"Mummy, am I going to die?" As the mother of two small children, it’s a particularly heart-wrenching plea from Children With Cancer UK that I’m currently faced with on my regular commute. I’m told that if I text SAVE to 70007, my donation of £3 could save Ella’s life.
This is the powerful fundraising campaign that sprang to mind when I read the many reader responses to recent stories about Olive Cooke, the elderly lady who was said by the tabloids to have been "hounded" before her death by charities begging for money. Many people said that they’d sent text donations to charities and were then inundated by forceful requests for more money from professional charity fundraisers.
I’d never sent a text donation and was intrigued to see what would happen if I did. Would I be bombarded by text messages and phone calls and wish that I’d ignored the charity requests that increasingly surround me on the train? So a couple of weeks ago I texted TABLETS to Oxfam to help people affected by the Nepal earthquake, KIT to ActionAid to buy feminine hygiene kits for women in Syria, BEAT to support Cancer Research UK and, of course, SAVE to Children with Cancer UK. I got strange looks from my fellow commuters and a pain in the neck as I craned to read the small print on the adverts telling me that by texting I consented to future telephone contact before sitting back and waiting to see what happened.
Personally, I liked it that I got return texts acknowledging my donations and thanking me, and they all gave me the option to send a message opting out of future communications. What did surprise me was the speed with which I received my first phone call. I was putting my children to bed less than two hours later when I received a call on behalf of Oxfam – speed of response was something that The Mail on Sunday highlighted in its investigation of fundraising agencies last weekend.
I did not find the tone of the call aggressive, but it did feel somewhat harassing to have just given some money and be immediately asked for even more. It took a day to get a call back from Children with Cancer UK and three days for ActionAid representatives to phone. Two weeks later, I’m still waiting to see whether CRUK follows up my donation with more than a thank-you text.
I found all the callers to be polite but pushy. I’m not elderly or vulnerable and, thankfully, I’m capable of saying no and firmly sticking to my decision – which was a skill I certainly needed in order to avoid signing up to direct debits. They all thanked me for my donation, told me they were calling from an agency, informed me how my money would help the cause and then asked me to give a regular cash gift. Despite my saying no to the initial direct debit suggestions – ranging from £10 to £5 – they all continued to tell harrowing stories and push for a lesser and lesser amount.
It’s hard to sit in my comfortable home and repeatedly say that I do not want to give more money. It made me feel guilty that I was not helping more, but I already donate to two charities each month and I do not want to give more at the moment. I can now understand why some people feel harassed into donating more money than they originally intended and commit to more than they can perhaps afford.
My experience is certainly not a bad one. Apart from one of the callers saying that they were funded by a pre-allocated budget given to the charity by the Charity Commission – I have no idea how they dreamed that one up – I felt that they were honest and did not resort to underhand tactics. If anything, I expected to receive more pleas for further donations; but in future I think I’ll stick to reading my book on the train.