The Institute has been making a determined effort to defend doorstep collections from the threat of negative public perceptions, including this initiative from Scotland. Gregor McNie explains
Fundraisers have a moral duty across two fronts: asking for funds on behalf of those who can’t, and repeatedly acting as the first and last contact between the charity sector and the general public. In fulfilling the latter duty, fundraisers have a privileged role in acting as guardians of public trust in our profession.
The latest funding pressures can pressurise fundraising and in turn this can pressurise public confidence in the sector, as some poor and aggressive practice has the potential to emerge among a minority. Countless public surveys consistency identify charity as one of the most trusted institutions in the UK. This reputation, though perhaps indebted to history and some myopic views, also rests just as much on excellent communications and donor stewardship.
As an Institute, we often find ourselves working, lobbying and representing in seemingly niche areas. In Scotland these have recently included: outdoor fundraising and the Three Peaks Challenge; cross-border fundraising; and doorstep goods collections. Despite being unique in their own ways, these events all share one common theme – the potential to erode and damage public trust in fundraising and the charity sector. In each area we have made determined efforts to challenge these threats, the most recent of being bogus doorstep collectors. To tackle this problem the Institute in Scotland has launched a joint campaign with the FRSB called Give With Care.
We see several pressure points on collections as a fundraising technique, all of which have the potential to threaten public trust. The rocketing price of rag has been a catalyst for the increase of players in this market: charities embracing a reliable income stream; legitimate private enterprises; but also bogus operations, linked to criminal activity, who are masquerading as charities. The differences between these groups may be clear in our industry but won’t be in the public mind. Which is why we want to increase the public’s awareness and understanding of different types of collector. We hope that by doing this we will see a drop in the supply of goods to the bogus collectors
As in other sectors, budgets are extremely tight so we’ve had to be innovative in our campaign. A high profile campaign across national titles and broadcast media would have been costly and time intensive, with a risk of not staying in any news cycle long enough to make any real impact on public awareness. Instead, we looked at how we could reach local media, which has a greater total readership and impact on public awareness than the national titles.
Spreading the word
We decided to harness the influence and profile of Members of the Scottish Parliament to champion our cause through their constituencies because they already have a connection in those communities. We sent each member bespoke media packs with leaflets, template press releases and letters to send to local papers and let each of them promote an apolitical campaign supporting a sector they all care about without any dramatic request for more funding or serious legislative change. In short, with some strong support and key messaging of the benefits to them, we engaged MSPs to do our work for us. We also engaged the support of Clothes Aid, one of the biggest collectors working with charities who supported the distribution of leaflets to 200,000 households across some of the worst affected areas in Scotland.
The result has been that 28 MSPs are already supporting the campaign and we have received extensive coverage across local print and broadcast media and various online channels. The Minister for Civil Society in Whitehall is also monitoring the campaign to see if it is replicable in England. We are preparing to make a second wave of contact thanking all our supporters and seeking to engage those not already involved. We feel it’s a great story of successful campaigning through the use strong partnerships.
The impact on public awareness and affect on charitable goods collections will need to be measured in time. But as an example of working together during difficult times and working hard to maintain a healthy and positive environment for fundraising, we feel this campaign stands out.
Gregor McNie is manager of the Institute of Fundraising Scotland
This article first appeared in The Fundraiser, Issue 12, December 2011