I challenge The Mail and The Sun to run a charity with volunteers

There is no question it has been a depressing year for all of us who feel passionate about our roles as fundraisers. For years we kidded ourselves that net income was the priority (and who can blame us for that when we could see how desperately beneficiaries needed the services that income provided) and that we just had to accept that some people would never like the techniques we used. Quite rightly we are now seeing a strengthening of the Codes of Practice and a major structural change in regulation.

However, this ‘mea culpa’ approach has meant that only a few people have been prepared to stand up and defend some of the inaccurate, illogical and irresponsible media criticism. The irresponsibility concerns me the most. If people lose confidence in charities it is the people who benefit from the service who will ultimately suffer – and in an era where charities are relied upon to provide what in the past might have been a statutory service. And if charities cut the ‘administrative’ expenditure that the media hates so much we will end up with organisations that have to cut corners and aren’t able to put in place the strong management and governance processes which I for one DO want to see if I am going to trust a charity with my donation.

There still seems to be a perception that charities should be run by volunteers (anyone know where those 750,000 people are hiding?) or people who are lucky enough to have other sources of income to enable them to run a home or bring up a family.

So, I put out a challenge to The Mail and The Sun. Find a need and set up a charity to fulfil that need. Run it purely with volunteers and don’t spend more than 2% of your income on ‘administration’. Don’t actively fundraise (because of course people will give without being asked, won’t they?) And grow the charity over the next 10 years to meet what will no doubt be an increasing demand for the services, without adding in any managers.

If you can make it work, then I will know that my 38-year career in fundraising has been a complete waste of time. If you can’t, then I will be able to hold my head up high at my retirement party and say ‘I am proud to be a fundraiser’.

Valerie Morton is a fundraiser and consultant

  • Sarah Thompson

    Well said!

  • dieseltaylor

    There is an evident presumption of what a charity is and is not.

    On the narrow definition in the article I could point to the hugely successful local charity the Sid Vale Association founded in 1846 and to this day run by volunteers.

    This does rather highlight that perhaps a huge amount of confusion on what is right and proper for charities to engage in is complicated by the overall term charity. A lot of problems could be solved if there was a distinction made between active charities and funding charities etc.

    It is as though the term students was used for anyone who attends any primary school, or college, or course and we talk about them as a block when really it is only applicable to a section of students.

    The sector really needs to provide labels that the public and media recognise as referring to a specific type of charity. Until such time as this happens the generic term will probably damage all as scandal story last longer in the mind than good news stories.

    A funding charity will have a very different spending profile to that of an action charity like Oxfam or even Sightsavers. The fact that the Royal Opera House, BUPA and some schools are charities also needs some rationalisation.

    I doubt your years have been wasted Valerie but I also have no doubt that thirty years ago the fundraising scene was a lot more ethical and less “commercial”.

  • Lucy Herron

    Yes, yes and again yes. Come on media, set up your charities, I’d love to see this.

  • elizabeth sayer

    perfect. My clients spend an absolute fortune on suppression files and compliance and yet they are terrified of continuing to fundraise. Why didn’t the Daily Mail and The Sun promote MPS to its readers to actually help people to stop getting unwanted mail? That wouldn’t sell many copies I suppose.

  • Mary O’Toole

    Charities come in all shapes and sizes; smaller ones don’t even need to register with the Charity Commission; some seem to run on air, others function like corporates, or seem to aspire to, and have massive budgets, often from state sources of one kind or another. The Charity Commission and charity law, expects certain things of charities. Its not unreasonable that they account for their income, spending and efficient use of resources, whether donated directly by individuals or publicly funded. The public and press, maybe has an old fashioned idea of charities, and may not realise that many function like large businesses, albeit with altruistic aims. Government has possibly also added to a confused understanding of the sector, spinning off off various functions into charities in recent decades (housing associations from former local authority housing depts for example). You can identify these by looking up their profile on the Charity Commission website & looking at the pie charts showing proportion of income from voluntary sources; shown in blue. Some have none, or very little, getting all or most of their income from grant sources. More ‘traditional’ charities have much more or the majority of income from voluntary donations. The charity sector is essential for our common good, and in my opinion, very healthy in the UK, but like any other human activity, can sometimes fail to deliver or behave as it should, for different reasons. Its also essential that new small charities are born to meet new needs (in the way that small businesses are continually created) Often these start with few resources,initiated by people who realise the unmet need for personal reasons, and are very effective in making good use of their resources with few overheads and little income to start with. I have belonged to or led several voluntary organisations over the years, some of which made considerable demands on their volunteers, and only some of which were registered charities. I am currently a trustee of two small charities.