New models needed to deal with falling trust, says fundraising consultant

Reuben Turner of The Good Agency tells the International Fundraising Congress that charities will have to work in collaboration with donors as levels of trust in all institutions decline

Reuben Turner
Reuben Turner

Charities need to combat declining levels of trust by adopting new models in which they and donors are working together, according to Reuben Turner, creative director of the fundraising consultancy The Good Agency.

Speaking at the International Fundraising Congress in the Netherlands yesterday, Turner pointed to research published in January by the PR company Edelman, which found that trust in all major institutions, including government, the media, businesses and charities, had fallen.

He said many people saw charities as part of "the establishment" and did not believe they truly cared about their causes.

"Charities and NGOs are seen as part of this broken system by many people now," Turner said. "They are seen as self-serving, as existing to exist, not to solve problems. It’s a belief that you hear time and time again, and is reinforced by fundraising messages and behaviours. That’s the problem."

Many charities were looking for additional funds to grow or even to survive, he said, at the same time as the traditional pool of people who give to charity was shrinking. He said fundraisers tended to assume that those who did not donate did not care.

"If you go out to the mass of non-givers, you are immediately going to be talking to people who don’t believe in charities and NGOs and basically aren’t buying what we’re selling," Turner said. "But they do care about things."

He said it was time for fundraisers to re-examine the moral high ground they tended to try to occupy.

"The traditional fundraising model assumes trust and doesn’t work without it, and that means we might need a different model of change," he said.

"Fundraising always boils down to ‘you give us money and we change the world’. The assumption is that they trust us because we deserve it; but I don’t think a mass of the population does any more."

Turner said new ways of operating that saw donors and supporters as collaborators in effecting change were needed.

"The current model is ‘you give, we do’," he said. "The answer we need to move to is that the organisation needs to get the individual on board and change things together."

One example of organisations collaborating with people to create change, he said, was the way in which the short-term house rental app AirBnB had used its platform to connect people who had lost their homes during Hurricane Irma with people who were willing to take them in.

He said the issue charities needed to tackle was how to grow such models so they could be used on a large scale.

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