Saving threatened habitats worldwide

'Charity Vultures'

7 December, 2016 - 11:57 -- John Burton

Yesterday it came out that the Information Commissioner’s Office has fined two well-known, well-trusted charities, the RSPCA and the British Heart Foundation, for unethical fundraising practices. The RSPCA was fined £25,000 and the British Heart Foundation £18,000 for ‘wealth screening’ and selling donor data, both without donor consent.

I recently went to a very interesting meeting organised by the Commission on the Donor Experience. This particular workshop was on ‘vulnerable’ donors. It wasn’t relevant to World Land Trust (WLT) at all, as we don’t do any ‘targeted’ fundraising towards non-donors such as tele-fundraising or mail shots. Fortunately the session did conclude with the thought that anyone could potentially be vulnerable, there isn’t a way of telling who is, and when they are, vulnerable. However, this news about the ‘wealth screening’ and selling of donor details shows that clearly not all fundraising meetings end with the same conclusions.

I wanted to take part in the workshop to see what issues were involved and see if anything related to the work of WLT. As no doubt many readers will know, there are a wide range of fundraising techniques, ranging from students standing around stations with a bucket to sophisticated mail shots. Many of the discussions at the workshop were about tele-fundraising. I am personally against this, as I believe that overall it has a negative impact. If even one person in ten feels like they have been harassed, your fundraising technique, which should be about building a positive relationship with existing and potential donors, has failed. The proponents always argue that it is cost-effective, but then I do not believe that straightforward cost-effectiveness is always the best way of measuring success.

I believe very firmly in only ever using non-coercive techniques.  WLT tries to give donors what they want: an opportunity to make donations from time to time and send them communications in a format they like (printed paper, electronic bulletins, or social media). And we don't constantly try and push donors to a higher category of donation. In our fundraising, we ask for donations of an amount which makes economic sense, but if someone wants to make a smaller donation we accept it gratefully. This is because I firmly believe that donors, by their very nature are generous. They usually give what they can afford. 

Looking at it in purely financial terms (not the best way) the person donating a couple of pounds a month, if they know they are valued, may end up leaving a legacy. However, money is not always everything. A happy, respected, engaged donor will more than likely want to spread the word among their friends who share their interests, and consequently those donors can become the best allies and marketing tool an organisation can have. WLT has grown slowly over the years, but I am convinced that this slow growth is far better than being impatient and spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on marketing and fundraising. The slow growth has produced a strong, committed supporter base. So ‘Thank you’, to all of you.


Submitted by Meg Cowley on

John, Thank you for building a charity with ethical fundraising that focuses on happy and engaged long-term supporters rather than short term financial drives with less than ideal methods. This is a very refreshing and welcome opinion to read, and makes me even happier to support WLT.

Submitted by John on

Thank you for your support. It is very reassuring to know what our supporters believe

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