Wednesday, January 29, 2014

8 Questions To Help Improve Your Charity's Board

The CRC scandal and continuing criticisms of Rehab have been (or should be) a rude awakening for many Irish charity boards. Here are 8 questions and action points for your own charity's board to look at for their next meeting:

1) Do you know what your top staff are paid?
If not you need to find out and make sure their pay is justified. Is it benchmarked against HSE or the industry? Who was involved in the decision making process? And can you justify it if/when it gets made public? In light of the downturn is it now too high? Have you made efforts to rectify that?

2) Are all of your decisions documented?
Can you stand by all of them? Can you justify all of them? Do you have, in writing, the thought process and reason for doing what you did? As a charity assume everyone in the world is going to find out everything you are doing and everything you are saying. Would you still do it?

3) Is your Board a good mix?
Are people sitting on your board purely because they are passionate about the cause? That's not good enough. Because of the nature of a charity its board is usually set up with friends, family or people in the same space. They are clicky and they evolve in a strange way. We need to move away from that. You do not want a board who are always going to agree with you - it will make your life easier, but for the good of the cause you need a mix.
Do you have a good representation of legal, finance, fundraising, HR, etc.? And do you have fixed-terms?

4) Are your service users represented?
Where possible it is amazing to have your service users,one of their family members or other key stakeholders represented. They will only be one person on the board but their influence is huge, as suddenly there is the face of a beneficiary in front of the decision makers. Do you think the CRC board would have agreed a €700k golden handshake while cutting staff if they had to vote for it in front of the father of a child with a disability?

5) Are you trying to cut costs?
Right now (and always) your organisation needs to be making efforts to cut costs. That is probably the role of your executive team if you have one, but you need to ensure appropriate reviews are happening.

6) Are you signed up to The Governance Code, the Statement of Guiding Principles for Fundraising, and other Codes of Conduct relevant to your organisation?
It should go without saying, but you should be. It's time to urgently make the time to do so. And if you're not going to sign up, why not?

7) Do you need advice?
There are some great organisations and individuals out there to help you improve what you do and the impact your organisation is having. Good starting points are the likes of Boardmatch Ireland, Fundraising Ireland, The Wheel and Dóchas.

8) Why are you on the board?
Really...honestly...why are you on the board?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Real Numbers Behind Irish Charity Scratchcards

Tonight Minister for Justice Alan Shatter revealed that Rehab lottery scratch card sales of almost €4m in 2010 yielded profits of only €9,452.

Obviously the press and the Internet reacted with shock and horror. But the story is essentially not true. There are a few key facts missing:
  1. Charity scratchcards make their actual money from the Charitable Lotteries Fund - the government pays compensation to the charities based on how much they sell.
  2. Rehab brought in an additional €4 million a year because of their sales, so their actual profit was way higher than €9,452.
    For example, my charity might spend €1 to sell a €1 scratchcard. But the Government gives me an extra €1 compensation. So I've actually got a 2:1 ROI even though the actual 'sale' didn't make a profit. To me that's a sound investment.
  3. The Fund is being wound down, so this will no longer be the case, and so what you'll see is charities not bothering to sell scratchcards anymore.
  4. The Fund was never really a great idea. But something had to be done because charity scratchcard prizes are capped at €20k. Nobody buys them because the prizes on the National Lottery scratchcards are so much higher. Theoretically, charities could make much more profit themselves if they could offer higher prizes and be competitive.
  5. The fair thing to do would be to remove the cap, but the Government won't do this.
  6. If you were really cynical you might speculate the facts have been presented in this way because Rehab is suing the State.
For the record, I'm not a big fan of charity scratchcards. It's hardly altruistic, is it? And do certain charities not see the hypocrisy of encouraging people to gamble so that they can fight addiction?

[I wrote this very quickly so please excuse any initial errors.]

Why I Don't Donate To Charity: Water

[This article has been published previously on 101fundraising – Crowdblog on Fundraising]

Charity: Water are amazing.

They've funded about 10,000 water projects, providing clean water to about three and a half million people. They're ambitious, they take risks. They share their successes and their failures. They're transparent. Their website and their use of social media are cool. They are simple and beautiful and lovable. They are an ongoing joke at fundraising conferences because everyone wishes they could do on-line like Charity: Water do on-line. I love them.

But I will never donate to them. Not as long as they continue the '100% model' where they guarantee that 100% of my donation will go directly to the field.

It's unnecessary, it's gratuitous...the Miley Cyrus of non-profit marketing. It's irresponsible, and it's not sustainable.

Even in the simplest of terms a donation from me would almost certainly incur 'credit card' fees. They "reimburse" these. They "find another way" to cover these. But what if they can't find another way? What if they're faced with bank and credit card fees that are not allowed to pay because of the restrictions they've placed on themselves? It's unlikely...but if enough people suddenly donated on-line they'd have a debt they couldn't pay.

And what if they can't pay their wages? Their rent? Their electricity bill? Supplies? What if they can't find enough 'private donors, foundations and sponsors' to pay these? Does my donation just sit in account, unable to be used because of their own restrictions?

And really, shouldn't some of my donation be spent on auditing the finances behind my donation? Shouldn't some be spent on measuring the impact of my donation? Shouldn't some be spent on assessing how next year's donation can be used better than this year's?

As much as I respect Charity: Water I get the sense that perhaps they don't respect me, the donor. You see, they say their private donors and sponsors are "some of our most dedicated: their investment fuels our long-term mission, our ability to scale as an organization and our mission to continue using 100% of public donations for water projects." Am I - a member of the public - not capable of understanding these needs?

Most of all, the 100% Model is damaging to nearly every other charity because it gives the public unrealistic expectations. It implies that '100% to the field' is desirable, truthful and even possible. It's not.

Instead, another charity - a smaller one, that doesn't have the backing of private donors and sponsors - will have to say that No, sorry, the 100% model is impossible. They will lose donations and lose support through the misconception that anything less than 100% is wasteful.

Charity: Water...please...for the sake of fundraising and charity and everyone's future...please lose the 100% model.

Monday, January 13, 2014

A Number Of Ridiculous Statements

Here are 4 ridiculous statements. They all make no sense, but you can get away with saying one of them:

  1. "The Central Remedial Clinic was badly run. I'm never donating to a charity again."
  2. "Oasis Newsagents charges way too much. I'm never shopping in any shop again."
  3. "Obama wasted $292 million on a failed website. I'm never voting in a presidential election again."
  4. "Red Bull spent loads of money on sending a guy to space. I'm never drinking any drink again."

Thursday, January 2, 2014

A Look Back At Irish Fundraising In 2013

In 2013 I bought two new pairs of jeans, met Paul Theroux, lost a cat, got a new cat, and genuinely slipped on a banana peel. It was a busy year in Irish Fundraising's the highlights:

Charity Shops Nearly Banned On Grafton Street
In April Dublin City Council proposed banning any shop which generated income for the work of a charity. It became clear a number of Councillors had an outdated view of charities and, whether they realised it or not, were going out of their way to choke philanthropy and discourage anyone that might want to 'earn to give'.
It was great to see a number of Councillors criticise the proposal and, in the end, it was an important victory for the charity sector.

Prime Time Investigates Charity Clothing Bins
RTE cast their eyes on charity clothing bins and found that, yes, some people were breaking in to them and stealing my old jeans. People called for a charity regulator (the theme of 2013), but last I checked 'theft' was already illegal.
They also looked at charities who outsourced their clothing collections and presented a load of misleading statements and figures.

Daffodil Day Was A 'Washout'
Irish Cancer Society's big fundraising day was rained out, reminding us all of the risk of pinning so much on a single event.

Changes In Tax Relief
The new rules kicked in for tax relief on charitable donations having a small but noticeable impact on the amount that 'self-assessed' donors gave. Overall the changes had a negative effect on charities' income in 2013, but should have a net-positive effect in 2014 as charities begin to claim back relief they were not previously entitled to.

Blackbaud Buys MyCharity
The U.S. company Blackbaud purchased MyCharity back in March, most likely for the stats and data rather than the income. I'm an unreliable narrator, but in my memory the first time I saw Niall Devine after the acquisition I'm pretty sure he was wearing a fur coat.

My Career Peaked...All Downhill Towards A Pathetic Death From Here
I was extremely happy to deliver the opening plenary at the National Fundraising Conference, win the Supplier of the Year award and get elected to the Fundraising Ireland board. Total Fundraising raised more than ever before. I met some really lovely people. Dan Pallotta even commented on my blog. If you weren't sick of me at the start of the year you probably are by now.

Image photoshopped by
my girlfriend's brother

The First Ever Charity Hack Takes Place
Future Fundraiser of the Year Kevin Delaney organised the first ever Charity Hack, bringing together 5 worthy causes and a bunch of volunteers to 'hack' some ideas. The day was inspiring (and tiring) with some really cool people involved. Next stop: the world.

Launch Of The 1% Difference Campaign
In an effort to make up for the wind-up of Atlantic Philanthropies generous cigarette/alcohol money, we saw the 1% Difference Campaign attempt to encourage everyone in Ireland to pledge one percent of their time or money.
It was met with both positivity and cynicism. Some of the criticism is certainly unfounded, but there is still the niggling feeling that the money put behind it could have been used better.

A Blow For SMS Donations
With LikeCharity making SMS donations more affordable for charities it seemed that the medium was ready to finally take off in Ireland. Of course, the real income generated from SMS donations is the follow-up call and the conversion to regular giving. The Data Commissioner made it clear that this could not happen in any circumstances apart from the donor sending a second text to say they wanted to receive the call. It decimated results and SMS campaigns look like a non-starter.

CRC Scandal
The last two months of the year were centred around the troubles at the Central Remedial Clinic. A bad board and bad practice left a good charity filled with good people exposed. High salaries and pension packages at the top made everyone question (too late) how their donations/raffles were being used.
The loudest critics had never donated. All of the negative coverage had a huge impact on the Christmas donations made to really good charities with really good governance. Some of the most vulnerable people in the world suffered, and continued to suffer, because so many people couldn't tell charities apart.

Charity Regulator Announced
The government announced that definitely, really, the Charity Regulator will be put in to place in 2014...honestly. Seriously, this time. So much hard work from so many people looks like it's finally going to pay off. No longer will people use "lack of regulation" as a stick to beat the sector with (the phrase will be replaced with "just another FF quango").

Onwards and upwards to 2014...

Any other highlights I missed?