INSTITUTE OF FUNDRAISING: Member Viewpoint - Don't exclude the work of religious groups in helping provide relief

Helen Foster MInstF (Cert), head of development at the Royal School of Church Music

Understanding donors' motivations is a key requirement for any fundraiser.

But we also need to be clear about the motivations of the organisations for which we work and help others to understand them.

"Religious" charities often find themselves viewed with suspicion. There can be an automatic assumption that gaining converts is at least one of their motivations, if not the main one. Finding "religious organisations" listed in the exclusions section of a trust's criteria is a common experience.

Reports such as those concerning Operation Christmas Child in 2002, where children packed shoeboxes with gifts to be sent to the developing world without being made aware that religious literature may accompany these presents, naturally increase suspicion.

But many faith-based organisations do what they do because they believe it is right, not because they are looking for converts. If girls are being given access to education that was not previously available to them, does it matter if they are supported by Islamic Aid, Christian Aid or Womankind Worldwide? Is it less acceptable for food to be given to homeless people by a Sikh Gudwara than by Crisis?

If bringing people to a particular faith is part of what an organisation sets out to do, this is nothing to be ashamed of. As fundraisers, we should not try to hide this motivation. We should be clear and open about it, treat potential donors with respect and seek support from those who are in sympathy with it. And if funders don't want to support proselytism, that's perfectly understandable too. But I hope that more funders will consider limiting their exclusions to this specific area, rather than placing a blanket exclusion on all the work done by faith-based organisations.

The Institute welcomes Viewpoint articles from its members. Please email the membership manager (Membership@institute-of-fundraising.org.uk).

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