Fundraising practices of big charities have harmed small ones, says chief executive of Sane

Marjorie Wallace says the mental health charity has never used 'unpopular' methods of fundraising, but it has nevertheless experienced a fall in donations

Marjorie Wallace
Marjorie Wallace

Smaller charities have suffered reputational damage and falling donations because of the fundraising practices of larger charities, according to Majorie Wallace, chief executive of the mental health charity Sane.

Wallace, who has led Sane since founding it in 1986, was speaking at a panel discussion on whether charities can regain public confidence, hosted by the research company YouGov in London this morning.

She said that despite the fact her charity had never used any of what she said were the more unpopular fundraising methods – including cold calling, direct mail, selling and sharing lists and street fundraising – it had noticed a fall in donations over the past year.

"The smaller charities are very tarnished by what’s been happening in the bigger charities," she said. "What they’ve been doing has reflected so badly on small charities that we’re getting fewer and fewer donations because of the way they’ve behaved."

Wallace said there was a significant gulf between the way large charities – which she called "goliaths" – raised funds and operated and the methods of the "David charities", which were smaller and had not adopted commercial fundraising practices.

She said smaller charities such as Sane, which had an income of £1m in the year to March 2015, were a victim of this mismatch and were often asked by consultants why they did not try to grow in size.

She said her charity had faced the dilemma of knowing that if it did not adopt certain fundraising methods it would not raise as much money and would therefore help fewer beneficiaries. But she said it had concluded that it would rather help fewer people "honestly" than adopt those methods.

Wallace said the sector needed to consider whether it wanted charities to become more commercialised and industrialised or to "keep their charitable soul".

At the same session, Bernard Jenkin MP, chair of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, which recently carried out inquiries into charity fundraising and Whitehall’s relationship with Kids Company, said it was not fair to blame government funding cuts for poor fundraising practice.

Responding to claims by a delegate that the two were connected, the Conservative MP denied this, saying the cuts were irrelevant because two of the charities implicated in the recent criticism of the sector were international aid organisations that had received large quantities of government funding.

But Toby Blume, a social enterprise consultant, said Jenkin was "absolutely wrong". Speaking from the audience, he said: "We should be under no illusion: there is an ideologically driven attack on the voluntary sector led by the lunatics at the Institute of Economic Affairs and quietly followed by ministers and members of this government, who are doing all that they can to rubbish the sector, while quietly allowing the big society and hundreds of thousands of community organisations that subscribe to charitable values to be thrown to the wolves by the cuts that are coming down from local government."

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