I find face-to-face fundraising fascinating. In many ways, F2F is fundraising’s front line, both literally and metaphorically. Literally, because F2F fundraisers are often the first and only fundraisers people meet. Metaphorically, because many ethical and regulatory issues – such as how much pressure it’s acceptable to put on someone, or how much or donors’ money ought to be spent on fundraising – are often perceived through the prism of F2F.
F2F often has to deal with these issues before other types of fundraising do, and its innovative solutions are often well ahead of the rest of the fundraising field. And because F2F has a high public profile, it’s also had to find ways of engaging with the media and other stakeholders that other types of fundraising have not.
Here's a couple of examples.
Many fundraisers talk about mass market donor acquisition as an insoluble ‘tragedy of the commons’. Yet the type of self-regulation implemented by the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association, which regulated F2F from 2000 until 2016, was based on (albeit unwittingly) the principles devised by Nobel laureate (in economics) Lin Ostrom specifically to solve the problem of sharing what she calls a ‘common pool resource’.
And the system of fundraising that seeks to balance fundraisers’ duties to both donors and beneficiaries, which I refined at Rogare, I first formulated in the context of street fundraising during my time as head of communications at the PFRA.
I’m not the only who sees F2F this way. Ken Burnett has written that F2F saved donor acquisition when costs of DM were going through the roof in the 90s and fundraisers had little idea about what to do next.
Yet despite its achievements, F2F is a regular and easy target. For government and media, yes. But for also people in sector, who will go gunning for street fundraising in a way they’ll never attack other forms of donor acquisition, precisely because F2F embodies the difficult boundary-spanning challenges fundraising confronts.
The PFRA was abolished and absorbed into the Institute of Fundraising as part of the fall out of the 2015 ‘Fundraising Crisis’, despite ‘chuggers’ having had little to do with it. It was a stupid decision (weaking regulation) done for stupid reasons (having a body specifically to regulate one type of fundraising was ‘confusing’).
And it left a hole. That hole as now partly been filled by the F2F Alliance , which launched earlier this month. It’s a trade body (it’s been established by F2F agencies) that also plays the role of a trade union (it lobbies for better pay and conditions for street and doorstep fundraisers).
There are two takeaways from the formation of the F2F Alliance. The first is that face-to-face fundraising is still delivering new ideas, because, being in the frontline as it is, it has to.
And second, that having lots of different bodies contributing to solving a problem – a principle known as polycentric governance, or polycentricity – is a good thing. It’s not confusing at all, and the big bodies in the fundraising sector need to learn to embrace them and resist the urge to shut them down incorporate them into their monolithic structure.
Not all regulation of fundraising has to be done by the Fundraising Regulator. Not all representation of fundraisers and fundraising has to be done by the CIoF.
In fact, it might be a good thing if others were sometimes allowed a stab at these things.