While reading literature and leaflets about charity conferences, I have been struck recently by a major difference between today’s events and the sort of conferences I used to attend.
When I was working in Fauna & Flora Preservation Society (now FFI) I used to go to conferences on zoology, wildlife, conservation and related topics. Broadly speaking, when arranging these events, organisers would decide on a topic, invite a few key speakers and, usually, put out a general call for papers from experts in the field.
I have organised many one day meetings of this type, and several symposia lasting two or three days, both for FFI and for World Land Trust. And some have resulted in papers interesting enough to be published.
But reading the charity press today, I note that conferences are now organised rather differently. Nearly all the presenters are handpicked, very few speakers are presenting data or research findings, and most are simply advocates for their own organisation (either the funder or the recipient of funding).
The argument for attending such conferences is that one can learn from the successes and failures of other organisations. But to me this is a flawed argument, as someone from a children’s charity, for example, is unlikely to carry out research comparing the effectiveness of their activities with those of another children’s charity. And even if they do, if it shows their results in a bad light, they are very unlikely to want to discuss it in a public forum.
I do not go to many conferences these days, and I am certainly not interested in hearing the opinion of a Director of Corporate Partnerships or the views of a Director of Business Development unless they have come to talk about an independent evaluation of their work, or to present comparative data on the performance of the sector.
Now, if some genuine research was being presented, I would be keen to attend.
WLT derives around 70 per cent of its income from the corporate sector. We have some ideas as to why we are relatively successful in this sector, but I wouldn’t hold forth at a conference on charity fundraising unless I really knew why, and had some valid data to back it up.
There is a crying need for robust, scientific research into the reasons for the successes and failures of charity fundraising. If any of my readers know of an independent researcher evaluating the effectiveness of different fundraising methods, please feel free to add a comment at the end of this article.