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The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

Published by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

TFN is published by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh, EH3 6BB. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation. Registration number SC003558.

Five ways charities can transform their transparency

This opinion piece is over 6 years old

Simon Francis outlines principles for improved transparency and increased visibility of charity fundraising

The TFN Live panel debate at the Institute of Fundraising Scotland conference last week highlighted the divide between fundraisers and the rest of charity sector. But it’s a gulf that can be bridged by better communications.

Fundraising has been through tough times; negative headlines, changes in legislation and changes in sources of revenue have led many charities to try to downplay their fundraising activity, yet the way to build donor confidence is to do the exact opposite.

If charities are serious about improving their fundraising reputation, much more must be done to build the reputation of their fundraisers. It must be made clear that without the vital work of fundraisers, there can be none of the vital work charities do to help beneficiaries.

Here are five quick fire ways charities can do more.

Simon Francis
Simon Francis

1. Build internal buy in

The TFN Live event was eye opening in understanding just how isolated fundraisers can be in charities. The leadership in charities must ensure that fundraisers are celebrated internally. Charities should take pride in their fundraising staff, ensuring they are entered for awards, supported to gain professional recognition and have sufficient training to ensure their skills are at the top of the industry.

2. Celebrate transparency

Most charity donors know that in order to help the beneficiaries, there needs to be fundraising. Charities need to be bolder in having this conversation. The “cost of generating charitable funds” should be reported on transparently and made clear to donors. There still needs to be more education of donors on what this is used for, but social media, e-newsletters and mailings should all include information on what tactics have cost and how much they aim to generate in terms of income – and what this income will achieve.

3. Tweak marketing plans and messages

All charity communications should include a fundraising – or more appropriately – a donor experience message. As the chief executive announces a new project or programme, ensure the donors are thanked – and use social media content to show donors’ reactions to seeing how their money is used.

In every media interview, spokespeople should be media trained to deliver a donor message. For instance, “we can do more if only we had more donors”, “we are looking to improve services through the generosity of donors”, “to tackle this issue we need to see more funds generated from donors.” Simple lines and easy to deliver in a way that’s not overly salesy.

And of course, all this needs to be measured for impact through thorough reporting of communications message delivery and growth in the donor pipeline.

4. Be brave and decisive

Don’t be afraid to lead change on behalf of your donors and beneficiaries in communications.

Specifically, stand up for the work you do by celebrating its impact, while still acknowledging the work that remains to be done. Behave as if you were providing quarterly results and forecasts like a listed company might do.

But admit it when you get things wrong – and change things. Take decisive actions to honour donors’ needs – and tell people when you’ve done it.

5. Focus on the donor experience

The Commission on the Donor Experience was launched in March 2016 in response to media scrutiny of fundraising practice. At its heart was one simple idea – to place donors at the heart of fundraising. Its final report underlines the importance of its work and why it’s essential that fundraisers act now to implement the principles of good practice the commission has identified in its exhaustive work.

Those that build and protect the reputation of charities must be at the top table when it comes to decision making about fundraising strategy for an organisation. We also need to see fundraising and communications less as separate disciplines, responsible for different outputs, but as part of the same donor experience.

The principles for PR and communications staff to follow, set out by the late Tim Kitchin, should be implemented by all charity public relations officers. These include better communication of the positive nature of charity work, engagement with grassroots and being decisive in taking action to address poor practice in fundraising.

By implementing these five steps (or at least some of them), charities will improve the transparency of their fundraising efforts and continue to build confidence of donors in their organisation.

Simon Francis is chair of the Public Relations & Communications Association’s Charity & Not For Profit Group and a founder member of communications agency Campaign Collective.