Charlotte Bray is confident the fundraising review will reveal lots of goodness in Scottish fundraising
“Why on earth do you want to work for charity?” I still remember the superiority and disdain in those ten words. Fresh from University, full of enthusiasm about the world of work, I stood dumbstruck. How could anyone speak so negatively about a job that, for me, was about making the world a better place?
These days I’m more hesitant telling people my chosen profession. Not everyone has a good opinion of charities, and, sadly, this is sometimes based on poor personal experiences. It’s still hard for me to hear the stories, but I feel the real danger is that of broad brush strokes. There are, for example, bad doctors and poor teachers, but that doesn’t mean every GP prescribes Smarties and every educator trawls Facebook during lessons.
It is sad that the Institute of Fundraising’s Best You Can Be campaign coincided with headlines about some very worrying charity practices. Note, the word some – no one is denying poor-practice exists, I’ve been on the receiving end of it, as have others.
But if you ask me, argument doesn’t solve anything. I don’t think there are good or bad fundraising methods (unless you’re kidnapping puppies to raise money) but more poor implementations of established methods. There are days when I weave to avoid chuggers; that doesn’t mean they don’t do an important job.
Amongst the horror, we raised hundreds of dollars for Cancer Research – and a nice lady let us jump in her pool
Raising funds from individuals, which is the main area under scrutiny, is tough. I remember my first and thankfully last experience of door-to-door collecting in Australia. It was 42 degrees in the shade, my eyeballs were drying out, I was paid minimum wage to walk the melting streets of Sydney, raising a shaky hand to knock on doors, and wonder whether I’d be shouted at or chased away. My friend was bitten by a spaniel. But, amongst the horror, we raised hundreds of dollars for Cancer Research – and a nice lady let us jump in her pool.
As pressure increases, charities are forced to push harder to reach targets. I’ve worked on a number of capital appeals, there’s always the nice, quiet phase of trust fundraising; writing letters to organisations that are set up to give money away. That’s very uncontroversial. Then there’s the tough bit, the bit we’ve reached at St. John’s – trying to reach new audiences for that final push. For me, thankfully, innovation involves different events and interactive communications – some might work, some might cost more than they raise, but no-one has ever been hurt.
The Olive Cooke tragedy raised the awful truth that sometimes, in the worst possible cases, people get hurt by poor fundraising practices. The worst thing to do would be to sweep it under the carpet, say “it’s not me” or cast the blame at large charities, agencies, telephone fundraisers and so on. We have to stand up and be counted, which is why fundraisers welcome the upcoming review of fundraising in Scotland.
But let’s not assume the review is going to discover anything bad. Monday didn’t start well for me; I was tired, grumpy and without energy or motivation. The day ended with a really positive meeting, some cheques in the post, someone bought me a chocolate brownie and I came home to a tax rebate. Sometimes things look rough on the surface but there’s lots of goodness underneath.
I am confident the review will find the majority of fundraisers in Scotland do a valuable job well. If you’ve ever visited a public gallery or library, used an event or community space or called a helpline, chances are you’ve benefitted from fundraised income. Charities and fundraisers provide a good service.
So, let’s highlight and challenge bad practice, but let’s also work to educate and inform the public about the reality of charity work – and celebrate the majority of us who do it well.