Derek Bishop


A Charitable Culture

Date added: 03rd Sep 2015
Category: Culture of conduct/ethics

Charity may well begin at home but the first step has to be to build an internal culture which aligns with and respects people

Whether helping out at a local event or taking part in a national fundraiser, people in the UK give extremely generously to charitable causes. So much so, that the Charities Aid Foundation 2014 UK giving review revealed that 79% of people had either given money to charity or taken part in a social action activity in the previous 12 months.  With some £10.6 billion having been donated in 2014 as well as countless volunteer hours, the charity sector is well supported.

However, there is always a need to do more and charities cannot afford to sit back and expect the donations to keep rolling in. This means that organisations which were originally set up to help one area of society have to be extremely businesslike in their approach to raising awareness and fundraising. It’s a tricky balancing act, maximising donations whilst the same time ensuring that potential donors aren’t so overwhelmed that they suffer from compassion fatigue.

Perception is all

In general, charities manage this reasonably well but there is one growing area of concern which if left unchecked will threaten the fundraising ability of charities across the UK. That area is quite simply the way in which people perceive the culture and ethos of the charity sector. It wasn’t a good day for the charity sector when the term chuggers was coined. Standing for charity muggers, the increasing prevalence of the word reflects a growing unease on the part of the public to being stopped in the street and asked for donations. This despite street collections being tightly controlled and regulated.

Now further concerns are being raised with stories hitting headlines of people being bombarded with requests for donations from multiple charities and of charities selling on personal details to other organisations. Commenting on one of the latest stories, the Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, said that the failure to tick a consent box in 1994 does not give anyone the right to trade in people’s personal information years after the event.

Even before these stories hit headlines, concerns had been raised about donations leading to continual request for funds. In fact in the Charities Aid Foundation 2014 review 53% of those surveyed admitted to being worried that if they gave a donation they would then be asked for more. It will be interesting to see how this figure has changed when the next review comes out.

Building the culture

By their very nature charities are focused on carrying out good work in their chosen field. Perhaps understandably, therefore, fundraising looms high on their list of priorities; the more funds you receive, the more good you can do. But the danger is this can lead to a skewed world view, one in which the cause is everything with people being merely seen as a means to an end. So employees and volunteers are treated poorly, donors are harassed with repeated requests for funding and personal details are only respected for their on-sale value.

In the first instance poor publicity will harm the individual charities named but there is a knock-on effect which will damage the perception and reputation of the charity sector as a whole. To address this, charities have to stop focusing purely on pursuing their aims and start looking at their overall culture. Quite simply, they can no longer rely on the goodwill of the people to carry them through whilst at the same time treating those same people with a complete disregard for personal rights and values. Charity may well begin at home but the first step has to be to build an internal culture which aligns with and respects people.

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