FUNDRAISING: Face-to-Face Funds

Lexie Williamson

Trainees get at least a day's training in the office where they watch videos and study a pack about the charity's work and sometimes a charity representative gives a talk and tests our knowledge of the organisation.

10am Start fundraising. We follow a code of conduct which includes things like never jumping out in front of people or following them. The best way to make people stop is to be really polite. I make eye contact, smile and say "do you have a moment?" If they say "no" then you reply "OK, that's fine, thank you". I sometimes get sworn at but you've got to put your emotions aside and think of the wider picture, which is the charity that is paying you.

It's not the rudeness that bothers me but people's attitudes. When I was representing Save the Children, people said "Do you give money to children overseas? Well I'm not signing up then". I suggested they give to a UK-only children's charity but it was still frustrating.

12.30pm We have a 15-minute break and take the tabards off. It can be really tiring standing up all day. If you don't move your legs around, they start to ache. One man stops for a chat but doesn't have a bank account.

I'm amazed at the number of people who don't. I also start to sign up a woman who turns out to be 17 - by law donors have to be over 18.

3pm Our target for each day is to sign up one person for £10 a month and one for £6 which are the amounts we suggest. They are achievable and anything extra is great for the charity. People don't seem to mind you fundraising for different charities. The other day a woman recognised me and signed up for another charity. We have to tell the public that this is a paid job - we get a starting salary of £7 an hour - but we get no commission.

6pm I drop the stuff at the office and drive home to Chichester. I get home at 8.30pm and flake out on the sofa. I was offered an office job at the agency with a pay rise but I'd feel too confined. I enjoy being outside and I love talking.

FACE-TO-FACE FUNDRAISING AGENCIES

- Open Air Fundraising Clients: Scope and Action Research. Charges: Pricing structure negotiated individually, but the client pays in arrears once donors recruited. Contact: Roger Dakin on 01273 666790 or rogerd@openairfundraising.co.uk

- Field-works Clients: Waterways Trust and Mission to Seafarers. Charges: Between £140 and £500 a day depending on services provided. Contact: Martin Field on 020 7231 7233 or info@field-works.co.uk

- Push Clients: Unicef and NSPCC. Charges: Agency pays in arrears. Contact: Mick Aldridge, external relations director at maldridge@pushconsultancy.co.uk

Dialogue Direct Clients: Greenpeace and Mencap. Contact: office@dialoguedirect.co.uk

PROS AND CONS OF FACE-TO-FACE FUNDRAISING

FOR: Anne Bolitho, deputy director of fundraising, PR, membership and international affairs at the National Deaf Children's Society

Direct dialogue fundraising is virtually risk-free - you pay for the donors you get and, on average, break even in 12 months. These donors are both long-term and high value. Over five years, a donor will be worth £400 to the society, a value three times greater than one recruited through direct mail. Half of these donors are still paying after three years whereas 40 per cent of donors recruited through direct mail never give again.

The income from direct dialogue is regular, unrestricted and predictable so after three years' activity, we can accurately predict our monthly cash flow to within 1 per cent, something any finance director would appreciate.

At least 75 per cent of direct dialogue donors tick the Gift Aid box, compared with only 30 per cent of direct mail donors and this year the society's Gift Aid will be worth £1 million.

Finally, face-to-face donors have a varied profile. While a sizeable percentage are young, our research shows that nearly 15 per cent are over 60, opening the door to legacy income.

AGAINST: Martin Sime, chief executive of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

I've got plenty of reservations about face-to-face fundraising. The main one is the lack of transparency around the terms of direct debit donations. How much goes to the charity? How much goes to the agency? Who gets paid what and when? These questions should be answered even if they are not asked.

We could all learn from the mistakes made selling endowments and life assurance products - would you still sign the direct debit if you knew that nothing from your first three payments would actually go to the cause of your choice?

Of course, individual charities support face-to-face - they are on a no-lose ticket. But one agency claimed that they were creating 50 new jobs in Scotland when they launched here last year - in other words nearly £1 million in wages and overheads before a penny was delivered to charity. Also it seems perverse that a private profit-driven company should lead this field. Surely a mutual solution, perhaps involving the Institute of Fundraising, would be more in keeping with the ethos.

Face-to-face fundraisers are often portrayed as unpopular with the public, but they have been very successful for many charities. Lexie Williamson reports on why they are becoming a growing presence on Britain's high streets.

Face-to-face is fast usurping direct mail as the fundraising tool the general public loves to hate with its perky clipboard-wielding, tabard-wearing high-street armies.

Yet the figures from charities using "chuggers" (charity muggers), "direct dialoguers", or face-to-face fundraisers tell a very different story.

The National Deaf Children's Society derives 65 per cent of its income from face-to-face, Oxfam has signed 66,000 donors since 2000 through the medium, and 75 per cent of Greenpeace supporters to join in the past three years did so by giving their bank details to a perky clipboard-wielding, tabard-wearing fundraiser.

All of the above charities employ an agency which recruits, trains, manages and pays the salary of face-to-face fundraisers.

Charities usually agree on a number of donors that the agency will sign up and pay a fee of between £55 and £100 per donor before fundraisers hit the street.

The theory is that each donor pledging a monthly donation is worth somewhere between £70 and £80 a year, so the charity should break even by the end of year one.

Some agencies promise to deliver a high volume of donors but with each giving just £3 or £4 a month, whereas others focus on signing up less donors for a higher direct debit.

Because the number of sites where face-to-face teams can solicit is limited by local councils, industry body the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association decides who can wave their clipboards where.

"We discussed all the places to raise funds, graded them according to the number of days a week they should be visited, with four being a really busy road like Oxford Street," says Sue Brumpton, director of the association, which has 90 members comprising both charities and agencies. "The charity's details are fed into a computer and it randomly allocates good, medium and poor sites each week."

Brumpton refutes a common accusation that the big charities dominate the prime sites allowing no room for smaller organisations.

"If a new charity wanted to street fundraise in London, the others are prepared to reduce their share a little to let them in, and outside London there are still loads of places," claims Brumpton.

So why are charities fighting over places to pitch face-to-face teams?

For one of the UK's biggest users of face-to-face - the National Deaf Children's Society - the maths make sense. "We pay between £55 and £100 per donor and expect to break even by the end of the first year," says Anne Bolitho, deputy director of fundraising at the society.

"The average donor is worth £70 a year and by the end of year one we cover our costs, and year two is all profit. This year we can expect more than £6 million income from face-to-face - at least 60 per cent of our total voluntary income."

A medium for all sizes

It's often said that smaller charities are less suited to face-to-face as people are more likely to stop for a well-known name and they will struggle to finance the first 12 months.

Action on Disability and Development, a Somerset-based charity with an annual income of £2 million, thinks it's a risk worth taking. "We have no budget for PR but find that if people do stop you can really take the time to explain what the charity does," says public fundraising manager Ruth Knagg.

Action on Disability and Development has paid £8,000 to an agency called Blue Frog for the cost of training staff, plus the production of a booklet on the charity, which donors can take away, and standing order forms.

The charity is also paying the usual cost per donor acquisition.

Knagg expects a cancelled direct debit rate of 30 per cent in the first year. She also acknowledges that finding the cash to fund the first year will be tricky and is considering asking the organisation's bigger trustees for loans.

However, in the first seven weeks of fundraising, Blue Frog has recruited 1,000 donors who are worth around £70 a year each to the charity, so the cash flow hitch should be temporary.

Like most face-to-face users, a key attraction is nailing that elusive under 35 "charity virgin" who is resistant to advertising and direct marketing.

But Stephen Pidgeon, chairman of Target Marketing, thinks this is dangerously short-term thinking. "Charities rely hugely on income from legacies and to put it bluntly older people die earlier, so to get the young on board at the expense of the old is simply bad strategy," he says.

Pidgeon also attacks the failure of some charities to provide administration support for face-to-face. "Very few charities have the systems for checking that John Smith is still paying his £2 every month," explains Pidgeon.

"So after a few months Smith cancels his direct debit and nothing happens which leads a potential long-term donor to conclude 'they didn't want my £2 in the first place'.

"There's no point in sending mail shots to this young audience. Face-to-face fundraisers should be writing down emails and mobile phone numbers for text messages. Charities are still light years behind the commercial sector in using these mediums," he says.

The irritation factor

Then there is the nagging worry that the novelty of being accosted by teams of "chuggers" is wearing thin with the public and might eventually damage reputations.

"We don't know anything about the long-term aspect of face-to-face," warns Richard Radcliffe, chairman of the legacy fundraising agency Smee and Ford. "It has been incredible short-term even though attrition rates are high, but what worries me is those people who are not recruited but are irritated by fundraisers on the street, especially elderly people.

A few are taking legacies out of their will because they are fed up with the pressure being put on them by charities in the street, door to door and on the phone."

Martin Fields, a former director of the agency PFP, now runs a company called Field-works which encourages charities to train their own volunteers to do face-to-face in-house. He predicts charities will be forced to change the way they use it.

"Face-to-face is not sustainable in its present format," says Fields.

"As more charities try it, the market will become more price competitive and inevitably the quality will drop. The public will get fed up with running the gauntlet of eight fundraisers or switch charities, which is bad for the sector overall, and attrition rates will go up."

According to Fields, if charities handle face-to-face themselves, they can afford a "softer" style of fundraising with less emphasis on hitting donor targets and more on, say, the distribution of leaflets on the charity's work.

He also says that through their relationships with councils, charities can gain access to off-street locations such as shopping centres or museums.

Cathy Anderson, fundraising director of Greenpeace, which invented face-to-face fundraising in 1997, acknowledges that the market is nearing saturation point but insists it has a rosy future, providing fundraisers don't sit back and expect the money to pour in.

"I do worry that face-to-face might irritate the public but we keep a very close eye on our results and, after all, isn't that what fundraisers are paid to do?"

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A FACE-TO-FACE FUNDRAISER

Jamie McPhie is a 31-year-old performing arts graduate who has worked for Open Air Fundraising for three years. Now a team leader, McPhie estimates he has raised more than £1 million for charities such as Save the Children by fundraising on the streets of Brighton and Croydon.

9.30am I go to the office to pick up the tabards and clipboards and find out which street we'll be on and which charity we're fundraising for. Today it's Barnardo's, last week it was Scope.

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