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Bubb chides his members after Newsnight chugging fiasco

Bubb chides his members after Newsnight chugging fiasco
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Bubb chides his members after Newsnight chugging fiasco14

Governance | Tania Mason | 1 Sep 2010

Acevo chief executive Stephen Bubb has written a stern letter to the CEOs of the top 50 fundraising charities challenging their reluctance to defend the sector on last week’s Newsnight programme about face-to-face fundraising.

The programme highlighted the fact that street fundraisers are often employed by private sector agencies and that it can take more than a year of regular donations to cover the cost of recruiting the donor. The programme implied that the fundraising technique is inefficient and that charities are not always up-front with donors.

Newsnight struggled to find people from the sector who were willing to be questioned on the show, and only two of the 20 charities approached would say how much it cost them to recruit each donor.

In his letter, Bubb said this revealed a “worrying lack of accountability and transparency on the part of charities”.

He wrote: “Our reluctance to defend what are entirely defensible practices poses a very real reputational risk to the whole sector.

“We need to get better at explaining what we do in order to build the requisite confidence needed to strengthen this fragile trust, and we must do it in a clear, transparent and accountable way. If we fail to do this, we propagate and reinforce the kind of myths that were presented in Newsnight’s feature.”

Bubb also voiced his surprise that the debate on the subject has so far been confined to the fundraising community, while chief executives have not really engaged. “I believe that protecting the reputations of our organisations is a core role for chief executives,” he said.

Acevo is home to the ImpACT Coalition, a sector initiative that aims to improve accountability and transparency and boost public understanding of what charities do and how they operate.  All of the 50 CEOs who were sent Bubb’s letter are either members of Acevo or of the ImpACT Coalition.

Bubb makes no call to action in the letter but an Acevo spokeswoman said the organisation hoped to spark debate among recipients and other Acevo members. A link to the letter was also included in Acevo’s member newsletter that went out today.

Bubb concluded the letter by saying: “We take our responsibility to improving accountability and transparency very seriously, and we hope that our colleagues in the sector share our conviction.”

Elisabeth Michau
Head of Fundraising
5 Sep 2010

I don't agree with Stephen Bubb that charities unwilling to appear on Newsnight are lacking accountability and transparency. It was obvious that the intention was to damage the reputation of F2F, why would anyone volunteer to go to the slaughter house? We are accountable and transparent, anyone wishing to check charities' accounts and fundraising methods can visit the charity commission's website to download the audited accounts. The media attack F2F when they have nothing else to put their teeth in, but deep down they know they don't really have a "story". It comes and goes. And people on the streets or on the doorsteps are still signing up, despite the Newsnight programme. We don't need to appear on TV to preserve our reputation. Like Mick said, charities are still top of the list when it comes to trust.

Why is F2F so important to many charities?

I have managed donor acquisition campaigns over the last 10 years for 3 low profile, small to medium size charities, of all the tests (inserts, cold mailings, reciprocal mailings, DRTV, press ad, events, cold telephone calling, F2F etc.). In my experience, F2F remains the most successful in terms of delivering the volume you need in order to grow the charity's income quite substantially and in a sustainable way. It remains the most predictable, lowest risk, and most cost effective form of donor acquisition , regardless of the cause you are fundraising for, and provided of course that the campaigns are well managed. As someone said, in the case of F2F fundraisers the charity only pays for results - if the fundraiser is unsuccessful the charity doesn't pay whereby if a TV or press ad is unsuccessful, the money is simply wasted. But this, no one queries.

Another important point. To fundraise successfully you also need to maintain a good fundraising mix. Charities cannot continue relying on government or European funding, especially now. In addition, restricted income from trusts, companies or major donors won't give you the flexibility you need to manage the organisation well enough. Of all the unrestricted income streams available to a charity, donor acquisition is the most important because it helps preserve your autonomy, your independence and even, I'd like to think, your integrity.

So why is F2F so unpopular with some? Three reasons.

1- Firstly, it has many detractors within the fundraising community itself who, because they are not involved in F2F, are feeling left out and are losing out financially (direct mail, advertising etc.). Well run charities will invest into what is the most cost effective and what enables them to plan ahead with confidence. This is why over the years many charities have shifted their donor acquisition budgets to F2F. Times have changed. It is our duty to always find the next best income stream and we're doing just that.

2- Some think charities are still run by a bunch of well meaning volunteers. Volunteers are great. However they too cost money, they need to be managed, reined in sometimes (especially some trustees), they need to be trained and monitored. So please can we stop saying that volunteers are "free". Charities are accountable to their beneficiaries. We would not exist if there was no need. The greater the need, the more money we need to raise. It's as simple as that. Charities cannot grow on the back of volunteers, unless they want to remain small and local or unless they have an established constituency but even this at some point will plateau, if not decline. Would anyone expect successful businesses to be run by volunteers? No, or perhaps some family businesses... It's the same for charities. Money goes to money. If you want to grow your income, you need to invest money and with F2F donor acquisition this is precisely what we are doing. And yes we use F2F agencies/PFOs, simply because in most cases, it is cheaper to outsource specialism and skills. Donors should be glad to see we are careful with their money.

3- Thirdly, F2F is unpopular with some members of the general public because it confronts them with their own guilt. They'd rather go buy their sandwich without being told about the miseries of this world and the fact they're not doing anything about it. Fine. They have a right to feel grumpy about that. But how about, for a change, we give a voice to the hundreds of thousands of people who sign up quite happily each year, who enjoyed the conversation they had with the fundraiser, and who admit that if it was not for F2F they would have either never found the time to sign up, never heard about the issues, or never heard of this amazing charity they are now feeling proud to support.

If you don't ask you don't get. And for many busy people these days you need to ask them "face to face" and they don't mind at all.

Tom Peters
7 Sep 2010
Response to [Elisabeth Michau]

I agree 100%.

Does BBC tell 100% to their viewers how they make money from their advertisers?

BBC as a reputable organization should investigate from a neutral point of view and find out the full story rather than having a point and then going about it to find out more info.

Mick Aldridge
Chief Executive
PFRA
3 Sep 2010

It is gratifying to see that the discussion here about the Newsnight fall-out is a lot more informed and informative than some running elsewhere: but there is one 'canard' still being trotted out which deserves to be challenged; the old chestnut that F2F "damages" the reputation of the charities that use it - and, indeed, "the sector as a whole" - in some unspecified but deeply dangerous way.

Just a couple of stats: firstly, the Charity Commission's 'Trust & Confidence' Survey 2008 showed that 'charities' are the third most trusted institution in the UK (after 'doctors' and 'the police'; newspapers are at the bottom); the 2010 version apparently shows that trust is INCREASING over time (http://www.charity-commission.gov.uk/library/guidance/initial_%20analysis.pdf).

Secondly, the recent 'global reputation' poll undertaken by The Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Adminsitrators showed that the 'top ten' charities by public reputation in the UK are, in order, RNLI, RSPCA, British Red Cross, Cancer Research UK, British Heart Foundation, Scope, National Trust, Baranardo's, Oxfam, and the Wellcome Trust: only two of which (NT and Wellcome) do NOT use F2F in some form or another. Given that Charity Awareness Monitor (March 2010) estimate that over the last year at least 60% of the population have encountered a face-to-facer in any given month, it does not seem immediately clear that using F2F is harming their reputations.

It would be nice to try and nail this definitively with some well-honed research sometime soon, but for now I'd say the jury is certainly still out, at the very least!

Helen P
Direct Giving
3 Sep 2010

Oh that is so pompous and self promoting of Stephen Bubb, why does he gets so much coverage for his self glorying quack, he gives the whole sector a tired image with his hot air, puffery and boasting. I despair.

John Whitehead
3 Sep 2010

The BBC reports that one charity pays £136 per face-to-face recruit, and in the past I have been quoted even more. With the levels of attrition that I have seen at two different charities, they would not be breaking even on these donors until well into the third year after recruitment and would only have a very modest return on their investment after five years. Not every charity has a clear grasp of these dynamics.

Jonathan Evans
Individual Giving Manager
3 Sep 2010
Response to [ John Whitehead]

Well, yes. If you haven't done the maths properly, you shouldn't be embarking on this kind of fundraising. Or, indeed, any kind of fundraising that requires a financial investment. The figure you quote is markedly more than the charity I worked for was paying and a break-even point somewhere in the third year suggests a failed campaign.

Jonathan Evans
Individual Giving Manager
2 Sep 2010

I don't entirely agree with John Whitehead's comments. Face-to-face can sometimes be (at least) as important to smaller charities as larger ones. One that I used to work for had a minimal public profile and a very focussed remit. This meant that other forms of cold recruitment, e.g. direct mail, were rarely successful, especially given that there was never the budget for the necessary economies of scale. Face-to-face, by contrast, enabled a dialogue with potential supporters, which proved highly successful. That said, this was door-to-door rather than street, which allowed extended conversations, an opportunity to leave literature, and even call-backs if a prospect wanted time to think about the proposition. Street, I've never liked, for the reasons mentioned by Marcus O'Shea.

John Whitehead
2 Sep 2010

Face-to-Face can work fine for high profile, well known charities, but smaller charities, where the ask is harder, will find that they have to pay more per donor, and they need to have a good understanding of the lifetime value of donors to be able to evaluate the cost effectiveness of face-to-face fundraising.

Elena Joseph
Workplace Giving UK
2 Sep 2010

We too are Professional Fundraisers, and I take great exception at the comment posted above by The Community Fundraiser - the fact that people are naive shouldn't mean that a sector stops doing something, it means that they need an explanation - surely he or she is paid by the charity he or she works for, is he happy to disclose his salary publicly and justify it - he should be as "chuggers" are expected to - further are charities happy to publicise the amounts they spend on TV and other advertising and the ROI on them - again, surely they should be - the main difference which everybody is missing in the case of street fundraisers is that the charity only pays for results - if the fundraiser is unsuccessful the charity doesn't pay whereby if a TV ad is unsuccessful the money is spent. Perhaps he/she should spend some time explaining to the volunteers he/she has carefully crafted a relationship with that if the ROI for charities wasn't good - they would no longer do it! It certainly comes to something when a charity worker likens professional fundraisers to bank robbers and prostitutes with, presumably, the charities being the pimps!

The Community Fundraiser
5 Sep 2010
Response to [ Elena Joseph]

Elena,

"the fact that people are naive shouldn't mean that a sector stops doing something" - this is exactly the thought process that I disagree with.

Yes I am paid by a charity and, because I develop good, long-term relationships with volunteers, I have on occasion been asked. I have justified my earning a salary, with regards to the amount of money I bring in and the responsibility I have to take. And you know what, most people are fine with that.

I am well aware that charities would not use these methods if the return was not worth it, I never actually disputed this.

And, if you re-read my initial comment, you'll see that of course I was not likening Face to Face, chuggers, or any other charity worker with bank robbers and prostitutes.

I was merely suggesting that the main defence of chugging (it brings in a large amount of money) can be likened to other methods of theoretically generating cash that would also bring in money, but for obvious reasons would never be used.

Why use a method that risks annoying or angering members of the public. Surely there are more creative ways to achieve the same results, and ones that actually acknowledge the annoyed and harassed feelings of large amounts of the public.

Jonathan Evans
Individual Giving Manager
2 Sep 2010
Response to [ Elena Joseph]

I agree entirely with Elena's comments, even though I dislike some aspects of face-to-face - or, rather, dislike how it's sometimes carried out. The problem is that link between donation and cost is explicit and personal with face-to-face. This is good for charity budgeting, but bad for PR. Nobody responding to a cold mailing ever seems to stop and think that their gift is, effectively, going straight to a mailing house.

Charles Kenyon
2 Sep 2010

I am a Trustee, Chair of Trustees and 'free' Fundraiser with a Certificate in Fundraising management. The paid face to face fundraisers - Wildlife today, Children tomorrow - are the bane of the charitable ethos for smaller charities. ACEVO isn't vey helpful either for it represents the interests of paid staff rather than volunteers, where charity starts.

The Community Fundraiser
communityfundraising.wordpress.com
1 Sep 2010

Of course the CEO's of the top 50 charities were reluctant.
Chugging is the bane of my life as a Community Fundraiser and I am sick to the back teeth of the amount of damage it does to the carefully crafted relationships I work hard to form with my volunteers.
The defence that "it brings in large amounts of money" does not cut it in my opinion. So does bank robbery and prostitution, but charities don't use these methods.
The charities know that it is unpopular and therefore have to hide behind third party agencies.
They should drop this practice and think about the long term donor damage it can cause to existing, harassed supporters.

Marcus O'Shea
Director
Three in One Consulting
2 Sep 2010
Response to [ The Community Fundraiser]

As Head of Fundraising for a national charity I resisted their use. Through years of fundraising I have always felt the risks were too unknown and too big.

For example it is entirely possible to measure how much money chuggers bring in but is anyone calculating the the amount of money they are costing charities through loss of goodwill or damage to reputation caused by the sometimes predatory and intrusive way in which chuggers try to solicit donations on the street.

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