A tragedy or an opportunity?

IoF Individual Giving

Guest Bloggers | 23 November 2015

Last year, many people got involved with the #ProudFundraiser campaign. They say that pride comes before a fall. And it did. This year we witnessed the most uncomfortable, significant, public challenge to the integrity of the fundraising profession.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. When I look back the signs were there. The language we use is often a reflection of the culture from which it originates. Defining donors and our relationship with them with words like ‘reactivate’, ‘lapsed’, ‘importing’, ‘acquisition’ and ‘optimisation’, suggests that we viewed our supporters rather like a trader would view commodities. When did we start using words like that? More importantly, when will we stop? 

We’re at a crossroads. For the sector this is either a tragedy or an opportunity. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference. Thomas Edison said, "Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work." So let’s put on overalls. Let’s make a point of proving that this sector is happy to be probed about ethical practices, we’re happy to be answerable to our supporters and we’re happy to uphold the standards that we campaign for in other sectors. 

Let’s rise above the noise, not get dragged into it. Now is not the time to complain that we’re misunderstood. It’s not the time to argue that politicians and the media are the real villains. It is time to find a better way of engaging with society, to give supporters a fantastic experience, exceed all of their expectations and be so transparent that they will never doubt our motives again. 

Surely, in this sector we can sign up to the belief that supporters are people, not commodities. Surely in this sector we know that the most profitable thing to do isn’t always the right thing to do. Surely in this sector we can prove that we will uphold a higher standard. Not because we’re forced to, but because we want to. 

And finally, let’s accept that rising above the noise and winning back trust will not be easy, it will not be cheap and it will not be without risk. At the RNLI from 1st January 2017 we will no longer contact anyone about making a donation unless they have explicitly told us that it’s OK to do so. The price tag on our opt in decision could be as high as £65 million over the next 5 years. It wasn’t an easy decision. But for us it is the right decision. 

So when you look back on 2015 what will it be? A tragedy or an opportunity? You decide.

Leesa Harwood, Director of Community Lifesaving and Fundraising, RNLI

Leesa is chairing the IoF Individual Giving conference on 30th November - join us and many other members of the fundraising community to find out how we can act today for a successful tomorrow


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