Opinion: Hot issue - Do 'charity of the year' deals make local fundraising more difficult?

A hospice and air ambulance service complained last week that large stores were banning local charity boxes from their counters because of exclusive partnerships with chosen charities. Is this becoming a widespread problem?


Help the Hospices is the national charity that supports the UK hospice movement. Most hospices are local, independent charities that rely heavily on local fundraising to fund the high-quality care they provide. This support comes from their local communities at all levels, not just from companies.

One way that Help the Hospices supports hospices is by setting up national corporate partnerships, which are beneficial for hospices on a local level; money raised locally by company staff goes to support local hospices.

Sometimes this allows hospices the opportunity to work with new companies; on other occasions, these partnerships enable hospices to develop existing local relationships further.

The companies we have worked with as the 'official' charity allow and indeed encourage staff to support other charities, both local and national.

Moreover, most companies look to change their chosen charity on a yearly basis, meaning that different charities benefit in turn.

Access to these sorts of partnerships has actually widened the scope for local hospice fundraising and raised many millions of pounds that would not otherwise have been available to support local hospice care.


Local charities and good causes have largely been instrumental in causing this situation. Major companies are continually inundated with requests for support from local charities.

We assume that large companies making massive profits can afford to give and, indeed, feel they have a social duty to support the community from which their profits come. They are always the first stop in the high street for raffle prizes, event sponsorship and store collections. But we must appreciate the situation from a business perspective.

It has been a logical step for the management to limit unsolicited requests by choosing one charity to support. Sadly, the choice is always a large, well-known charity that will have maximum impact - a logical marketing decision. The hospice movement, or a national cancer or heart charity, will touch most people at some time.

Of course The Rainbow Centre has been affected, but many years ago we made the decision to build relationships with small, local businesses first before approaching them about collection boxes. These small businesses appreciate our problem because they suffer at the hands of large corporate chains themselves.


By definition a major retailer's charity of the year will be a high-profile national charity - not a local charity, no matter how worthy.

However, we do find that local store managers of the same retailer are fully aware of their corporate responsibility for helping the local community - and they are encouraged to do so. What they do not like is the collecting box standing on a checkout, just getting in the way. The store wants the personal touch of the volunteer holding the can.

The Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation gets very frustrated at the attitude of the director of corporate responsibility, sitting in his splendid office saying that we are too small a charity to know how to handle all the money that would be raised if we were their charity of the year - try us! And anyway, they say, it's a staff decision. That's a polite way of saying no. We then find that they have their own pet projects - hospices, schools or breasts.

Major retailers do support small local charities through their local stores - but it's not always with collecting boxes. Stores also have bag-packs, gifts in kind such as raffle prizes and information stands in reception areas. They can also provide professional support, trusteeships and payroll giving.


The Kent Air Ambulance takes the view that each charity needs to know its place, and our place is to operate as a regional and not a national charity.

We do not begrudge the circumstances in which large supermarket chains and corporations, for pragmatic business purposes, choose to work with national campaigns and charities. We wonder what gives any charity the right to bemoan a company's choice about who it nominates as its charity of the year.

We are a small charity fundraising among a population of 1.5 million.

We recognise that our fundraising terrain is different from that of the national charities, even though our territories overlap. The exciting challenge for us is to tap into all of those businesses that are compelled to support a local cause, as opposed to a national cause, and to do this we shamelessly market ourselves as a charity just for the people of Kent.

I think it is simply a question of focusing on those local initiatives that the smaller businesses of the region will wish to associate themselves with and willingly support. In a nutshell, we all need to learn to punch at our own weight.

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