Amanda McLean casts off aspersions related to clothing collections and explains why, despite its somewhat jaded reputation, this income stream is so vital to fundraising
While the concept of donating unwanted goods to charity to generate income is not new, its use as a fundraising activity has exploded in recent years. On occasion, so too has its notoriety.
What has caused this boom? A rise in cheap clothing shops, interest in environmental issues, more opportunities to donate, and a desire to help charities have all contributed.
The collection of clothing and other goods was initially limited to the few charities that owned shops. However, the rising value of textiles and innovative contracts with commercial partners means that more can now use it to raise significant amounts of revenue.
So why is this positive step for the sector often surrounded by controversy and negativity? The problem can broadly be summarised as misconceptions around collections undertaken by commercial organisations. That is, are these actually beneficial to charities?
While the traditional charity shop model is a trusted and valued resource, it only suits certain organisations. Of course, this is the case with all forms of fundraising. The cost, risk and demand on resources involved in charity shop fundraising can be unattractive or even prohibitive to some charities. So, a rise in commercial partnerships to carry out clothes collections on their behalf is another model that enables charities to engage in this area.
There is much debate around which option generates more money and which is best for protecting a charity’s reputation. There is no right answer, although the best option for a charity is naturally one which will provide a good return on investment. In more general terms, both models have their positives and negatives. Therefore, charities needs to use their resources effectively, applying a model that works within their overall objectives. This is for each charity to decide and whichever method is used, best practice standards should be followed.
Unfortunately, some fraudsters are keen to take advantage of the generosity of the public and pose as charities, pretending that charity partners will benefit from a collection. Others steal bags that are earmarked for other charities outright. This despicable behaviour costs charities vital income and needs to be stopped. However, just because this illegal behaviour exists, it does not mean that all collections undertaken by third parties are bogus and they should not all be tarred with this brush. This is an important distinction that needs to be articulated better by the sector.
There has long been debate about the need to improve the collections landscape, and it seems that time has come. The Institute is looking at goods collections from a number of angles to address the different issues. We have just revised our House-to-House Collections Code, which now includes specific guidance on how to undertake goods collections. We have worked with the Fundraising Standards Board, Trading Standards and other bodies to produce guidance for the public and other interested parties to explain the different methods of collections and why all are valuable to the sector.
With regard to bogus collectors, it is hoped the Code, which will be launched in the spring, will raise standards and make it easier to spot those who don’t keep to the rules. The Institute is also working with government, police, trading standards, other sector bodies, charities and commercial collectors to raise awareness of bogus activities and look at ways to stamp them out.
By working together and raising public awareness of these issues, we can hopefully eradicate bogus collections and restore public confidence in this problematic, but vital, fundraising stream.
Amanda McLean is chief executive at the Institute of Fundraising
This article previously appeared in The Fundraiser, Issue 2, February 2011