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#81 The “Maximum Benefit” line and how it harms face to face fundraising

There is a difference between fundraising and selling. Inspiring someone to give creates a long-term emotional connection with a cause. No one loves their electricity provider or their telco. So why is it that some face to face fundraisers are apparently treating charity the same as selling a phone plan?

The rotten apple at the bottom of the face to face barrel is the use of the phrase “maximum benefit”. This is used to “objection handle” someone who is already giving to other charities. Here’s an example interaction:

Donor: “I’m already giving to another charity”

Fundraiser: “That’s great, can I ask how long you’ve been giving?”

Donor: “About six years now”

Fundraiser: “Well, since you’ve been giving that long. Did you know the charity has actually received maximum benefit from your donation? Why not switch to another charity and share the wealth…?”

I hope you’re as appalled by this interaction as I am. It is hard to know where to start with what is wrong with this. There is no such thing as “maximum benefit” to the charity. It is absurd to even suggest that there is. As fundraisers we want our donors to enjoy giving to a cause they care about for as long as possible. “Helping” someone to "switch" from one charity to another is not the same as switching telcos.

If we can inspire someone to support more than one charity that is great, but fundraisers should never try and talk someone out of an existing donation. A fundraiser involved in this sort of conversation is only interested in one thing: the next sign up. They do not have any interest in the well-being of the charity, the donor or the beneficiaries we raise funds for.

Understandably this practice is not well publicised so it is hard to know exactly how widespread it is, but we have credible reports that show it is a genuine problem. Fundraisers are probably not making this sort of language up on the spot just to get over a tricky part of a conversation. It is very likely that the concept of “charity rotation” is built into culture, training and materials.

To get formal, this is a breach of the Australian Consumer Law, the FIA Code and the PFRA Standard. If you are actively involved or allowing this to happen, then you have a responsibility under law and as an ethical professional. Remember that as a charity using a supplier you are still responsible for what is done on your behalf.

So where did this come from? Do you recognise the sentence below?

“To allow the charity to benefit from your donation we ask that you continue to donate for a minimum of at least two years”?

It sounds like the "maximum benefit" line has been corrupted from this explanation of minimum donation requirement for a charity to have a successful campaign. This was introduced to check that donors were genuinely interested in a long-term gift. There is however a big difference between minimum and maximum!

If we are to eradicate this misleading behaviour it’s important that charities check their own and their suppliers’ messaging. Even if your own organisation has not approved this approach, your supplier or a sub-contractor may have this as a standard “line” and may even be using it without your knowledge.

The underlying principle remain that you should always know what is happening in your program. You should know what fundraisers are saying when they are wearing your logo. Agencies too should understand what sub-contractors are doing in their name.

How to do this? Some basic steps you can take are:

  • Check fundraiser training whenever you can: attend sessions and check the training materials;

  • Run a mystery shopping program that regularly checks all locations, channels and suppliers;

  • Run an independent welcome calling program. Don’t rely on “verification calls” made by suppliers.

It is understandable that fundraisers focus on finding as many new donors as they can. We know that the current environment is difficult for all involved; there is a lot of pressure from charity boards downwards to “hit the target”. But this should not be “at any cost”.

Let’s hope that this is limited to a few bad apples, but if you do hear about this then act on it – let the PFRA and the FIA know so that they can respond. This sort of unethical and misleading practice needs to be driven out of our sector.

Note: Fundraising Partners does offer mystery shopping and phone verification services. Whether you hire us to do this or do this yourself - you should definitely be running these checks in your F2F program.

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