWORK

This network aims to create effective and efficient relationships between the public sector and the voluntary and community sector. It provides a forum for peer support, networking and professional development. It was launched by the NCVO's Sustainable Funding Project in January this year. Its first publication, a guide to procurement, is due to be published later this year.

HOW WILL IT HELP BRING PERCEPTIONS OF CHARITY UP TO DATE?

Voluntary and community organisations will have the opportunity to share with people from statutory authorities and agencies their experiences about the barriers they encounter when negotiating and managing public sector contracts.

HOW CAN VOLUNTARY ORGANISATIONS BENEFIT/GET INVOLVED?

The network is open to people in the sector who are responsible for negotiating and managing public sector contracts, and to the public sector.

Contact: trudy.mawunga@ncvo-vol.org.uk.

VOLUNTARY ACTION MEDIA UNIT

The VAMU was set up to research and improve the relationship between charities and the media. It is a lottery-funded project run by TimeBank, the Media Trust and the Institute for Volunteering Research. It started work in January 2005.

HOW WILL IT HELP BRING PERCEPTIONS OF CHARITY UP TO DATE?

The unit aims to use its research to enlighten media professionals about the voluntary sector. So far it has published Culture Clash?, an investigation of the relationship between charities, the media and commercial PR agencies.

It has also developed the www.askcharity.org.uk website to help the media contact charities, and about 500 media professionals are using it so far.

Plans that have been mooted include an attachment scheme for journalists and voluntary sector PRs.

HOW CAN VOLUNTARY ORGANISATIONS BENEFIT/GET INVOLVED?

Charities can get involved by registering their media contact details on the www.askcharity.org.uk website. They can also apply for a place on the media attachment scheme.

Contact: www.askcharity.org.uk.

WEBSITES

ALLABOUTGIVING.ORG

The site, which is run by the Charities Aid Foundation, provides information for donors and employers about tax-efficient giving, from GiftAid to share giving, legacies and personal charitable trusts. Donors can also give online.

HOW WILL IT HELP BRING PERCEPTIONS OF CHARITY UP TO DATE?

By providing information about effective and tax-efficient giving, the site educates users about charities.

HOW CAN VOLUNTARY ORGANISATIONS BENEFIT/GET INVOLVED?

Charities can register for donations and fundraise online. They can also refer donors to the site for information.

Contact: email charityaccounts@cafonline.org or phone 01732 520 055.

CHARITYCHECK.ORG.UK

Charity Check has two websites, www.charitycollections.org and www.charitycheck.org.uk.

According to director Philip Cowen, the organisation's purpose is to "help clean up charity fundraising and to improve regulation of it".

How will it help bring perceptions of charity up to date?

Cowen aims to effect change through articles and surveys.

How can voluntary organisations benefit/get involved?

Cowen says: "They benefit if they run proper systems - those without such systems get less of a platform."

Contact: charity.check@ukonline.co.uk.

CHARITYFACTS.ORG

The aim of the site is to explain how charity fundraising works and to boost public trust and confidence in giving. The site will be updated on a continual basis. It was created by Adrian Sargeant of Bristol Business School and launched in March 2005. The initial development was funded by Cancer Research UK, the British Red Cross, the RSPCA and the NSPCC.

The site is also endorsed by the Institute of Fundraising.

HOW WILL IT HELP BRING PERCEPTIONS OF CHARITY UP TO DATE?

The site provides a wealth of independent information and dispels popular myths about fundraising and charitable giving. It explains how charities fundraise and why. It is written in plain English for the public, the media and researchers.

HOW CAN VOLUNTARY ORGANISATIONS BENEFIT/GET INVOLVED?

By linking their own websites to www.charityfacts.org or printing the link in their fundraising communications, charities can direct enquirers to an independent and authoritative source of information and answers to frequently asked questions on fundraising. New case studies that demonstrate best practice in fundraising are welcomed.

Contact: Adrian@charityfacts.org.

G-NATION.CO.UK

G-nation is a web-based project run by the Citizenship Foundation to promote giving among young people. The website provides resources and fundraising ideas and runs alongside a schools programme for 11-16 year-olds and G-Week, an annual schools action week. It is supported by government and various charities.

HOW WILL IT HELP BRING PERCEPTIONS OF CHARITY UP TO DATE?

The website has a dedicated section that covers issues such as how many charities there are, how charities work, what proportion of their money is spent on the cause, fundraising and administration and why they use shock advertising. There is also a database of charity profiles and links to donation sites.

HOW CAN VOLUNTARY ORGANISATIONS BENEFIT/GET INVOLVED?

Charities can add their profiles to the database and promote the site to supporters. G-nation also produces a newsletter for charities.

Contact: help@g-nation.co.uk.

GUIDESTAR.CO.UK

GuideStar was set up in 2003 to provide a single, easily accessible source of detailed information about every charity and voluntary organisation in the UK. The site, which was launched in November, currently contains details of the 167,000 registered main charities in England and Wales.

In the future it will also include charities in Scotland and Northern Ireland, social enterprises and informal voluntary groups.

HOW WILL IT HELP BRING PERCEPTIONS OF CHARITY UP TO DATE?

The 'charity knowledge' section of the site gives detailed information about what a charity is, tax-efficient giving, the benefits of regular giving and how to volunteer.

HOW CAN VOLUNTARY ORGANISATIONS BENEFIT/GET INVOLVED?

Charities can add to and update their records on the site using their charity registration number and a password provided by GuideStar.

Contact: info@guidestar.org.uk.

INTELLIGENTGIVING.COM

The site aims to stimulate the public to consider charities and causes more thoughtfully, to give them more confidence in their choices and to encourage them to give more. It will launch this autumn.

HOW WILL IT HELP BRING PERCEPTIONS OF CHARITY UP TO DATE?

The site will make a point of correcting negative rumours about charities.

The site will also be peppered with information about how the voluntary sector ticks and what to look for in a good charity. The site owners hope that once the site is up and running visitors will no longer be obsessed by administration costs.

HOW CAN VOLUNTARY ORGANISATIONS BENEFIT/GET INVOLVED?

The site owners welcome contributions from writers with fact-based opinions about their sector that they think donors should hear. They will be able to contribute to the site in several ways. The site will also offer a free advertising service to charities that have critical and urgent funding requirements.

Contact: www.intelligentgiving.com.

BOOKS

BLOOD, SWEAT AND CHARITY: The Ultimate Charity Challenge Handbook

By Nick Stanhope

Eye Books, September 2005

ISBN 1903070414, £12.99

Blood, Sweat and Charity is a guide for charity challenge participants, with information on topics such as deciding which charity to support, how to raise money, choosing an event and drawing up a training programme.

HOW WILL IT HELP BRING PERCEPTIONS OF CHARITY UP TO DATE?

The book addresses issues such as why charities need to raise funds, what they spend their money on and what to consider when choosing a charity to support, as well as instruction on fundraising techniques and information about GiftAid. These discussions educate the reader about how modern charities work.

HOW CAN VOLUNTARY ORGANISATIONS BENEFIT/GET INVOLVED?

Charities would benefit from making supporters who are considering a challenge event aware of this book, especially smaller organisations without the resources to produce their own handbooks.

Contact: www.eye-books.com.

HOW TO GIVE TO CHARITY By Jessica Williams

Icon Books, January 2006

ISBN 1840466995, £6.99

Jessica Williams' book aims to get people thinking more proactively about how they can give to charity, whether through monthly donations, fundraising or volunteering to run a local club.

HOW WILL IT HELP BRING PERCEPTIONS OF CHARITY UP TO DATE?

How to Give to Charity discusses the questions that many donors are asking:

- How do I know that the donations I'm pledging are getting through to the root cause?

- How much should individuals give to charity?

- Is it just patronising to give money to charity?

- Isn't it the Government's job to fund charities?

- And why do charities use 'charity muggers'?

HOW CAN VOLUNTARY ORGANISATIONS BENEFIT/GET INVOLVED?

Anyone can get involved by reading the book or by logging on to the website www.howtogivetocharity.org, where there is a discussion forum.

Contact: www.iconbooks.co.uk, www.howtogivetocharity.org.

THE MORE YOU GIVE, The More You Get

By Mike Dickson

The Generous Press, December 2005

ISBN 0955159105, £6.99

Mike Dickson, founder of Whizz-Kidz, explains how and why to give, how to set up a charitable trust and why companies should give more, as well as providing inspiring stories about people who have supported charities and made a difference.

HOW WILL IT HELP BRING PERCEPTIONS OF CHARITY UP TO DATE?

The 'charity world' chapter explains how charities work, from how many charities there are, the difference between large and small charities and what charities spend their money on through to how much chief executives are paid and how charities manage their finances and raise money. This includes honest admissions about how charity management is sometimes lacking and how organisations are open to fraud.

HOW CAN VOLUNTARY ORGANISATIONS BENEFIT/GET INVOLVED?

In addition to the book, Dickson has set up a website with further information and a forum for feedback.

Contact: www.themoreyougive.co.uk.

THE GOOD GIVING GUIDE: A Supporter's Guide to Charities and Campaigning

By Annie Kelly and Emma Maier

Fusion Press, November 2004

ISBN 1904132553, £10.99

This guide to choosing a charity provides practical information about donating money, volunteering time and becoming an activist.

HOW WILL IT HELP BRING PERCEPTIONS OF CHARITY UP TO DATE?

The book urges readers to align their charitable giving with their personal beliefs. It suggests they consider issues such as whether they want to support a large charity with clout or a small, flexible one, whether they think charities should campaign against the system or work within it, and whether they'd prefer to tackle the root cause of a problem or the fallout from it. The myth-busting chapter tackles issues such as chief executive pay, why fundraising costs differ between charities and the importance of investing in administration.

HOW CAN VOLUNTARY ORGANISATIONS BENEFIT/GET INVOLVED?

The second half of the book provides a series of profiles of large, niche and local charities in each of 10 major cause areas to illustrate the range of charities available.

Contact: www.visionpaperbacks.co.uk.

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