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Fundraiser bashing - the sport continues...


This article is a response to a recent thread on LinkedIn by a Fundraising and Marketing professional who commented about tired opening lines and bad grammar within Fundraising letters. I was interested by the views of a number of Creative and Copywriting professionals who joined the thread to agree how ‘lazy’ this was.

I had a somewhat different reaction to this, and feel it demonstrates a lack of understanding of the way that smaller Third Sector organizations work.

There are two main issues at work here, the first being skillset, the second being demand.

Skillset The smallest charities cannot afford a Fundraiser role – it is an overhead for a charity in a world where most funders will contribute only15% overhead, if any. For small charities, overheads usually represent a much higher % of total costs as they do not have the economies of scale achieved by larger charities[1].

Small charities are set up by people who are passionate about a societal or environmental issue, usually due to their experience or training. The person writing the application is probably the Chief Exec, the Administrator, a volunteer, Trustee or Project Worker. These people are not specialist copywriters/bid writers. They are specialists in other areas, however. They are likely to be (for example) ecologists, or youth workers (both Degree-led professions).

How many Marketers and Bid Writers could deliver an ecological survey, or provide support for significantly disadvantaged young people with behavioral issues? Why then would you expect them to have the same grasp of understanding of your profession? Can anyone do your job? Of course not, it is a skilled profession.

Larger charities can afford to contract specialist bid writing and marketing provision. Therefore, we are seeing the larger charities getting larger, and the smaller charities folding. The situation is desperate. The gap just keeps growing between charities that can afford professionals, and those that cannot. The sad thing is that this frequently bears little relevance to the social impact or ‘value’ that each charity is bringing its beneficiaries, instead merely rewarding those charities that can present their need in the most compelling and innovative way. If funders are switching off from formulaic letters, without considering the social value, then we are lost as a society.

Demand Another fundamental issue is that of need. Support for the Third Sector (any ‘social purpose’ organization falls within this category, whether registered charity, unincorporated community group or social enterprise) has never been more urgently needed.

The gap between the haves and have-nots in society will become more pronounced as a result of Covid19. The competition for funding is fierce – there is simply not enough money to go around. Immense pressure is placed on both professional Fundraisers and those who are doing it in addition to their ‘day job’ – I know many many skilled Third Sector professionals who have burned out as result. In this over-subscribed environment, the sheer volume of applications (both for charities to produce, and funders to read) can become overwhelming. It is no surprise that generic content is re-used.

A Solution? I am not condoning poor grammar, hackneyed language or repetition. I am trying to explain the circumstances which lead to this and suggest how Marketing and Copywriting professionals can help.

As a Social Impact Professional, I advise businesses on how they can best impact society positively. Social impact should be appropriate to a company’s activities and location. As Communications specialists you can work with your local Third Sector. Chose a charity which resonates for you, or approach your local CVS organization and offer free training for their members. This equality of access means that the most cash strapped tiny charities can access your support. Even better if it is digitally available, as many small charities are supporting their beneficiaries during working hours, and can only access training in their spare time.

NOW is the time to deliver this. Work together to upskill the sector. It will build your connections, and those that can afford to contract you are likely to as a result.

Please make a difference rather than judge, the most vulnerable in society need your support. [1] For reference, Charity Commission statistics from 2018 showed that 73.3% of the sector (England and Wales) has a turnover less than £100,000, compared with the 1.3% of charities with incomes of over £5m. Like Comment Share

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