There’s been widespread reporting of the issues connected to the charity sector over the last 18 months, from allegations around fundraising practices to wider concerns about senior executive pay, the use of charitable funds and the role of trustees. While the focus was directed at a small number of organisations, it had an impact on fundraising across the sector. And, as a sector, if we’re honest with ourselves, many of us could have put up a stronger response.
Charities and agencies alike stood back from the limelight, confessing that they were nervous about putting themselves in the firing line. Whilst understandable, in my opinion this put the sector on the back foot from the start.
With the large majority of organisations prioritising what was happening behind the scenes, if and where things needed to be reviewed and tightened up, there was a void when it came to the public voice for fundraising.
Of course it was important to ask questions internally and to continue the eternal focus on striving to improve, but this also meant there was a vacuum where a robust defence of charity fundraising should’ve been.
So, here we are, a year on from the Summer of Discontent and the public is little more the wiser about how charities work, how important fundraising is and why there is a need to work with engaged third parties. Like ‘Groundhog Day’ every time an issue emerges in the sector, we start from the same point, with a siege mentality default setting. And yet, the need for fundraising has never been more important.
Charities not only have to fill the gap from continued government and corporate funding cuts and await the brunt of the economic impact of Brexit, but they continue to juggle increasing demands for beneficiary services.
My worry is that this lack of understanding makes for a much more challenging fundraising environment and an unstable foundation for building public trust. It’s time for us all to lower the drawbridge and let people in.
Across the sector, we need a genuine commitment to openness and accountability. By this, I don’t just mean answering the questions put to us by supporters, but actually encouraging those questions even, and particularly when they are from those that really don’t seem to understand what we do.
For us at HOME, we’ve never shied away from honest conversations, but we’re keen to take this on even further. Just recently, after a local MP raised concerns about doorstep fundraising, we invited him into the office to build understanding of what we do, the range of charities we work with and why face-to-face interactions are so important for them.
And, in July, shortly after the launch of the new Fundraising Regulator, we encouraged the regulatory team to visit us and we were delighted that they took us up on our offer. We’re also continuing our focus on ensuring senior staff at all the charities we work with; their CEOs and trustees are all invited to visit us and shadow a fundraising team to get a feel for how we represent them to supporters, among other initiatives.
We know that this is a long road and there will always be room for improvement, but our experience has been overwhelmingly positive.
So take off the battle armour, lower the drawbridge and let’s speak out, being proud of what we do and remind everyone why fundraising is so important.