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#54 March of the deplorable minority

In the past week we have seen another F2F scandal hit the press. Fortunately, for the majority of hard working and honest fundraisers, it didn’t occupy front page real estate, but was another warning shot across the bow bringing the ongoing march of the deplorable minority hell-bent on bringing our channel into disrepute for a small, fleeting, monetary gain, onto our radar.

The “WA incident” hit us all hard. Every fundraising manager, account manager, director and consultant I spoke with in the last week was stunned by the news. All lost for words and in a state of disbelief that this might have happened.

When looking to point blame at organisations or behaviours that have led to the degradation of the face to face industry our gaze is often cast, sometimes unfairly, over the contractor model.

We used to look there because the contractors were the ones being remunerated with commissions instead of a base wage, and with that came some desperate practices from the ill-managed and poorly-trained cohort of that contractor army, but since the employment reformation we are seeing other issues when this model is not managed responsibly.

This week, I was fortunate enough to speak with an agency that have had their fair share of criticism that was borne from loose management of second and third tier subcontractors. Their response to this was to rid themselves of the problems by bravely disassembling vast swathes of their team. This move rocked them, but far less than ignoring the problems and letting standards slip. They now operate with directly employed or first-tier subcontractors only. But why did they need to do this?

They did it because culture is king and the short-term loss can lead to long-term sustainable success.

When hiring an agency with full employment you know what you are getting. The director has a vision that is communicated throughout the organisation. All staff behaviours will mirror elements of the director’s vision and those that don’t are discouraged or trained-out so that the culture is distilled. This allows you, as a client, to pick an agency that’s culture and values best fits yours.

When an agency subcontracts they run the risk of losing that crystallised vision and polluting the culture they have built up. The temptation to recruit the third-party fundraisers or sales reps is great. A subcontracting company can be recruited for a competitive multiplier (multiple of the monthly donation), you do not have to worry about the pesky payroll tax and can grow your organisation overnight to meet volume targets set by your client.

So, when growing their company, your agency director has a few options:

  • Directly employ your staff. This can mean lower volumes and a slower build but gives much greater visibility and accountability to your organisation. In time, you can have a brand that you can bank.

  • Recruit any subcontractor you can find no matter their background because volume is all you care about, and volume gets you paid. As ugly and irresponsible as that sounds, there are a handful of suppliers in the market that are guilty of sub-contracting companies known as ‘subs’ with very few checks, or in some cases, the knowledge that the personnel have an appalling reputation, zero ethics, accusations of fraud and even had their PFRA membership rebuked for consistent breaches because the parent supplier wants more income. This hurts everyone in the long-term and makes me incredibly angry whenever I think about it.

  • A responsible hybrid. There are a few Australian suppliers (ask around if you don’t know them – their reputations stand out and I recommend them to my clients) that understand that the right subcontractor on the right contract (this is a whole other blog article) is a positive way to acquire new donors and grow their organisation at the same time. Having a thorough checklist and tight agency management and compliance protocols can lead to a bright future.

All of this means that, as a client, you are walking into a minefield.

As a responsible charity, you need your own checklist to be sure that the agency you are hiring care as much about the channel as we do. Fortunately, there are a few tools at your disposal:

When recruiting a new agency that uses subs, be sure to work through the PFRA due diligence checklist (see above) and don’t be afraid to ask whether any of their subcontractors have been directors of a company that has been banned by the PFRA. Get these answers on paper and signed by the director of your potential supplier and their subcontractors.

With the recent shock of the “WA incident” we cannot take too many measures to protect our charitable organisations and industry from the self-serving deplorable minority.

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