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Ethical fundraising: How should charities ask for money?

Volunteering and fundraising is vital for charities – but persuading people to donate their time or money must be treated carefully
Volunteering and fundraising is vital for charities – but persuading people to donate their time or money must be treated carefully

As a regular fundraiser for charity, guest blogger Jen is used to asking the same friends for contributions to her endeavours. Her experiences have taught her to be creative in asking for money – so that donors get something in return for their generosity. For charities, is there a lesson to be learned here?

Understandably, voluntary giving is not always a priority when the weekly budget is looking tight. In the face of increasing austerity, many charities have had be clever about their organisational strategies and make efficiencies when they foresee reduced income. For me, working in the charity sector and volunteering for other charities outside of work, I know it is difficult to ask people for money.

Giving something back

As a regular volunteer in an orphanage in Belarus, I am continually fundraising for the same cause and I do feel uncomfortable asking my same friends, work colleagues and family for donations year on year. I prefer to organise events for this reason, and offer something in return. Following a small investment in a Belarusian cookery book, a themed dinner party for my friends has become a regular. They donate and in return get a traditional, three-course, Belarusian meal. It’s a sociable and entertaining evening, it raises funds – and I am slowly perfecting my Eastern European culinary skills.

I try not to apply pressure when I fundraise, yet friends and work colleagues have been incredibly generous in their support, and some have gone further by engaging their contacts or employers in contributing to the cause. This year, I received children’s books from a publishing company and bags of clothes and shoes from a local school. The young adults in the orphanage have a ‘smart’ outfit that they wear, usually when the volunteers organise a disco. For the young women in particular – think 80s – it’s all skirt suits and shoulder pads. I know how excited they will be when I distribute the summer dresses and men’s shirts donated by children, families and school staff at home.

Avoiding forceful fundraising

While I am committed to the charity sector, the recent scandal over unethical fundraising has made me reflect on my own uneasiness with bucket-shaking and applying pressure. More forceful fundraising techniques have been well reported in the press and media, with some large UK charities being implicated. This includes allegations that charities have taken advantage of and even targeted vulnerable individuals. Charity should be one of the leading sectors in ethical practice, as organisations should not lose sight of their ethos and values when it comes to securing income. Where we champion the rights of our service users, we should give equal respect and consideration to our donors and supporters, without whom our services could not run. Clearly there are issues, and regulations should be in place to ensure good practice.

However, I hope the current press does not detract from the positive fundraising practice seen across the sector. With government cuts and reduction in statutory provision, some services are in even greater need of support. I support a local counselling service through regular giving for this very reason – it is under-funded and has minimal resources, but delivers an outstanding service that plugs the gap in provision. The current economic and political climate makes securing income, and where that funding comes from, much more sensitive.

Maintaining trust

The sector must also work hard to maintain the trust of its supporters for the vast majority of fundraisers who are dedicated to the cause. A final but important point to note is the genuine passion of volunteers, professionals and fundraisers in the community. For my part, having experienced some institutional settings and only for a brief time, incomparable to the 8 million children who live in them worldwide, I am driven to support improved care, conditions and ultimately deinstitutionalisation. This motivation isn’t fleeting; I will be fundraising for a few years yet.

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