Considering the name we have chosen for our venture "Making A Difference" one question that lingers and one recurring doubt has been, will £1 really make a difference? Is it really enough? Can we really say we'll be making a difference to poverty? Will the money really be making a difference to homelessness? With the billions already being raised every year, what is actually changing.
If £25 can feed a child for a week – with charities sitting on thousands, sometimes millions of pounds in their accounts - not to mention in property portfolios, how many children are starving to death and needlessly suffering whilst that money sits in bank account and whilst charities spend thousands on advertising, requesting yet more funds. And lets not mention the money spent on consultancy fees to provide advice and strategies on fundraising. When faced with the choice of spending that money on feeding children or on advertising campaigns surely a charities main concern has to be the cause - the donations given were after all for the cause. When a charity asks for £20 to help a homeless person and you can see that same charity has £1.3 million in their account or investment fund, surely we donors are within our right to say - well maybe you should use some of that money to house those on the street tonight - once you have done that I will give you my £20. Because whilst you sit on that money how many will suffer?
The response to these issues seems always to be that the distribution of funds and spending of funds is a complicated matter, as is the need for charities to invest and have reserves in order to remain resilient to economic strains. Yet even knowing this, for many, something does not sit right. Myself included.
So if these are the thoughts at the start of a venture is there any point in pursuing it? When Charities advocate, as we do, that every pound will be making a difference, can we hand on heart know that to be true, can we believe it to be true?
Media coverage of elevated executive pay to allegations of excessive cold calling of vulnerable people has done much to fuel these doubts and fan the fires of an already cynical mind. More recently headlines such as those found in the Guardian "small fraction of Grenfell donations given to victims, regulator reveals" and the BBC News headlines of "Grenfell Tower fire money not reaching survivors" are also of concern.
But of greater concern has been the conversations we have had with the general public when engaging in conversation regarding charitable giving. Public trust and confidence in charities seems low:
"Once upon a time if someone put a donation in a tin they were thanked, and anyone wanting to buy goods were attended to, and also thanked - that was it. It was friendly and enjoyable - being accosted and bullied into donating, especially by people wanting bank details for repeat automatic donations as is the case now, is not friendly or enjoyable."
"I've had enough of those who leap out in front of me in the street and want me to sign some sort of standing order or direct debit - but will not accept a one off donation if offered. If a charity needs money, it should accept donations however small, they should not be pestering for a commitment".
These are just some on the comments heard over and over and not only does it give charities a bad name but is also creating this culture and belief that the odd £1 here and there is not enough. It is not worthy.
Other comments go along the lines of "Most charities have just become money collecting organisations", "The biggest stumbling block for me is the fact that all charities from the interfering political to the essential have a board of money grabbing directors that cost thousands in donations" And "many charities are actually business entities masquerading behind the name charity".
A Charity Times reports confirms our experience. In an article dated 20.10.17 It states that according to a public polling for the Charity Commission, the overall level of trust and confidence in charities fell from 6.7 out of 10 in 2012 and 2014 to 5.7 in 2016 – forecasts show 2017 will be no different.
Speaking to charities themselves to explain our solution and to get them on board has also been an eye opener and at times caused us to doubt our mission. At times their goals have seemed to be more about achieving brand and market place success rather than helping those in need. A common comment we were faced with when setting up was "unfortunately as you have not been trading for 2 years we cannot come on board as we have to protect out corporate identity". There is no doubt that charities need to protect themselves from bad press and that they also need to protect the relationship that they have developed with their donors because any bad ties could impact future levels of giving. This is perfectly understandable, however when hearing those words it is hard not to question whether charities have got the balance of success versus service right. With some, mainly the larger charities, there appeared to be little interest in how the service could benefit the donors as an alternative way to donate.
So back to the earlier question, do we continue if our hearts are doubting? The answer, after careful consideration and many a sleepless night, has to be a resounding yes. Why? Because we need to stay focussed on what it was that we felt passionate about at the start, the reason we started on this journey.
If these hours were spent thinking about making a difference to the lives and the causes they were set up to help, surely this would be time better spent.
It was the waste by larger charities not just of money but also of time, having solutions programmed for them that made us think that an alternative model could be designed. Thousand of pounds in programming fees, design fees and hours and hours of time spent in meetings and dialogue, building strategies, plans and designs and then further time ironing out difficulties and bugs in systems. Meeting after meeting, seminar after seminar on how to increase donations and generate more income. If these hours were spent thinking about making a difference to the lives and the causes they were set up to help, surely this would be time better spent.
But not only was it the waste of larger charities that fuelled the idea but also the mere fact that smaller charities because of their smaller budgets and limited manpower simply had no access to such solutions, it didn’t seem right…
The budget that some larger charities have for their solutions alone can be greater than the total sum some smaller charities receive all year. And we will leave the discussion about exposure of smaller charities for another discussion. However I will say this, our service is a service for all. A platform for charities large and small, for all like minded and common cause charities to sit together side by side no matter the size.
Other motivators have included the fact that the fees that some other sites charge for processing donations simply seem too high to sit comfortably alongside the word "charity" and the shocking number of people that are unaware of the % fees taken from their donation. These services, if they are not ashamed or embarrassed by their fees, should highlight and make them clear not only to those setting up the accounts but also to the donor every time a donation is made.
Nonetheless despite all of this, despite the knowledge we have and the frustration we feel, there can be no denying the good that charities do and how invaluable their work is. And it is because of this we still donate. And it is because of this that any system that helps people to donate in a manner that is not intrusive, has low fees for the donors and is not too time consuming or costly for the charity has to be worthwhile. The best critique is to offer a better solution and that is precisely what we are working on and will continue to work on.
Other motivators have included the fact that the fees that some other sites charge for processing donations simply seem too high to sit comfortably alongside the word "charity".
If we didn’t have the hospices, who would provide such a loving caring valuable service? If we didn’t have the conservation charities that have been working tirelessly all these years - would many of our endangered animals already be extinct? And if we didn’t support the many dog and cat rescue charities what would be of all our neglected cats and dogs. Areas of Europe, which have fewer such charities, can give us an insight into what our society would be like.
A positive position
So despite all the negativity and bad press surrounding charities, a society without them would be unimaginable. We must not let negative stories and individual cases tarnish our sense of value of charities as a whole. We must not let the media or the behaviour of a few, disproportionately damage their worth. Their worth has been made very clear in the report Charity Today 2017, (Put together by Charity Comms in partnership ACEVO, The Institute of Fundraising and CAF, the Charities Aid Foundation) which provides fresh analysis of the collective impact of charities across the UK. It is huge. And goes some way to dousing the flames of doubt.
What needs to be done is to keep working to get the model right. Ensuring that all money is spent correctly and wisely with the cause at the heart of all decisions made by charities and more needs to be done to emphasise the deep-rooted and often unsung contribution and the huge difference that charities large, medium and small make to individuals, to communities, to regions, to the nation and to the world as a whole. Although we do hear of the achievements they always seem to be attached to a request for a donation. The two should not always go hand in hand.
The Commission on the Donor Experience has brought together all of its research and along with the insight and experience of more than 1,000 people from across the voluntary sector, has provided a summarised blueprint called the 6Ps. It makes for interesting reading demonstrating that the sector is aware of public opinion and is willing to change and respond. It states quite clearly that, “Fundraisers must be judged by longer-term, more donor-friendly criteria rather than just by income raised now.”
We all now have to learn from the negatives and build on the positives. The fact that there is a strong desire to remedy any shortcomings in the sector is heartening and in order to try and invoke change we have to be part of it. A solution that helps charities to raise money in a manner that is clear and transparent has the lowest possible fees we can manage and is open and accessible to all has to be a good thing.
Our aim is not to become part of a problem but become part of a future solution. According to the Fundraising Regulator’s complaints report published on the 24.10.2017, 893 charities reported receiving 42,782 complaints in 2016 and fundraising using direct marketing as well as face to face fundraising was the cause of most complaints. Followed by public collections. And although the report states that the ratio of complaints versus activity is low it is clear that charities need to improve and possibly change the way that they ask people for support.
We offer a new way, a new solution. A non intrusive way to donate allowing the public to choose when to donate, which charity to donate to and how much they wish to donate each time. A solution that supports registered charities only, that is bound by the fundraising code of practice and is registered with the Fundraising Regulator. A solution that tries to encourage and promote donating with all gift giving occasions whilst at the same time gently reminding people that charities are integral to the function of our society and they need our support to survive.
So we continue with the quote by E. Elliott in mind:
"do not dig up in doubt what you have planted in faith"