INSTITUTE OF FUNDRAISING: Charities should be apart from ploys of commerce

Lindsay Boswell, chief executive of the Institute of Fundraising

Fundraising frequently gets a hard time and a bad press. This is often focused on face-to-face fundraising, but there are some interesting lessons to be learned from this method.

While this was still a new form of fundraising, the agencies running the face-to-face collections, and the charities employing them, explored how they could manage and develop this new technique in a sensible and sustainable way.

As a result, the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association was born under the umbrella of the Institute of Fundraising. While many would say there is still a great deal to do, the PFRA has been hugely influential in getting face-to-face fundraising to abide by high standards.This coming together in a mature, sensible and grown-up way is a real credit to the fundraising world. Of course, there has always been a clear commercial imperative to do so, but, looking at the rest of the world, it doesn't always follow that the logical or obvious happens.

The Association has been the lead body to feed into face-to-face fundraising standards which are included in the Institute's Code of Practice on 'personal solicitation for committed gifts.' I have had two recent experiences that contrast the differences between the commercial world and the voluntary sector.

Direct Mail

Unlike many people, I do whatever I can to get onto charity mailing lists.

My morning post is always a good way of keeping an eye on what is happening in the world of charity direct mail. I have never been involved in any aspect of a direct mail campaign and only understand it from the doormat perspective - which is perhaps the most important one!

On the whole the standard and quality is fine, and some of the creative touches are admirable. Almost, but not all, of it complies with best practice, but if we could finally kill off the pens and 'legitimate' questionnaires, then life would be even better (please don't bother to tell me that pens produce a minuscule uplift in response rates!).

But nothing I have ever received from a charity compares to this drivel I recently got through the post: "Congratulations Mr Boswell, I am pleased to tell you that your name was included in the final round selection for our £300,000 Double Money Draw. This means that you are now scheduled to proceed to the FINAL ROUND. This is a very important step." And so on, and so on. In total I had 14 - yes 14 - pages of this rubbish.

My first thought was to question how on earth I had ended up on one of those nasty time-share lists. On closer inspection, I realised that this was an elaborate and costly sales pitch for Which? Magazine. Any charity that pulled such a stunt, even if they had the money to burn on such a lavish promotion, would be heavily criticised by both the media and consumer champions. It is ironic that Which? is published by the loudest consumer champion of them all, the Consumers Association.

Later the same day I went to look at a prospective primary school for one of my children. As we left and exchanged pleasantries with the headmistress in the corridor, I noticed a huge waist-high box encouraging parents and pupils to deposit their tokens-for-books. The box, and the whole campaign, was heavily branded by The Sun, Walkers Crisps and News Of The World. What an inappropriate triumvirate for a primary school.

Avoiding the outcry

Again, had a charity tried such an inappropriate link-up there would have been a major outcry from somewhere. Just look at the reaction to the British Heart Foundation's excellent campaign last year!

I do not want to be labelled as joining the ranks of the grumpy old men (but I have to admit, though, that the profile fits) but it is clear that the rules are different for charities.

This is exactly as it should be - we will regret the day that we ever compare the standards we use to those of the mainstream commercial world.

In this ever more cynical world, donors and non-donors alike expect and demand that charity operates at a different level. We need to recognise and indeed encourage such a difference and do whatever we can to ensure such a difference continues to exist.

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