Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Only 67% Of People Think Advertising Is Worthwhile

The excellent nfpSynergy released results of a poll today showing the public's perception of charities and how they spend their money. It's depressing reading and a stark reminder that the public have unrealistic and unfair standards for charities.

Businesses and charities are two different beasts, yes. But if it makes financial sense to advertise, if it's in the best interest of the organisation to pay good salaries, if it's practical to be based in London then shouldn't that apply to both businesses and charities?

To highlight the absurdity of it, try re-reading the article below, where I've changed the word 'charity' to 'business'.:

Almost three in four people have said that London-based offices and rebranding are a waste of money for businesses, an nfpParody poll of 1,002 adults has shown.

The poll was carried out as part of nfpParody's business Awareness Monitor, which surveys a representative sample of adults in Britain. Of those surveyed, 74% felt that London-based offices for businesses were a "somewhat" or "very" wasteful expenditure, with just 4% saying they were "fairly" worthwhile, and the rest saying they were unsure.

Rebranding recieved a similar response, with 72% of people saying it was wasteful for businesses to spend money on changing their name, logo or look, and just 9% saying they felt it was worthwhile.

More than half (62%) of those surveyed said they would feel confident that a business spends revenue well if staff did not travel in first class and 55% of respondents said they would feel confident if the organisation was mostly ran by volunteers. Of those surveyed, 51% said that if nobody in the organisation was paid more than £50,000 a year that would increasse their confidence in the business.

In addition, close to one in five (23%) said that they would have more confidence in a business if staff paid for their own Christmas party, while 9% felt that staff would need to work for free one day a month for them to feel confident in a business's spending.

Online tools and lobbying recieved a more positive response, with 70% of respondents saying they felt that spending money on a website was worthwhile and over half of those surveyed saying that lobbying government and other organisations (58%), as well as advertising (67%), were worthwhile.

In addition, 48% believed that producing a magazine to update customers on work that had been done was a worthwhile expenditure for businesses.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

I Read The Charities Act 2009 So You Don't Have To

With the Charities Act 2009 now in place and a regulator on its way, it's time to get your house in order. But at 82 pages the Act is not exactly a pleasant read - most of the interesting fundraising stuff comes towards the end, and I use the word 'interesting' very loosely.

The good news is that I read it so you don't have to. Here's a summary of what you, as a fundraiser, might need to consider:

  • Non-cash collection (eg. Direct Debits) is finally acknowledged as a donation so follows the same/similar rules as cash collections, eg. permit requests.
  • 'Reasonable commission, or reasonable remuneration or expenses' are permitted for fundraisers.
  • Collection boxes must display the collection permit number, and they must be sealed. It must also display the charity name and registered number.
  • Public-facing collectors must wear a 'garment' (LOL) that displays the charity name and registered number.
  • Any DD/Standing Order forms must display the charity name, registered number, bank account details and the collection permit number.
  • The Minister can make further regulations to ensure fundraising does not 'unreasonably intrude' on anyone's privacy, is not 'unreasonably persistent', does not 'result in undue pressure, and does not involve any 'false or misleading representation'.

The Register
  • If you have a CHY number you'll automatically join the register of charities (and have to pay an annual fee).
  • If you don't have a CHY number you'll need to apply to join the register within 6 months of it launching.
  • If you're applying then new information you'll need to provide includes names and addresses of all trustees, all bank accounts, financial accounts, and the manner in which you have raised or propose to raise money. You'll also need to give details of agents/consultants you work with.
  • If you're not registered it will be an offence to advertise or imply that you're a charity. Asking for donations is a big no-no.

Definition of a Charity
This changes a little bit, but not significantly. Your organisation still needs to be of public benefit under one or more of the following categories:
  • The prevention or relief of poverty of economic hardship;
  • Advancement of Education;
  • Advancement of Religion
  • Any other purpose that is of benefit to the community.

The Act & Regulator In General
  • Will be reviewed within 5 years.
  • The Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltachet Affairs will appoint the first Chief Executive (Jobs for the boys!)
  • There will be a Charity Appeals Tribunal - a sort of Jedi Council if you're looking to appeal any decisions against you.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

When Do You Refuse A Donation?

Would you refuse a charitable donation from a tobacco company? From a strip club? From a bank?

What about a donation from someone who made their money in the arms industry? Or a racist? Or a paedophile?

I find it a genuinely interesting hypothetical ethical (hypothethical?) discussion, but these are real decisions that real charities are making every day.

Just this week the ISPCC accepted a donation from a group of fundraisers who took part in the Pamplona bull run in Spain. They were criticised, obviously because the treatment of these bulls is ridiculous. Mary Gamble (who I love!) responded, "We desperately need every single cent we receive. We won't be refunding it, we absolutely need everything we get." An animal charity obviously wouldn't take it, but is it disrespectful to other fundraiser's peers to accept it?

One of the greatest fundraisers I know, Denisa Casement, was once approached by a strip club who wanted to hold a fundraiser for a children's charity she was representing. ("We care deeply for children and all our 'girls' have kids.") Despite it being a legal business, you'd be hard pressed to find someone who thought the two 'brands' worked well together. She made two suggestions: either they give to a charity anonymously or they start an education fund for their dancers' children so they can have a better life than their mothers. The strip club manager left in a rage.

Meanwhile in the UK, a convicted child sex offender left over £1 million in his will to three different charities. Each of them had to make the touch decision of whether or not to accept this money.

More recently, Help For Heroes rejected the fundraising efforts of the English Defence League because they did not accept 'political fundraising'. Yes, the fundraiser is clearly a racist and an asshole, but where is the line drawn? If you disagree with a donor's politics do you reject them? Is there anyone in the world whose 'politics' you would fully agree with?

The answer of course is that there is no line...or no universal line. So what is your line? What is your organisation's line?

Two of the most coveted CSR programmes in Ireland are Paddy Power and the Ryanair Calendar. Most organisations want to be involved with these because the benefits are huge. But with one promoting gambling and the other claimed to be sexist, it's clear that there are charities out there working (and fundraising) against the negativity that each of these creates.

So the question every business that donates to charity meanwhile causing problems for another charity? Why are so many of the most profitable businesses in our world the least ethical? If alcohol and tobacco companies have so much money to be giving away then are they being taxed enough?

The solution is of course anonymous donations - the companies can do lots of good and the charities don't have a dilemma on their hands. But that doesn't work, does it? Very few companies are willing to do that and if you don't want the donation on their terms...well, hey...there are plenty of charities desperate enough to take it.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

What The Charities Act & Regulator WILL NOT Do

Today Minister Shatter announced plans to establish an Independent Charities Regulator to become operational in 2014. For everyone in the charity sector the implementation of the Charities Act 2009 is very welcome, and judging by the public comments on-line it is universally welcome.

However, there is clearly a misunderstanding of what the Charities Act contains. The 3 areas that seem to be focused on by the public are not necessarily areas that will be affected by the new regulator. The Charities Act:

  • Will NOT have an impact on charity CEO salaries
  • Will NOT have an impact on religious organisations getting tax relief
  • Will NOT get rid of street fundraisers (sometimes referred to as chuggers)

CEO Salaries
My understanding is the Charities Act has no say on what a charity CEO should be paid, although the act does touch on persons being paid reasonably and proportionately to the service they provide.

But charities will never be regulated on how they pay their staff, in the same way businesses aren't regulated on how much they pay their staff - because it wouldn't make any sense.  Trustees/Directors will continue to decide what is appropriate to pay a CEO and their obligation/desire will continue to be getting the best possible staff at the lowest possible cost, operating in the best interests of the charity.

I know you don't want to hear this but it's still going to be up to you to determine who is worthy to donate to. If you don't like what a charity pays their CEO or they refuse to tell you then you can withhold that donation. But if you like what the charity is achieving and the impact they are having then their staff are probably doing a good job.

You can read more on my own thoughts on charity salaries in these posts:

Religious Organisations
The Charities Act specifically states that "The advancement of religion" remains a charitable purpose.

You can read more on my own thoughts on certain organisations and charitable tax relief here:

Street Fundraisers
While the Charities Act 2009 provides for certain minor changes to the requirements of cash and non-cash collections, it still specifically allows these (extremely effective) fundraising methods to continue. Thankfully an official permit system will continue on from the self-regulation of the IFFDR, and this should weed out some cowboys, but fundraisers will continue to interact with you on the street and knock on your door.

The onus will remain on the public to check if the fundraiser talking to you is legitimate and if the charity they are representing is really the best place to donate money. The charity register will make this easier, but you'll still have to do a bit of work to see if the specific charity is actually helping anyone. 

You can read more on my own thoughts on street fundraisers here:

Monday, July 8, 2013

Are Fundraising Complaints Worth It?

Someone asked me last week, "Is it OK to annoy 20 people to sign up 1 donor?"

Make no mistake about it - I don't want fundraisers to annoy people and I think better fundraisers, better regulation, better training, and better complaining can reduce annoyance.

But according to the UK's FRSB and Institute of Fundraising, their members received only 33,744 complaints while generating £4.16 billion in voluntary income. Is that OK?

True, the problem with looking at complaints is that people don't know how to complain - i.e. people are more likely to keep their complaints to themselves or complain to people who can't do anything about it (which is part of the problem). So let's take it further - rather than looking at complaints let's look at interactions.

The FRSB report showed that corporate fundraising received more complaints per interaction than street fundraising - but let's focus on street fundraising, as this is generally accepted to be the most controversial method of fundraising.

For every 1 donor signed up a street fundraiser gets in to about 10 conversations and has 'interacted' with about 100 people. So about 100 people have potentially been 'annoyed' for the sake of 1 donor (although a recent survey had it closer to 67 individuals feeling 'uncomfortable'). That's being pessimistic - I'm assuming here that everyone who doesn't sign up is annoyed, because they had to cross the road, say no, or ignore a human being - I'm disregarding the fact that a lot of people have a an enjoyable conversation before they say no and walk away.

So what's the donor worth?

Well the average donor will go on to donate €500+ by direct debit alone, plus tax relief, plus upgrades and appeals, plus all the other connections this new relationship brings. A new donor is probably worth about €1000 to the charity. But let's be really pessimistic and say this donor doesn't give as long as average, doesn't respond to further appeals and that some of the donation gets wasted in inefficiency. Let's be unrealistically pessimistic and say this donor is only worth €500.

And what does that €500 do?

Well Sightsavers say it will protect about 1,450 families from river blindness.
Concern say it'll provide 3 emergency tents, giving 3 families who have lost everything a temporary home.
UNICEF say it will provide safe drinking water to 25,000 children for a day.

So...worst case it worth making 100 people feel uncomfortable for a couple of seconds to save thousands of people's sight, give 3 families a home or keep 25,000 kids alive for another day?

And if it were your own child you were trying to keep alive for another day how many people would you be willing to feel uncomfortable for a couple of seconds? To keep my son alive I would be willing to see about 7 billion people feel uncomfortable for a couple of seconds.

But maybe I've misunderstood the word 'uncomfortable'?

Thursday, July 4, 2013

There Is Still Money Out There

I wanted to put together an ever-expanding list of ridiculous things that people are still spending money on. These are a constant reminder that people can afford to donate more to charity.

  1. Wax Museums
  2. Ghost Tours
  3. Nespresso Stirrers (my 2  year old picked one up and said, "Broke spoon!"
  4. Bottled water (maybe not so much after I watched this)
  5. Spray tans, false eyelashes/nails (from Maria O'Keeffe)
  6. Grated cheese (from Katia de Gregorio)
  7. Pre-chopped onions, apples, etc. (from Katia de Gregorio)

Any more suggestions?

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

IoF National Convention 2013 Learnings

This year again I wanted to type up my key notes from the convention and put them in to one handy place - and again I decided to publish it. These aren't necessarily things speakers directly said...sometimes they plant seeds of inspiration or I drift off and think of something else.

1. Being a Donor Is Lonely
The only thing lonelier than being a fundraiser is being a donor. We need to get donors to communicate with each other and advocate for you.

2. Be Careful of Analysing How Donors Behave
It's happened a few times now at conferences: people claim donors are more likely to keep giving because of something you've done, overlooking the fact that very possibly you've been able to do that something because they're better quality donors.

For example, look at the donors who go to your events - they're undoubtedly better quality. But they're not necessarily better quality because they go to your events. More likely they go to your events because they're better quality. So have a think about it before you arrange loads more donor events.

You see it a lot from the digital guys - amounts raised on-line are increasing so there's the assumption that on-line is driving people to give. That's a dangerous assumption, and dangerously pushing smaller charities to spend money on digital before they have the basics down.

 (Word of the Day: Retrocausality)

3. Agency vs. In-House Donor Attrition
According to the DARS report there is a statistically insignificant difference in the attrition rate over 5 years between donors recruited by a charity in-house and those recruited by an agency. VERY interesting!

4. How Do You Start Fundraising If You've Never Fundraised?
You know what's missing from all these conferences? A beginner's guide to fundraising. Whenever someone shows an amazing campaign one of the first questions from the audience is always 'How much did it cost?' and the feeling that it's just too far beyond reach.

Let's run a seminar showing how to use filters and mail merge in Microsoft Office to run clever segmented mailings for free. Let's talk about who the first people on your database should be, where they come from, what you capture and what you do with them. Let's practice your first cold call, face-to-face pitch and hand-written mailing.

The reason there's so few qualified fundraisers out there is because there is no first rung on the ladder.

5. People Like Lists In Presentations
Make a numbered list in your presentation and everyone will write it down, even though they know they're going to get the slides.

6. Twitter Rocks
Twitter really cuts out a good bit of time at these things and allows you to meet up with people you know you're going to like.

7. Are We Wasting Time & Money With Research?
No, I don't think so. But we're never all going to agree on whether giving is going up or down and we're never going to find the solution to what works perfectly, because there isn't one. But we can learn from other's mistakes and data should influence our decisions.

Still though, sometimes you're just better off spending your time picking up the phone and ringing your supporters. Seriously, when was the last time you, as a fundraiser, had a conversation with someone and then asked for money? Would that be cheaper and more effective than what you're doing right now?

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Why The Charity Shop Victory Is Important

Last night Dublin City Councillors voted against a ban on charity shops on Grafton Street. It's easy to dismiss this an empty victory (really, will any more charities want to open there?) and a few people asked me why I was bothering to get involved with this. But let me tell you why it's significant:

Firstly it would have continued choking philanthropy. Intentionally or not we often reward those that seek personal profit and penalise those that wish to do good. This would have done the same - like I said before, I'd be welcome to open an art gallery/tailors/barber/Brown Thomas as long as it's for personal profit, but not if it the profits go towards changing and saving lives.

Secondly, Grafton Street would have only been the start. Like all terrible people and terrible ideas they test the water, and if nobody kicks up a fuss then it keeps going and getting worse until one day our children ask how we could have let it happen. If this had of gone through then Henry Street would be next, then O'Connell Street, then one day charity shops can only exist in crappy areas and they are no longer a viable source of income.

Finally, it treats charities as second class. It's the assumption that charity shops are ugly. That only poor ugly people shop there. That charity shops couldn't run something more successfully and profitably than HMV. Rubbish.

Dublin City Council's process also highlighted that 16 councillors have a completely outdated view of charity shops and absolutely no foresight.

And the fact the council only received 3 objections from the public is unacceptable - the charity sector needs to rally around issues like this. It might not affect you today, but one day stupid decisions like this will, and I'm sure you'd like to think that the thousands of charities out there and hundreds of thousands of workers in the sector will support you.

[Finally, on a side note - I can not get over the number of people saying that charities spending rent on Grafton Street would be a waste of money. Why is it a waste for charities and not businesses? Surely everyone is on that street to make money. The difference is charities would use 'profits' to do good.]