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Is it fair to criticise face-to-face?

(c) Howard Sayer
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Is it fair to criticise face-to-face?7

A London councillor recently declared his intention to rid London's streets of "annoying" face-to-face fundraisers. Chester Mojay-Sinclare explores why the councillor's actions may not be unfounded.

It’s widely known that a significant portion of the general public despises face-to-face fundraising. You only need to consider the rise of the popular term “chugger” to see this.

So what is it that gives this industry such a bad name? Well, the answer to that is quite apparent - one need only ask their neighbour for their opinion, to obtain a reasonably accurate depiction of the nation’s disdain for face-to-face fundraising.

As stated by Cllr Paul Convery, from Islington Council, who recently announced that he is making efforts to get face-to-face fundraising off Islington’s streets, “I sympathise with charities. It’s not easy right now, but this is a bad way to raise money, for three reasons: a) it’s annoying people and damaging the brand of the charity, b) they don’t make a big enough percentage of the money, it’s going to the agencies and c) it’s just not a good way to make money – there are other better ways.”

All these points contain an element of truth, although I am unsure about the claim that it damages the charity’s brand, it appears that most of those who are annoyed by face-to-face fundraising choose to ignore the fundraiser and their cause entirely. I asked Usurv.com to survey 200 people about this and the results came back that only 12.5 per cent strongly disapprove of charities using face-to-face fundraisers. So it seems unlikely to be doing too much damage right now. Nevertheless, whether you subscribe to either view, this puts doubt on many fundraising agencies’ claims that their high fees are justified because their service generates both revenue and awareness for a cause.

A worthy 'investment'?

However, what was most enlightening about the survey results was that over 60 per cent of those who approved of charities using face-to-face fundraisers disapproved of the costs involved, when told that they are around £90 per acquisition. This is very concerning, it shows a far more shocking picture, a picture of informed disapproval being disguised by the approval of the uninformed. It suggests brand contamination may be waiting in the wings. Is face-to-face fundraising a ticking time bomb?

I recently spoke to the managing director of one face-to-face fundraising agency, who predictably claimed that his agency offered good value for money. He compared face-to-face fundraising to an investment, in which the charity doubles their money in only a few years. Affording him a level of graciousness that was unfortunately not reciprocated in that meeting, I chose to keep my mouth shut. However, his well rehearsed and, on the surface, quite convincing statement, is in fact utterly ludicrous on consideration. When one makes an investment, they get a return on their own funds; if I invest £150 today and receive £300 in a few years, I have done well. Yet, if I invested £150 today, am charged a £50 admin fee for doing so and later receive a £100, I have not. It is the latter that equates to face-to-face fundraising; the donor pays for the acquisition costs of their support. In fact, to compare face-to-face fundraising with an investment at all is to take the charity’s perspective with a total disregard for the donor’s kind contribution, without which they would make a loss.

This may seem like a fairly critical comment on the value of face-to-face fundraising, but this is not entirely representative of my view. While, like many, I believe it is an ineffective and expensive method of raising funds, I also see that it does work. Furthermore, is it not true that every penny given to charity, regardless of the method used, is a penny better spent than it would be in one of the high street shops? I think that face-to-face fundraising’s days are numbered and there is good reason to be concerned about brand contamination, but I’d like to see a sufficient replacement introduced before it is banished from our high streets entirely. Nevertheless, it seems that 32 per cent of those surveyed already think that this time has come.

 

Tony Barber
20 Jan 2012

Street and doorstep face-to-face is, long term, going to damage the reputations of charities that employ this method of fundraising. It annoys the general public and it fails to truly engage people with the charity's work. Charities that use this type of fundraising risk alienating their own supporters, who will see the vast costs being paid to fundraising agents as devaluing and wasting their own efforts.

Dave Soper
Funding Advisor
FACT Wokingham Project - The Ark Ltd
19 Jan 2012

The reality of what has happened with the rise in Chuggers is that people have been put off giving to charity, either because they find the initial contact intrusive or because they find if they sign up they are regularly pestered to increase their donation.
The result is that smaller organisations that have previously complied with collecting regulations have found they have lost their slots outside places such as the local supermarket, because shoppers have complained that people are always collecting wherever they go.
For many of these organisations these small fundraing events were all they needed to keep going, as most of their work is carried out by volunteers.
It is not for the large charities to put these vital small local charities out of business, and those involved in chugging should accept it is unethical and stop doing it.
As a side issue I refuse to donate to or support any charity I am aware is involved in chugging. Others with my views should follow.

A Chugger
10 Jan 2012

There are a lot of contradictions and inaccuracies within this article. "It’s widely known that a significant portion of the general public despises face-to-face fundraising"... What is the basis of this statement? The use of the word chugger? This does not hold up to any real scrutiny (the authors own survey suggests that this is not the case).I’d suggest that the significant percentage of the general population have no opinion on F2F whatsoever.

I would agree that 60% of the survey disapproving of the costs involved is concerning, but given the inaccuracies and spin on this subject reported in the press over years it’s hardly surprising. The description given of costs involved, and means by which charities secure future funds within this article is nonsense. F2F is designed to work over a number of years. Donor numbers have remained pretty consistent over the last 10 years and many within the sector are adept at tackling issues of attrition. There are no outsourcing costs to an in-house F2F organisation (not acknowledged anywhere in the article) but an agency will take on much of the risk involved with a campaign. There are costs involved, and therefore risks with all fundraising. Why concentrate on rubbishing F2F when it has consistently proved to be one of the most cost effective mediums?

Finally there is this statement – “While, like many, I believe it is an ineffective and expensive method of raising funds, I also see that it does work”. Really???… I can’t help but feel that there is an agenda being pushed here, with the author CEO of an organisation who promote on-line giving, perhaps he has a vested interest in attacking F2F?

Chester Mojay-Sinclare
CEO
11 Jan 2012
Response to [A Chugger]

The survey highlighted 12.5% strongly dissaprove of face-to-face fundraising. This constitues a 'significant portion' of those surveyed at least. Therefore, your reference to "contradictions and inaccuracies" is rather unfounded. 

The description of costs involved in the article were taken from CharityFacts.org, nobody else has questioned this.

I think that anyone who reads this article and interprets it as an attack on face-to-face fundraising has failed to understand my point. I do certainly believe online fundraising is the better method, but face-to-face still has its place. It raises much needed income for many good causes, often from individuals who would not have given otherwise.

Ian MacQuillin
Head of Communications
Public Fundraising Regulatory Association
12 Jan 2012
Response to [Chester Mojay-Sinclare]

The reason why this has been interpreted as an attack on F2F is because you’ve singled out the investment that charities make in their street F2F fundraising but have ignored the investment they need to make in other types of fundraising, which are often also outsourced to third party agencies.

Your critique of the investment that charities need to make in finding new donors – which you consider to be ‘ludicrous’ – applies to most, if not all, forms of donor acquisition for committed gifts. But you have applied it only to ‘chuggers’. The question some are asking is why you chose to ignore all the others?

And one other thing that I don’t quite understand from your piece. You complain that the donor pays the acquisition cost (which of course, is true for not just F2F but also DRTV, direct mail, press advertising etc, not to mention various forms of digital fundraising). As most charity income is provided by ‘donors’, who else do you think is going to pay the costs of fundraising?

Giles Pegram
Consultant
Giles Pegram Ltd
10 Jan 2012

Are face-to-face fundraisers any more " annoying " than the formidable ladies who would be holding trays of flags every Saturday in every high street. They could be very aggressive, but they were seen as part of High Street life.

On costs, Cllr Convery is just wrong. All charities have to recruit new donors. The main methods are directmail / door-drops, television and face-to-face. None of them make a profit in the first year. But because they are recruiting people on to direct debts, their support lasts. It is, as the writer says, an investment. Attrition is, after the frst few months, low. The average donor stays for ten years. Face-to-face donors are younger, give more, and are likely to be able to gve more still as they get older. We need younger donors. And they are raising millions of pounds of pure profit, which can be used to change the world for the better. This isn't a zero-sum-game. This is probably the cheapest and most effective way of recruiting new donors. Seriously. And someone who signs up is going to feel really good about themseves. Ask them.

There are increasing standards being introduced to eliminate the rogue fundraisers who are too agressive. They are here to stay.

PS Siu
Fundraiser
RNS
10 Jan 2012

Caught the tail end of a discussion regarding just this topic on LBC radio yesterday evening - The phone ins were enlightening. It's a complex debate, but to me f2f is one tool amongst many, is very effective if done well, and for gawd's sake apply a light touch to the whole exercise, including leaving territories 'fallow' for awhile - People were complaining about the consistent saturation coverage of f2f teams around the Angel/Islington area.

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Chester Mojay-Sinclare

Chester Mojay-Sinclare is the founder and CEO of Online Giving Ltd, a social enterprise partnered with one of the UK's largest social networking firms, and of charitycheckout.co.uk. In 2010 he established aliveandgiving.com.

Follow Chester on Twitter @ChesterSinclare

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