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.
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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