Charities might have the right to fundraise how they want, but that doesn’t mean they should do so!

The very definition of a charity in the UK is one that acts in the ‘public benefit’, therefore all charities are created with a moral and ethical foundation and an obligation to society wider than their own beneficiaries. However, the Institute of Fundraising have taken the position that charities have the right to fundraise however they want (article in Civil Society, 13/2/12) and this makes me worried.

Is it acceptable to fundraise from sources that are lucrative for the charity, and therefore beneficial to those the charity supports, yet are likely to undermine – or even anger – other sections of society? Is it acceptable to raise income in ways that may have a negative environmental or social impact? In my view, if organisations operate in a way that only benefits their operations, they are skating on thin – and not particularly sustainable – ice. Charities are not free to fundraise however they want because they are bound by a deep rooted moral obligation to society.

Let me give you a couple of examples. The first is one that you may have seen in the press last week – the charity Young Enterprise (who, incidentally, I’ve volunteered for in the past), found themselves at loggerheads with the MP Stella Creasy after they accepted money from a company that was perceived to be involved with loan sharking. Anyone who was watching the exchange on Twitter and elsewhere can only describe the fall out as astonishing – I for one don’t remember any discussion of fundraising ethics between a charity and a politician that got so publically venomous.

Second example: I often pose as a ‘secret squirrel’ donor to gain an insight on different charities’ activities (if you’ve never done this before, I’d really recommend it – it’s very interesting!). On one such occasion, I was amazed to find out that several months later I began receiving spam emails from other charities, addressed to my false squirrel name. My details had clearly been sold. Selling donor’s details is perfectly legal (although I’m pretty sure I’d ticked any relevant box I’d seen to opt out) and data of this kind can be a very easy money-spinner. But ooh did it make me cross! The charity in question ignored my complaint – presumably it hadn’t occurred to them that anyone would know for sure it was them. And I never got round to kicking up a fuss. But a little piece of my soul died when I realised what they’d done – not a nasty profit-driven company, a charity. Sigh.

Which brings me to the real nub of this blog and my response to the IoF’s position – when one charity acts in an unscrupulous or unethical way, we are all brought down with them, whether the public tells us so or not. Charities operate by the trust that the title confers. If we are all able to fundraise however we want, then some will do so in ways that cause harm to our collective reputation, even if it’s not technically illegal. This will damage the charity ‘brand’, discouraging people from giving and reducing the sector’s long-term income as a whole.

That’s my view, want to give yours?

We are currently consulting on our Policy Review – the latest question? “Charities tend to enjoy high levels of public trust.  Do you see any potential issues around public trust for charities? If so, do you think this would affect giving levels?” Log-in to Yammer or email Charlotte Stuffins for an invite to the discussion if you are not already signed up. (Or you can leave a comment about this blog below)

More information

We have a section on ethical income generation in our Make It Happen training courses. Our next is in London on 14th March. The Institute of Fundraising publish ‘Codes of Fundraising practice’ (and it was in reference to the re-launch of these that the article I respond to was written)

Take a look (and get involved) at the campaign, which is trying to get the public to commit to give more to charity.

We also have some information on Socially Responsible Investment, which should be updated later on in the year – we’ll keep you posted. And you might be interested in the Move Your Money campaign.

And my last blog (Everyone Should Be A Fundraiser – Even the Chief Executive) is also relevant – as an argument for why fundraising can’t be the sector’s dirty little secret.

Rosaline Jenkins, Sustainable Funding Officer

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Avatar photo Ros is NCVO's lead in Sustainable Funding, promoting a more sustainable, suitable and strategic approach to generating income of all kinds - donations, grants, contracts and trading. @RosJTweets

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