Peter Stanford: Slam the door shut on door-to-door fundraising

It can still be very effective, but the risk to the good name of charities is getting too large, writes our columnist

Door-to-door fundraising never seems far removed from controversy, whether it be for the methods used, the unhappiness it causes some of those targeted or the damage it risks doing to the reputation of the sector. The Royal British Legion is the latest organisation to end door-to-door after a newspaper exposed the misleading sales patter used by some on the doorstep acting on its behalf.

I'd like to make a plea that the trustees of other charities that still use such an outdated and controversial method of fundraising follow the legion's lead, or at least table a discussion of it for the next trustees meeting. Then we might see the back of a technique that appears to do us little credit.

Do charities really want to risk being likened to a church such as the Jehovah's Witnesses?

Peter Stanford

I understand the arguments in its favour. It can still be very effective, but the risk to the good name of charities - their greatest asset in dealing with the public - is getting too large.

I'm never sure which irks me most: the knock at the front door from a charity rep, or the presence on my doorstep of Jehovah's Witnesses. Both seem to contrive to come at precisely the least convenient time. Early evening on a weekday is, granted, a good time to catch working parents at home, making dinner, but it is also by the same measure when they are busy.

And both groups fail in equal measure to make any allowance for choices the people they are disturbing have already made. I was recently bothered for a good 10 minutes by a cold-calling young man representing a charity to which I make regular donations. When I told him that, after 30 seconds, he carried on with his spiel. When I repeated it in words of one syllable, he asked me if I wanted to increase the monthly amount. My strongest instinct was to cancel the direct debit altogether.

Likewise, when the Jehovah's Witnesses start their sales pitch for God, I try nicely to say I'm Catholic. In other words, I'm covered, thank you. But they don't even blink and carry on regardless, as if I am an atheist. And there's one more parallel to add: both sets of cold-callers keep coming back. No thank you is never enough, apparently.

Do charities really want to risk being likened to a church such as the Jehovah's Witnesses, which enjoys such a dubious reputation with the public: part joke, part sinister?

While there is any fundraising potential left in door-to-door collecting, those staff charged with filling the charity's coffers are unlikely to renounce it. And for the senior management team, with its financial targets, it is likewise a big ask that they should forgo the revenue to be gained from doorstepping and develop less intrusive approaches. This is an area where trustees should be making their voices heard.

Our role, as the name we are given suggests, is to maintain trust between our charities and the public. And when we see trust being eroded, as it is now by the drip-drip-drip of negative reports, it is our duty to act.

Peter Stanford is a writer and broadcaster, and was a charity chair for more than 20 years

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