Stephen Pidgeon: The menace of political correctness

The excessive sensitivities of some professional groups can hamper the effectiveness of fundraising campaigns, says our columnist

I want to tell you about two charities. Both make me very angry, and are typical of many. The first is based overseas. I'll not name it, though I'd love to name and shame the social workers who run it as their personal fiefdom.

The charity does terrific work: it takes kids out of really tough home conditions and gives them wonderful breaks with children their own age, while working with the families to improve things at home.

But the charity bans negative images and stories of children in distress. Fundraisers can use only pictures of happy children. They all appear impeccably dressed and the facilities are luxurious - far better than my kids had. The social workers' ban on anything negative means that less money is raised - a lot less.

The second charity is a hospice. Its legacy booklet contains nine photographs, and all but one are pictures of buildings. Empty chairs, closed doors, pristine tidiness, no evidence of people except the glimpse of an arm in one picture. A hospice portrayed as sterile and impersonal.

Clearly, the medical and nursing staff control this place. These are people who know nothing about fundraising. By stopping the use of pictures of patients they are crucifying the hospice's ability to raise money. Yet most of the patients would be thrilled to be photographed.

I've got used to service delivery people who are obsessed with political correctness. I was working with one of our biggest children's charities a few years ago. The subject of an appeal was an inspirational young woman abused by her mother during her teenage years. Her mother was an alcoholic, but the term, even though it provided a reason why a mother might abuse her own daughter, was deemed to be pejorative and therefore unacceptable to the social workers in the charity. What rubbish.

In all these cases, the social workers and the nurses are making decisions that radically reduce the effectiveness of fundraising campaigns. Less money is raised, so more people are left without help. Children that could be helped by the overseas charity continue to live in appalling conditions because some benighted social worker is more interested in their professional standing among their peers.

I suspect that the nurses in the hospice probably refuse to attend fundraising events. They probably view fundraising as a grubby business - and, because of that, hundreds of people are left wanting because of a lack of funds.

I won't use stories or pictures that exploit, but I'm tired of such ignorance and bigotry. Any chief executive presiding over such nonsense is unworthy of the job. The choice is simple: either more money raised, and a few social workers supposedly embarrassed professionally; or professional staff smugly satisfied, and many kids left in the mire of a dysfunctional home life. I know what I'd choose.

Stephen Pidgeon is a trustee of the Institute of Fundraising, a consultant and teacher.

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