Peter Lewis, chief executive of the Institute of Fundraising, argues that face-to-face still has its place in the fundraising mix
During the course of last year, face-to-face fundraising (FTF) has had a substantial amount of air time from both politicians and the media. It has also been one of the hot topics discussed among fundraisers themselves. In fact, last July the Institute of Fundraising (IoF) held a summit of senior fundraisers from charities around the UK that use FTF significantly. The aim was to discuss the issues and agree what, if any, action needed to be taken by IoF.
A significant minority of people find the technique of FTF fundraising inconvenient or uncomfortable, which is of course regrettable. But is it really that much of an inconvenience in a modern world, when the purpose of the approach is to secure vital funds for important causes? Charities have to ensure that their approaches are appropriate and do not alienate the public, certainly, but they do have an overriding duty to ask for support for their particular cause. With our members, we are looking at whether there are ways to ensure the FTF ask for support is as positive an experience as possible.
As there is in every walk of life, there is some bad practice in this area. Where that exists, it must be stamped out. More than anyone, fundraisers know that maintaining public trust and confidence is of paramount importance. That is why the IoF developed its Codes of Practice, recently codified into a single online code, which we ask all our members to sign up to.
And I am pleased to say that the code, and the self-regulatory system as a whole, has already proved itself up for the challenge when the Fundraising Standards Board (FRSB) ruled against a street fundraising company, setting out in detail how it had breached the code.
So, if FTF generates so much noise and interest, why do so many charities continue to use it?
The answer is simple: it is one of the most effective ways of recruiting long-term supporters. It is also a particularly successful way to engage younger people who seem to relish the contact with a fundraiser who can convey their passion for a cause in a more personal manner.
Last year, a record 865,000 new donors decided to make a long-term commitment to support a charity as a direct result of FTF, raising an estimated £130m. And, according to data collected by the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association (PFRA), the returns on investment are impressive. For every £1 invested, the charity will get £2.50 back after five years. That’s a 250% return – a figure many businesses can only dream of.
In stark contrast to the negative press that street fundraising sometime receives, the FRSB received only 1,098 complaints about FTF fundraising on the street in 2011, against an estimated backdrop of nearly 42 million solicitations. Put another way, for every 200 people who signed up to support a charity, only one person who complained.
Street fundraising isn’t a new phenomenon either. Back in 1892 in the US, the YMCA raised money to build hostels by sending teams on to the streets to recruit donors who would give on the ‘instalment system’.
While the basic method is the same, charities are innovating with their FTF fundraising. Tablet computers are being used to display more information about the charity and what it achieves; an ask for support is being turned into an offer of support if the donor could benefit from the services of that charity; and organisations such as the Red Cross are training and equipping their team leaders with defibulators so they can directly save lives on the street.
Will FTF remain a vital part of the fundraising mix? The simple answer, in my view, is “yes”. As long as it continues to enable conversations with potential donors that translate into donations for a cause, its role is crucial.
Peter Lewis is chief executive of the Institute of Fundraising
This article first appeared in The Fundraiser magazine, Issue 25, January 2013