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#56 Scandals, friendraising and accreditation

4 in 10 members of the UK public say they are donating less in 2018 as a direct result of the diminishing trust in charity[1].

In the past year, we have seen that trust is dwindling in some channels. Fewer individuals are donating, but our overall income is steady. In 2016, the UK was rocked by the Olive Cooke scandal that led to the creation of stronger data protection regulations (GDPR), whilst in early 2018 we were sadly hit with both Oxfam and MSF making headlines for disturbing behaviours.

Celebrity brand ambassadors like Simon Pegg[2]spoke publicly in defence of Oxfam’s great work, but it is hard to recover from such negative media attention and breaches of trust. When Mr Pegg announced his continuing support of the British charity, he was heard by passionate Oxfam supporters who knew the impact of their donations and felt hurt by the behaviours of the few, but maybe his word did not reach the neutrals or those who were considering Oxfam pre-scandal.

We are told that we are living in a time of echo chambers and polarisation where we will seek to hear only what we know we agree with and reject other opinions and ideals. Personalised Facebook feeds and bias news outlets teach us that we are right and the rest, however valid their thoughts and great their numbers, are wrong. This means that even when someone steps up to the plate, their words will never be heard by those who have rejected the premise before listening.

Since sales companies entered the face-to-face domain, it has been a polarising channel. People love to hate it, and the media love to print any story that casts a shadow over charitable efforts. There are others (over 1.2 million in the last four years in Australia and New Zealand) who have found it a great way to ensure that their philanthropic ambitions can be met. But with a rising tide of negativity coming from the source, face-to-facers may find it tougher to meet their targets if they cannot convince the public of both theirs and the charities trustworthiness.

Whilst the charities are being pushed to improve processes and be seen doing so[3], the fundraisers will need to do their research, stay informed, comply with all PFRA guidelines and complete the PFRA accreditation (I hope you like the plug, Carl). Meanwhile, we need to be doing everything in our power to ensure that we are getting the most out of the relationship with our existing donors.

Donor-centricity has been the fundraising buzzword for the past couple of years (arguably ‘behavioural economics’ has pushed it aside in the past few months) and with it came the desire to treat our newly acquired and existing donors with more respect and individualism – ‘friendraising’, as Ken Burnett once discussed.

This does not mean that we bend to their every whim, but we at least listen to and acknowledge their feedback. We must take our donors on a better journey, not only in terms of communications, but in terms of back-end processing and administration, and vitally, the acquisition. Retention starts at acquisition, so ensuring that the experience with the fundraiser is a powerful, passionate and honest one will mean that you are recruiting powerful, passionate, informed donors.

Mystery shopping and donor surveys are fantastic ways to guard against below-par acquisition experiences, so get out there and visit the teams. Read the PFRA breach reports and hold each other to account with them. Complete the FIA Code of Practice quiz, and make sure that your agency (and charity) have completed their accreditation so that we know that we are all compliant and have the processes in place to prevent problems and respond quickly to issues.

Whilst GDPR in the UK taught us all to ask permission before we contact donors, we know we can do so much more. A happy donor will give for longer and have a greater lifetime value. They will be our brand ambassadors in the community, they will stand up for our causes when we make mistakes, put their arms around us when we need support, and put their hand in their pockets when we need their donations.

[1] Charity Commission – Trust in Charities 2018 Report pg3

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