Opinion: We must share the vision with our supporters

Ellen Ryan

Charities agonise about the state of giving. However, consider the maxim relating to interpersonal relationships: "If you want someone to change what they're doing, change what you do yourself." So if you want to see a change in giving, take your share of the responsibility.

Most people agree that transparency has a direct effect on giving. With all the talk about transparency in the past few years, isn't it time to accept that we are not terribly good at identifying its critical success factors? The time has come to ask: how transparent is your communication?

For example, you and I, as responsible consumers, look for transparency in companies we have contact with - we want to know that their policies on the environment and fair trade are congruent with our own values. On the other side of the coin, charities may talk about the value of empowerment and local knowledge when working with project partners, but do they embody these values at the heart of their organisation, and are they visible to supporters?

When was the last time you shared your vision with supporters? Are you entirely clear about that vision yourself? Have you explained how it links to specific fundraising methods? Remember Martin Luther King - supporters want to be part of a dream.

As we enter an age of strategic partnerships, do you consider your supporters and stakeholders to be 'partners' or simply 'funders'? If you relate to supporters as partners, then so they shall act. Smaller donors will become more financially involved and you will more quickly discover how many of them are 'sleeping' big givers.

The 'interrogation-room technique' helps identify key areas of transparency.

If a supporter looks through a two-way mirror and listens to your conversations, what would they hope to detect - how much money is spent on admin? They may also want to hear enthusiasm, see evidence of professionalism, listen to challenging and constructive dialogue, be shown signs of innovative thinking, and learn about activities that really make a difference to people's lives and the world they live in.

If you want to be transparent, you need to find out what criteria supporters want to see. No excuses. Just do it.

- Ellen Ryan worked in the voluntary sector for 15 years, and is now director of The Potential Centre.

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