Opinion: Third Voice - Focus on what fundraisers do, not what they cost

Giles Morris is a fundraiser and freelance writer

How much should a charity spend on fundraising? As little as possible, you might think, given the results of a recent survey by nfpSynergy. The research showed that 45 per cent of people think a charity's fundraising costs should be less than 10 per cent of its income - far less than the average of between 15 and 25 per cent recorded by most UK charities.

Should we be uneasy about this discrepancy? Is it time for us to enrol on a crash course in creative accountancy or media management in preparation for the dreadful moment when the reality of what charities spend on fundraising seeps out into the public arena?

Maybe not. Perhaps instead we should be a little prouder of the work that fundraisers actually do.

Sure, the bottom line with fundraising is always going to be a financial target - but there's so much more that fundraisers do over and above making money.

Fundraisers, above all, are communicators. A fundraising letter or proposal might not have the financial result we want, but that doesn't make it time and effort wasted.

As a fundraiser, I have lost count of the number of times proposals have been greeted with a polite refusal and "thank you for telling us about your work". We usually just dismiss it as a brush-off, but perhaps we should take them at their word? After all, fundraisers perform a valuable service as advocates for their charities' messages every time they make asks.

Fundraisers are often the primary face of the charity world. Think about it - when is the average person most likely to encounter a charity's message or even the idea that what charities do makes a difference to society?

Yes - when they're confronted with those infuriating and expensive young people in colourful bibs in the street, trying to get them to sign up to direct debits.

For too long, fundraising has been seen as a dirty, money-grabbing business that front-line charity workers would prefer not to bother with. It doesn't help that organisations such as Comic Relief claim that every penny of a donor's money goes to the cause, perpetuating the idea that charities can magically operate without any overheads at all.

We all know this isn't the case. Instead of talking down fundraising costs, perhaps we should talk up the contribution fundraisers actually make.

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