Stop slamming the sector

14 Jan 2013 Voices

Lisa Clavering calls on charities to stop criticising each other's methods.

Lisa Clavering calls on charities to stop criticising each other's methods.

I would like to issue a heartfelt plea to my fellow fundraisers. Let’s make 2013 the year when the sector-bashing stops – at least, from those within the sector.

I’ve been really disheartened of late by some of the messages I’ve seen about the sector. A recent piece on the BBC website, by a charity founder, talked about their model, which – should it be successful – will allow the charity to dissolve in the UK in just a few years, and their work supporting children in poverty to be continued on the ground sustainably in Ghana. It sounds like brilliant work, and a model that fits for them, and I hope it works that way. Wouldn’t we all love for our charities to be in that position? How amazing to close the door, close the books, and announce that our work is done.

But that can’t possibly work for everyone. The nature of many charities’ work means that, whilst 'finishing' the work and closing is a wonderful aim, is unlikely to happen in the short-term. Things like medical research. Or major development charities’ work against backdrops of corrupt leaders and governments. Hospital charities and hospices. And lots of other causes. And it’s kind of ok that, right now, the end isn’t in sight – because what matters is making a difference – doing something, now. Accountability doesn’t have to mean having an exact roadmap that shows where and when your overall ambitions will come to fruition. If we can demonstrate that we are spending wisely, able to explain our decisions, utilising experts to make and implement those decisions, and making progress, then that, surely, is enough. An end date isn’t what inspires and motivates people – the prospect of making a difference, changing the world in a small way, and moving closer to an end goal, is what unites us in giving.

The article also criticises some of the more 'traditional' images that charities use, and suggests that we shouldn’t be using emotion to drive people to support us. That might not be how this charity chooses to raise funds – and that’s absolutely their right. But for many charities, images that stir emotion are still an important way of opening up potential donors’ eyes to the work that they do. There are many arguments about emotional vs rational fundraising which I won’t rehash here as I have nothing fresh to add – all I will say is that I believe we should, as fundraisers, respect the rights of other charities to promote themselves and their work in the way they feel works for them. I don’t believe in writing off specific practices wholesale and I think it’s a real shame when people do so in a public forum.

'Chugger-gate'

Making my blood boil most of all this year, though, has been what I am going to call 'chugger-gate'.  I have been truly saddened to see so many people in the sector using this derogatory term to refer to face-to-face fundraisers without a thought. Let’s be clear about this. Referring to a channel crucial to the sector with a portmanteau of 'charity mugger' is demeaning and offensive to all of us who are striving to do good work. The problem is that the more we use it as if it’s ok, the more we perpetuate it as an acceptable term. I have met people and told them I work in charity fundraising, only to get the response “oh, so you’re a chugger?”. On replying that, well, if they meant a face-to-face fundraisers, no, they responded to say that they use chugger to mean anyone who works in the sector.

It’s been frustrating to see public-facing organisations use the word. The defence along the lines that “that’s what people call it so we’re just making sure they find our articles” rings quite hollow. I think my favourite comment on this debate came from Joel Voysey via Twitter:

Former PFRA Board member in executive meeting: “Some people call me a w***er, doesn’t mean I have to call myself one.”

The problem is that this horrible word, combined with bad press lately, all forms a picture of a hideous practice. Even the new Charity Commission chair is referring to face-to-face fundraising as a “blight on the sector”. I firmly believe that referring to F2F in these terms is a major blunder. Yes, there have been examples of bad practice – but that just means we need to tighten up and improve. Not just bin the channel. We’ve seen bad practice in banks – but we’ve not forced their closure and taken to hiding our money under mattresses. We have an absolute duty to ensure that our fundraising is up to scratch, and that we are all held to account, but please, please, this year can we all pledge to defend our sector, and promote good practice?

How’s that for a new year’s resolution?

 

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