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Sketch: Discussing incentives over a free breakfast

Sketch: Discussing incentives over a free breakfast
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Sketch: Discussing incentives over a free breakfast4

Fundraising | Gemma Ware | 1 Feb 2008

With the Fundraising Standards Board handing down its first adjudication on the issue last month and the Institute of Fundraising still making last-minute tweaks to its code of practice on direct mail, the question of what to do about incentives is proving a lingering new year hangover for the sector.

The debate, held in an airy atrium in the offices of fundraising consultancy Cascaid, was full of hardened direct mailers, mostly eager to defend the humble pen pack and take a stand against the looming introduction of rules on what they can or can’t send as an incentive to make people give.

Our host, Alan Clayton, Cascaid’s managing director, kicked off proceedings with an attempt to define what an ‘incentive’ really was. They covered, he said, the free bird- feeders given to new members of the RSPB, the ‘pure premiums’ such as umbrellas sent out in mailings only to provoke a response, the ‘mission’ gifts that have close links to and emphasise a particular appeal, and ‘lift devices’ put in to enhance the creative texture of the mail pack, like the piece of rope sent to WSPA donors to show what rope through a bear’s nose would feel like. (Not surprisingly, Clayton didn’t spell out which category of incentive Cascaid’s free breakfast would fall into.)

With a glance at Institute of Fundraising chief executive Lindsay Boswell, he then asked the room whether the sector was in danger of introducing “draconian regulation” just for the sake of a few umbrellas. On the other hand, if charities kept on sending them to their hearts’ content, should fundraisers be worried that the government could step in to take charge if it thinks Jon Scourse et al. at the FRSB aren’t doing a good enough job of the sector’s first foray into self-regulation?

Boswell said the government was unlikely to have the inclination to jump in wielding a truncheon. In other words, it was down to fundraisers to sort this incentive business out for themselves and to figure out a system that helped the public to differentiate between “the good and the shysters” of fundraising – because there will always be bad boys out there.

But why, weighed in Mark Astarita, director of fundraising at the British Red Cross, do we talk about donors as if they are stupid? They can decide for themselves whether they want to donate and if they do, it will be because they believe in the cause, not because they’re tricked into giving after receiving a calendar or a set of address labels.

“Don’t pretend that these people are stupid, because they’re not. That’s crass," he said. “And anyway, we get more people asking us for another diary than complaints.”

Armed with figures to prove that his team have recruited 250,000 new supporters through its ‘Humanity Rose’ pack in the last three years, Astarita argued it was blindingly obvious: including incentives brings in more money. Lots of it.

Boswell, whose breakfast had clearly put him in a rather co-operative mood, waved his arms towards the assembled fundraisers. “You will decide” what happens, he said. “You’ll get the standards that the industry agrees to, and that’s the way it should be. You all know a lot more about fundraising than I will ever know.” Comforting words, considering he had the latest draft of the Institute’s long-awaited direct mail code of practice in his briefcase.

After a flurry of debate about whether charities should believe a word their donors say when they decry their hatred of incentives in focus groups (someone pointed out that most people say they don’t like politicians but they still vote for them), the discussion turned to public trust. Would it be ruined if there weren’t at least some rules introduced to distinguish good fundraising from bad?

Astarita pitched in that fundraising is only rubbish if it doesn’t raise any money. “We are in danger of moving to a point where our licence to ask is going to be increasingly curtailed.” Asking is a fundamental freedom of society, he said, but in the West people aren’t getting any more generous and so we need to ask more (perhaps not as much as the Americans do, but more). “Our big problem as a sector is how are we going to get an increasing number of people giving, and getting a bigger market share?”

His colleague, Richard Verden, head of individual giving, took a look around the room to illustrate. Fundraisers operate in that “rarefied atmosphere”, of broadsheet-reading, left-leaning smugness, he said - a little out-of-touch with the masses, which makes getting the majority of the country to dig their hands in their pockets extra tricky.

To finish, Andy Taylor, director of fundraising at Action for Blind People, played up to that label after a comment that the DMA was “almost wetting themselves” about what to do if the government decides, as it is considering, to make direct mail opt-in rather than opt-out. Environmental issues will be the decider. “That’s of more concern to donors than pens,” he said.

Still, I wonder how many went back to their offices to order another batch for their next mailing.

Joel Voysey
6 Feb 2008

Mark is quite right though to reject any knee-jerk demands from a very small group (non-donors in the main too!) which restrict fundraisers' room to maneuvre in asking for money - particularly with regard to techniques that are highly effective.

Elizabeth Liddell
6 Feb 2008

I hate receiving pens etc in direct mail. The labels are useful but don't pursuade me to give but are essential for raffles.I give because I am convinced of the argument.

Jayne George
6 Feb 2008

Thank you Andy Taylor this is a hysterical story coming from inside the industry donors are much more concerned about the enviroment than incentives

Anon
5 Feb 2008

Astarita's comments, while correct in principle, illustrate the arrogance that can annoy some of those donors he talks about.

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