We are living in an age where charities are under more scrutiny than arguably any other time in living memory. The sector has been rocked by high profile scandals from industry standard-bearers Oxfam and the WWF, seen acrimonious and very public shutdowns (Kids Company) and had to weather waves of bad publicity due to controversial approaches to data management and direct marketing tactics.
Public support has dipped, with fewer people giving to charity than previously. Furthermore, although overall levels of trust haven’t changed too much over the past few years, they remain at their lowest since way back in 2005, with a long-term increase in the number of people who are saying their trust has decreased. And those who feel they cannot trust charities as much as they once could are donating less as a result. The lesson? Trust is crucial for charities to fundraise – and even operate – effectively.
In the wake of this comes the new approach from the Fundraising Regulator, where the subject(s) and details of a complaint are made public. The decision was made by the Board of the Fundraising Regulator back in October 2018, and came into effect on 1 March 2019. The first set of 10 named investigation summaries was issued earlier this month, with the list including some industry big-hitters, with Macmillan Cancer Support, Alzheimer’s Society, The Salvation Army and the NSPCC all among those listed.
Transparency is becoming ever more important in the sector. Now that the Fundraising Regulator is bringing its approach more in line with that of the Charity Commission (which has publicly named organisations subject to investigations since June 2014), what could easily be a name-and-shame exercise at a time when charities need it least, has become an opportunity for the sector to start rebuilding public trust at a time when charities need it most.
A crucial element of the naming process is that it’s not just charities in the dock, but also the private companies they often enlist to undertake fundraising activities on their behalf. While not held in the same regard as charities, these fundraising companies nevertheless carry the reputation of charities in their hands whenever they interact with the public, be it in the street, on the doorstop or over the phone. So, to include them in a public naming complaints process will only help to draw a clearer line between the two types of organisation.
Why is this important? Put simply, in the event the fundraiser was in breach of the Code of Fundraising Practice, it reduces the reputational damage done to a charity with relatively little control over the behaviour of contracted fundraisers operating in their name. Of course, it is a charity’s responsibility to do its due diligence when selecting an agency, but that can only go so far – which is why the Regulator is needed.
In addition to the ability to separate the charity from blame, this new approach also clearly details the steps taken to date and what is expected next from the organisations involved. This will not only improve accountability, it also gives any interested members of the public rare insight into what is being done to improve the way funds are generated – especially at bigger charities. As a rule, the general public can reasonably accept mistakes will be made, as long as some learning and positive change comes out of the situation. Of course, it may mean there will be uncomfortable conversations to be had, and potential public relations issues to be managed, but if that is what it takes to get the public back on side, then in the long run it can only be a good thing.
I can still remember something I was told as part of training as a journalist some 20 years ago. When it comes to news, the further away it happens you have to add another zero onto the number of people who are killed, injured or affected before anyone ‘here’ will care.
He went on to say not only was it about distance in miles, but also distance in terms of lives and culture which made a massive difference. Ten people dying in a tragic school mini bus accident in France might make the front pages whilst at the same time hundreds of thousands of children were starving to death in Africa and you would not find a mention of it anywhere in the news pages.
It wasn’t racist, or pro- or anti- any country (I was told), it was merely about the connections our readers could and would make. They could imagine a child, brother or parent hurt in a tragic bus accident in neighbouring France, but it seemed our readers could or would not imagine famine and starvation on another continent. After all, didn’t caring - like charity - begin at home?
Sadly, there was always an agenda. A child went missing for a few hours from a posh part of town and the newsroom was all over the story. Yet a few weeks later when a colleague raised a report of a younger child missing on the other side of town my editor told him “Oh that estate, it’s not a story”. I am pleased to say both children turned up unharmed, but sad to say that is when I fell out of love with journalism. I wanted to write and care about everyone as equals and to me a child was a child, always innocent and in need of protection.
Whilst most people like to believe they are not judgemental most of us are. It would be easy to dismiss 20 years ago as a bygone era, yet sadly while people may no longer believe charity begins at home, there are still a significant number who believe charity should look or represent a very simple form or need. I have lost count of the number of times I’ve heard the words – “yes but that is not a ‘real’ charity is it?”
Putting to one side the often-controversial issue of private fee-paying schools which could take up an article in its own right, it seems there are still charities which people do not consider to be equal to others. When I started my own C.I.C providing PR support, one of the main aims was to help the small charity sector get their voices heard, something I am passionate about.
But when I sent out a press release about an alternative therapy charity to a London-based online publication which was looking for stories for its charity pages, I was told it was commercial and I would need to pay for them to feature it. I emailed back and explained they were a membership body but they are also a charity that did a lot of important work. And when I didn’t hear back I picked up the phone to plead their case in person.
“No one really needs aromatherapy” I was told, “How is that an important cause?” I bit my lip, and remembered again why I got out of journalism. I explained that one of the key things they did was to help carers deliver aromatherapy to those in need in care homes and hospitals. And I told him that when my mother was in hospital with terminal cancer her day improved greatly by a volunteer trained in aromatherapy who came in to give her a hand massage with essential oils. It was relaxing and soothing. It was the kindness of human touch and fragrance in surroundings which by their very nature look and smell sterile.
I was told that was all well and good but it wasn’t a real charity, and the event the release was writing about it was just a PR stunt. They would publish it but I would have to pay. I didn’t pay, not only because neither the charity nor I had the budget, but because he was wrong. Scrolling back through the pages of his website I saw how just a month before they had published (as free content) a story about a much bigger well-known charity doing a very similar thing (a world record event). I couldn’t help but think it was probably because he had heard of them already, and as a charity all about hearts their ‘purpose’ was far clearer cut.
The thing about charity is we all have the choice to decide which we support, both in terms of cause and also who we want to give money to. But we don’t have the right to pick is what is a ‘real’ charity and what is not. In many instances people discount what they have not heard before about or don’t understand immediately. The result is the biggest organisations with massive PR and marketing budgets will always come up trumps and the grassroots ones miss out.
But actually, isn’t a charity a charity, much as a missing child is a missing child? And whilst they may not come from ‘our part of town’, we cannot and should not dismiss them, because the only real loser in that scenario is society itself.
You can also find this blog post on Charity Today.
The early to mid-90s sit-com The Fresh Prince of Bel Air is beloved of a generation on both sides of the Atlantic. It re-launched the multi-faceted career of Will Smith, at the time rebounding from the career low of squandering his early fortune following a Grammy award with Jazzy Jeff.
But the series wasn’t just a career launchpad for its lead. Behind the laughter and family commentary, there can be found a lot of lessons to be learned about setting up and running a business. While they might not initially be the most obvious, once you’ve read this article, you’ll never watch an episode in the same way again.
Have a story — and tell it
The theme tune for the Fresh Prince of Bel Air is one of the best known of its generation. If you don’t believe me, check out this audience sing a long on Graham Norton from back in 2012. But it’s not just catchy — it tells Will’s backstory. It tells you everything you need to know about the character, where he comes from, what his character is like, why he finds himself in Bel Air. In the space of two minutes we know Will is more interested in chilling out and playing basketball than fighting, and when the time comes, he does what his mother tells him. Moreover, it prefaces every episode, so you never forget who he is, even as the seasons and years roll on.
As a business founder, you will have a story too. What inspired you as a young entrepreneur? Why did you set up your company? What are you hoping to achieve? This is your story and it’s a vital element of who you are a business. It helps you to differentiate from your competitors, too.
Be different, and use it
Which brings me to my next point. One of the most important things to keep in mind when starting a business is how to differentiate yourself from your competition. In The Fresh Prince, Will is by default different from his familial hosts having been born and raised in West Philadelphia.
But it is this difference, his being a ‘fish out of water’, which makes the show. Not only that, but through his differences to those around him, Will is able to influence their way of thinking, living, even talking, challenging and disrupting the existing status quo. Your business needs to be and do the same.
Pick your partners carefully
When Will relocates from Philly to Bel Air he doesn’t come alone. Jazzy Jeff, his best friend comes too, frequently calling in on him, only to be summarily tossed out by an angry Uncle Phil. It’s one of the running jokes of the series, but it also illustrates an important point. Despite being evicted on numerous occasions, Jeff returns, never swayed or cowed by his rejection.
The old adage says to keep your friends close but enemies closer. While this may be of use in the Machiavellian hallways of power, when you’re starting out with a new business enterprise you could do a lot worse than having someone you trust beside you, especially if they are as resilient and persistent as Jazzy Jeff. After all, business can be a bruising experience.
Legal advice is about more than just legislation
Uncle Phil is an esteemed lawyer, who then becomes a judge in the fourth season. Throughout the running of the show, on countless occasions his status and knowledge are called upon to rescue Will, Jeff and on occasion even Carlton from sticky situations they have found themselves in. His legal counsel is invaluable to the young men growing up on the show. Yet his influence extends beyond that. Despite an admittedly short temper, Uncle Phil also provides many of the show’s most profound moments, providing moral guidance to those in his charge. It’s worth remembering that issues of law don’t always align with morals — tax evasion is a prime example — and you should be wary of veering too far from your principles in search of success.
Employees should be more than paid staff
Geoffrey, the house butler, is often an invaluable source of comedic relief, not least due to his traditionally stiff upper lip. However, as the family grow, a theme revisited time and again is of his value to the family, not only as a paid member of staff, but as someone who given the opportunity will generally (albeit begrudgingly) have their best interests at heart.
However, Geoffrey’s ongoing pay dispute with Uncle Phil is one of the main negatives about the latter’s character, and serves to illustrate to any entrepreneur why valuing your staff is vital to a positive working environment — and business success.
Any entrepreneur keeping these points in mind as they make their way in business could find the show could be as much a springboard for their career as it was for Will Smith in the early 90s. Because although the show may be showing its age, the ideas behind it are undoubtedly still Fresh.
[This blog post was also featured in Total Business Magazine]
We're celebrating our fourth anniversary this month!
What a time to be alive! Four years of supporting small charities, social enterprises, SMEs and startups with their PR and external comms. We've been lucky enough to work with some amazing organisations and even more amazing people. Thank you to everyone who has helped us keep helping others - especially the micro charities we're able to help for free!
To mark our fourth anniversary, we answered a couple of quick questions reflecting on our time with JGC:
The benefits of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and charitable initiatives are well documented, from advantages in recruitment and employee engagement, to improved positioning in the marketplace, with over half of British adults more inclined to buy a product or use a service from a company that donates to charitable causes. But how do you choose which charity is right for you?
There are over 160,000 registered charities in the UK, with roughly 97% of them having an income of less than £1m a year. Yet when it comes time to pick a charity to support, businesses all-too-often opt for the biggest, best-known organisations. It’s a problem over 50% of small charities believe is their main obstacle to raising funds – and it’s not just a matter of perception, either. Household names such as the RSPCA, NSPCC, Cancer Research UK account for almost half of the total £37bn raised ever year by the charity sector.
The reasons are obvious. Brand visibility and exposure help to cement their place in the public’s consciousness, and tackling universal issues like cancer or child abuse gives them widespread appeal. But if you look beyond the big names you’ll find small charities have a lot more going for them than you might expect, and present a great opportunity for any company looking to change or introduce an approach to CSR. Here’s why.
You’d be surprised what they can achieve
More and more small charities are broadening their areas of operations. Between 1999 and 2014 there was over a 250% increase in the number of UK charities working overseas, a great example being Music as Therapy International. Despite a modest budget last year their music projects reached over 17,000 vulnerable people in eight countries worldwide, including several communities within the UK.
Just because a charity is small, doesn’t mean it can’t have impressive reach and impact.
It could be the start of a beautiful relationship
The bigger the charity name, the more likely it is to already receive support from other companies. Choosing a lesser known, smaller cause can help to differentiate you from your competitors, and build a genuine connection between your organisations.
This is significant because a strong relationship between a charity and sponsor can be the gift that keeps on giving – for both parties. They might not have the biggest turnover or profile today, but a well-run small charity has bags of potential to grow in size, stature and influence. If you can play a major part in their story, their success will be yours to share.
Your donation really will make a difference
The purpose of charitable giving is to make a difference, but is your contribution a game-changer, or just another drop in the ocean to finance large salaries, marketing and admin budgets?
One 2015 report found over 1,000 large charities spent less than 50% of their income on charitable activities, which should be a cause for concern for anyone serious about CSR.
By comparison, many small charities are run by dedicated trustees and willing volunteers with no wage bill to speak of. This is the case with dog rescue and re-homing charity Finding Furever Homes, who in their first three years have re-homed almost 500 dogs, and donated over £100,000 to cover the vet and food bills of dogs in rescues throughout the UK. Organisations like these are run on a shoestring; so if you want to know your support is really going to make a difference, think small charity for a big impact.
Where to start?
Picking a charity can be a very personal choice, but once a decision is made on the type of cause, there really is no substitute for doing your homework. A charity’s recent accounts can be found through the Charity Commission, or you could simple call or pay them a visit to discuss their needs and how you could help. But remember, regardless of whom you choose to support, it’s doing it that counts.
[You can also find this post on CEO Today]
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