Today I finally heard some common sense from the Manchester gathering of Tories, as Ed Vaizey MP told his party conference that charity chief executives have to roll their sleeves up and get properly involved in the tough but essential job of raising the funds that keep their organisations going.
It reminded me of an American I met when working at the Institute for Philanthropy, who told me about a dinner party in London where it seemed more acceptable to discuss the BO of the person she was sat next to, than to ask them about their charitable giving.
The British cultural problem with money encompasses donations as well as earnings, and extends to the most curious places, including the colleagues of fundraisers who manage to persuade themselves that raising the income to keep the charity going (never mind to keep their salaries being paid) is not their job and therefore nothing to do with them. I remember asking a colleague for help with approaching a tricky but valuable prospect – he refused, despite agreeing it sounded a tough job, and offered the sage advice: “but hey, that’s fundraising!” I made a mental note that not a penny of any income raised from that source should be used for his projects!
Sadly Mr Vaizey went on to rather spoil his message by churning out the usual nonsense about charities being useless at thanking and recognising donors. I’m sure a few are, but on the whole charities (or more to the point, their fundraisers) work extremely hard to ensure that donations are promptly and properly acknowledged, and donors are thanked in as proper and personal way as funds allow. But it’s one of those classic damned if you do/don’t scenarios – for every donor who feels unappreciated by their chosen charity, there’ll be another who thinks its a horrendous waste of money to be sent any sort of follow-up communication after their gift.
I simply don’t believe that none of the charities supported by Mr Vaizey have failed to engage or thank him, and I wish he had balanced his remarks by sharing examples of good donor care. These are tough times for charities and we need helpful policy support, not populist, crowd-pleasing posturing.