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13 Jun 14

Don’t Do Something You Can’t Defend!

I was at a dinner party recently when a friend asked me a question that I knew was only a matter of time coming: “What do you really think about chugging, Matt?”

I get asked this question much more often than I’d like and my two-fold response is always the same.

First, don’t use the ‘C’ word. Second, I was proud to be a face to face fundraiser, and I am still proud to be working in a sector that not only provides charities with such a great avenue to recruit a huge volume of donor’s in a cost effective way, but one that has opened the market to a whole new demographic.

On this occasion, I then informed my friend that Greenpeace recruited 1.4 million new donors via F2F in 5 years across 18 countries and, according to PFRA figures, each year, donors who have been recruited by face-to-face fundraisers working on the street and doorstep contribute about £130 million for the great causes they represent.

The real question is: how could anyone not be proud of face-to-face fundraising?

I have been involved in F2F fundraising for more than 5 years and have had versions of this same conversation on numerous occasions, and I’m getting a little tired of defending what to me is screamingly obvious.

In 2010, after a day on the street leading a team of fundraisers for GIFT, I was watching Newsnight and couldn’t believe it when for about 10 minutes my profession was torn to shreds and the presenter accused charities of being ‘too embarrassed to come on and talk’. Apart from a game representative from BHF, no one leapt to defend F2F fundraising. Did they not realise that this had an effect on me the next day when I was stood in the rain trying to raise money for their cause?

I understand why no-one from the charity sector put their heads above the barrier to take the sort of flak and hostility that Newsnight threw at them. They knew what was heading their way and chose not to face it, and I guess I’d choose not to as well.

Yet the absence of a proud and principled defence of face-to-face by the charities that use it has made this issue harder at ground level for F2F fundraisers who can’t escape it and take most of it on the chin. Unlike the big charities who chose not to go on Newsnight, street fundraisers don’t have the luxury of choosing not to confront this criticism – and what’s worse is that they have been left out in the cold.

Good fundraisers have been lost, talent unfulfilled, morale has been sapped and for some it has sadly become just a job. It has contributed to and even increased poor public perception and misunderstanding, negativity from other charity professionals, and consequently I have to spend time at dinner parties defending a profession that brings in £130 million a year.

Recently the PFRA sent out an email stating that there had been an increased number of incidents of physical assaults on fundraisers and asked members to complete a survey so they could gauge the scale of the problem. Could this problem have been avoided, or at least minimised, if charities had done a better job of defending the profession over the years?

I believe the answer is an unequivocal YES!

In 2012, when I was a F2F fundraising manager working for Shelter, there had been another spate of ‘chugger’-bashing articles in the media. This bad press had a profound effect on some of my staff, many of whom began questioning the worth of their job. After one talented member of staff quit because she was so upset by the criticism she was receiving, I called a team meeting.

In front of a team of 25 I gave a speech that had been inspired by my favourite fundraising author, Ken Burnett:

“Don’t do something you can’t defend. Be proud of yourselves, be proud of your profession, take pride in it and defend it to anyone who will listen. We don’t wear suits to work but our job is important!!! In every interaction that you have each day you have the power to raise funds, change opinion and influence positive action – what an amazing job you have. Be proud of yourselves and be proud of your profession because I am proud of you!”

Unfortunately over the years of F2F management I was forced to recite this speech over and over again. My job was to train and inspire fundraisers to recruit great quality donors not to persuade them that they should take pride in their profession – that should be a given surely.

This blog is an unashamedly direct call to action for every director of fundraising, CEO and every other professional working at an organisation that runs a F2F operation (whether through an in house team or agency): If you are going to have a face-to-face fundraising team then embrace them, work hard to integrate them, show that you value them and please defend them when they get attacked – because the absence of such defence can be very damaging.

Finally, to every F2F fundraiser out on the frontline each day I will say this: you are the lifeblood of so many great charities; your commitment, desire and hard work is valued immensely by those who understand the work you do. I am proud of you and everyone in the sector should be too.

Matt Monfared, F2F Development Manager