Spring is in the air but this year is a grim one in many ways. World food prices are at an all time high, the pound is at a low, there is flooding in Namibia, starvation in Kenya, a surge in refugees in Darfur and shattered lives and homes to rebuild in Gaza. AIDS has not stopped still killing young parents in Africa but we cannot do as much to help them as we planned.
But spring is in the air and I feel we should be positive. Here are some things to be positive about:
1) The great British character. There is a recession on but more and more people are giving and sponsoring than ever. The last three months were the best three months ever for online sponsorship. No TV campaigns: just people wanting to help and finding us. People don't give on the street or to an emotive cause in a recession, they dig around in the website for everything they need to know. They look at other sponsorship charities and choose. When times are good perhaps we forget those in real need, or give for a sad photo and run off to enjoy life but when times are hard we think, dig deep and help others.
2) The fact that it is probably economically the most effective time EVER to give. There are programs which are being postponed (because of the exchange rate, which reduces what we can do with funds received). That's sad but also an opportunity to make the maximum immediate difference to lives with your donation. After the Tsunami some charities had so much money they couldn't spend it for years: that's because they did not have the capacity and people's generosity was wasted. Now the opposite is true: at the margins really good programs which make a huge difference to Aids orphans and others are being postponed or even canceled. You contribution has never made a greater difference.
3) The great British character. People make sacrifices to sponsor which us and often do so in mid crisis. We have had people phone up to sponsor from upstairs when the lower half of their homes were flooded. And people make sacrifices to carry on helping a child, especially when times are tough. But even in recession now less than 1% of sponsors cancel each month which means on average sponsors stay for about ten years. Most sponsors carry on until the child they sponsor is grown up and financially independent.
4) What has been achieved. Even though there have been lots of reports about the failure of "big" aid and "big" politics this year is our sixtieth birthday. We currently have more than 70,000 children (that's a small town worth) whose parents are not there for them surrounded by love in about 7000 homes in 475 villages. That is an extraordinary achievement (for which we keep getting nominated for the Nobel Peace prize), and one to celebrate.
5) The great British character. Ok, so this is getting repetitive, but I want to celebrate the fact that SOS Children has been growing quickly and cheaply in the UK from about £1.2m four years ago to £4.4m now based on one premise: you should not chase reluctant donors down and make them feel guilty to give, you can let donors come to you. When we dropped Direct Mail five years ago it was expensive and no one loved it: but many people thought that was the only way to raise funds because "if you don't ask you don't get". Direct Mail from some charities in the UK has been getting worse and worse with nastier and nastier "asks". But we said trust people to want to help and make sure they can find you when they want to help. Our trust in the public has been rewarded with growth, and we have been able in turn to hit lower and lower fund-raising and admin costs. Our UK costs including project management were lower in 2008 than 2004 but the income was more than tripled. And now as well as a good story on really effective projects helping children we have a second good story to tell on charity costs, thanks to you.
Give when you wish to give. But there has never been a better time to give and tough times make great people dig deeper.