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Taking to the streets

26 September 2013

I’m a big supporter of charities. Financially, emotionally, through the click power of my computer mouse…I’m the ‘low hanging fruit’ of fundraising, a charity fundraiser’s dream.  So why does the recent rise of door to door fundraising (the new ‘chugging’, for those who haven’t seen the recent media coverage) sit so uneasily with me?

Some have argued that it’s the overly commercial approach these types of fundraising embody. The relentless, push, push, push of marketing that we are used to seeing from consumer brands. “Buy the latest face cream, your windows need fixing, what about an Avon party?” This doesn’t always sit comfortably for many of us when it comes from an organisation we donate to, when we are looking for the warm and fuzzy fix of doing something good.

Charities don’t just have a halo because of their causes. They have a better attitude, a kinder way of being and they demonstrate all round nicer behaviour. That’s why it is so easy not to like chuggers; they flip that expectation on its head, at odds with our slightly naive view of how charities should behave.

This creates a dilemma. The old fundraising adage is – if you don’t ask, you don’t get. Charities need voluntary income more than ever at the moment, bedevilled as they are by funding cuts and rising demand for their services. Street fundraising can deliver that holy grail – new, committed givers of unrestricted income. Direct approaches, on the street or knocking on doors, can be very effective, but it comes at the risk of alienating the public and increasing cynicism about the charities involved, particularly when it is clear that the fundraisers themselves are employed by profit making businesses.

So are there any ways in which the charity sector should merge with the corporate world? Absolutely. At Forster we believe in the importance of a re-invigorated, robust not-for-profit sector. And the way to achieve that lies in integration with and learning from the corporate world. Partnerships, for example, are a vital part of improving efficiency and sharing learnings. Partnerships are a connection between the corporate and charity worlds that that people appreciate much more than a knock on the door during Eastenders.

So will charities who adopt corporate behaviour lose their shine from their halo? Possibly. That’s why the way they do it will be so important.

But when it comes down to it, charities will always have the cause. Because of the cause, they can afford to make a few mistakes along the way. Imagine if British Gas or Nestle chased you down the street – you’d be OUTRAGED! There would be a regional news story every day of another corp-ugger hospitalised. With a charity, we have to at least smile and say ‘I’m busy, but thank you’