What’s in a name?

Two people talking over tea

Guest Bloggers | 14 December 2016

What do you call the people you work with?

I would imagine that in the main you refer to them as donors, supporters, members, campaigners or beneficiaries, and that this ‘name’ then takes that person on a different journey through your organisation, with different outcomes and using different language. Now, great as it is to have a personalised journey, for some time I have wondered why we often treat these different groups of people so very differently. Surely anyone might be any of these names? And what happens to your ultra-supporters who are all of them at once?

Rethink Mental Illness exists to support people severely affected by mental illness. That means we have supporters who really can be any of those ‘names’. This means that for us, we need to ensure that the care we give to anyone we support should be the same, regardless of what their relationship is to us.

Let’s face it, one in four of us will experience some form of mental illness at some point in our lives so it goes without saying that we need to be mindful of this. Our donors, members and campaigners should be treated with as much care and respect as those we see daily in our services. If they don’t have mental health problems now, they know someone who does.

That’s why we took a long hard look at how we communicate, and how we would ensure that we were taking into account the needs of anyone who might be considered vulnerable. This was by no means an easy thing to do. Vulnerability isn’t static – it isn’t always permanent, and it affects literally anyone – the grieving, the down-on-their-luck, the sick, the elderly, anyone. And a growing number of people, at that. And we know from all our work with carers and people severely affected by mental illness that many people find being called vulnerable insulting, or stigmatising.

So we started by thinking about the promises we could make to all our supporters that would show that we were putting their needs first, in the same way we do with our beneficiaries. And after consulting some of our experts by lived experience, we implemented our new Supporter Promise, with 11 promises we make to anyone who supporters us, including the option to ‘opt-out’ of raffles and lotteries (areas we know can be a trigger point or temptation for some people with a mental illness, or with debt worries).

We also took the brave decision to go fully ‘opt-in’ across all channels, and for consent to last for two years, going above and beyond what we need to legally do. We’ve done this because it just feels right, for the people we support and those who support us. That’s not to say that it isn’t scary - we, like most fundraisers, have targets to hit to ensure we can continue to support people severely affected by mental illness. And we know this isn’t the right solution for every charity, but we just feel it’s right that we treat everyone who know us with the same levels of clarity and compassion.

We don’t know exactly what this will mean for us yet – we’re 6 months into our first 2-year phase since adopting opt-in. But my gut tells me that we will have fewer people who are much more engaged with us as an organisation because of this. And that whilst individual giving income may take longer to grow - isn’t it better to engage with those people who really want to know about what we do and why? Our anecdotal feedback so far says yes.

I’ve been a fundraiser for a long time - almost twenty years. And I can honestly say that this is the most proud I have ever felt. As we all know, it’s been a difficult few years, but maybe this storm needed to happen in order for us to remember who we work with, and for. This for us is not about “stack ‘em high and sell ‘em cheap”, it’s about meaningful relationships, and about people and how we treat them.

Emma Malcolm, Associate Director for Fundraising and Supporter Engagement, Rethink Mental Illness

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