Stephen Pidgeon: You have to raise money to spend it

Some trustees and chief executives view fundraising as an embarrassing black art, writes our columnist


Late last year, I got into a spat with two leading members of our sector for daring to question the performance of Dame Clare Tickell, the outgoing chief executive of Action for Children.

This took place in the online comments section of Third Sector, after I read an interview with Dame Clare (3 December, page 10). I had looked at the charity's income during her tenure, using the figures on her own website, and wondered whether it was appropriate that such praise should be heaped on a charity leader who had presided over an 18.2 per cent drop in income, falling from £220m in 2006 to £180m in 2012. By contrast, Barnardo's, with its income similarly dependent on statutory sources, experienced a 27.8 per cent rise in income in the same period.

I was particularly incensed that an expensive rebranding from National Children's Home to Action for Children five years earlier, designed to boost voluntary income, had led to an 18.3 per cent decrease in fundraised income. Despite this, the rebrand was described by Dame Clare as a "success". Some success.

Leaving that aside, I want to praise the trustees and chief executive of a 'top 10' UK charity, which I won't name, who apparently told their director of fundraising that a 6 per cent rise in income in a recent year was not enough. Their burning ambition to achieve more for their mission means their commitment to fundraising is absolute, and it makes them demand more.

But there are trustees and chief executives who have little interest in fundraising. Many actually find it vulgar - they love to deal with those charming rich people who want to make major gifts, but see mass fundraising as an embarrassing black art.

One of my spats was with Debra Allcock Tyler, chief executive of the Directory of Social Change, who, in her response to my comment, came up with the immortal lines: "Income is not a measure of success" and "income is more often to do with timing and luck". As a fundraiser, if you didn't laugh, you'd cry.

But I was annoyed with Jackie Ballard, former head of three major charities, who patronisingly asked whether I had "taken the trouble" to analyse Action for Children's achievements against its mission. She went on to say that service delivery is "more important" than income. But you cannot do one without the other.

Fundraisers struggle against such attitudes all the time. It is one reason we need more fundraisers on boards and in chief executive positions. Charity trustees and chief executives have two responsibilities for the mission: spending money but, before that, raising it. If they devote attention only to spending money, it is to the long-term detriment of the mission.

Fundraising would be so much more successful with the active commitment and interest of the trustees and chief executive.

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

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