Saturday, 16 May 2015

Charity at a Cost?

A very sad story in the news is about the death of Olive Cooke who was a War Widow and who had sold poppies for 76 years.  The story can be found via many news outlets but this is how it reads in The Mirror online.

There seems to be concern that one of the stresses of Olive's life was the persistent approaches from charities. No doubt various enquiries and the Inquest will consider whether these approaches contributed to Olive's death.  This sad story of a woman who seems to have lived a life dedicated to helping others prompted me to think of the persistent approaches we have had in our own household from various charities and the connections we have with others.  

Being a Minister within the Methodist Church it could be argued that I work for a charity so I am not anti charity by any means.  However I have been disappointed at some of the charities that are very close to my heart changing their fundraising tactics in a way that I believe alienates some of their core supporters and which discourages others from supporting them in the first place.  I imagine charities change their fundraising tactics because they find the tactics work and they raise more money, but at what cost?  Maybe the cost is at making some members of the public resolve never to support that particular charity.

Let me give two examples of the way that charities have discouraged me from support.  The first concerns a Charity which purports to have a Christian ethos, although in their local centres or shops one would be hard pushed to find anyone that would confess to being a Christian or even have much of a clue about the mainstream church they are supposedly connected to.  This charity had a very strong supporter base within a particular denomination but many years ago decided it would start cold calling for volunteer collectors completely undermining the system of grass roots volunteers that already existed.  I suppose more money came in, but I am pretty sure more goodwill went out. The second example involves another very well known charity whose representatives kept calling asking for an increase in regular giving.  Despite repeated warnings that if they persisted we would cease support completely as we already support a number of charities (and work for one)  and have our charitable giving worked out - guess what?  They kept calling!

Of course the work of charities is important.  Of course it can be very hard for them to raise money.  Of course they should keep searching for creative ideas for fundraising in order to support the work of charities.  However, this does not mean that persistent calls, sometimes from organisations that represent the charity without being the charity itself, are wise or appropriate.  Sometimes the kind of approach is more akin to tackling a call centre than it is to speaking with a charity that has compassion.  It would appear to me that some of those who contact the public on behalf of charities actually do use call centre tactics, working with a script that is written for them, perhaps having little knowledge or understanding of the charity itself.  And that is without the huge number of letters that come through the post as well.

Am I arguing that charities should not phone or write to people?  No, not for a moment,  I am arguing though for compassion, courtesy and common sense to be at the heart of the way charities approach people.  Is that too much to ask? I think for Olive Cooke it was the least she could have expected.