There can be little doubt that for the UK’s leading charities,
fundraising has become harder than ever. Competition within the sector
has intensified as a profusion of niche charities and special appeals
have sprung up over the years.
Nationwide, there are about 135,000 charities actively serving the
public (the number swells to nearly 200,000 if one includes all
charities registered with the Charity Commission). Moreover, according
to the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, around 3,000 new
charitable organisations are set up each year.
In these circumstances, the larger charities have generally continued to
thrive. Independent research carried out annually on behalf of the
Institute of Charity Fundraising Managers found that there has been no
decline in giving to the 50 largest charities. Yet this masks a worrying
’There is still growth but the growth rate is declining,’ says Institute
director Stephen Lee. ’That trend has been apparent for the last three
or four years.’
Opinion is divided as to whether the National Lottery should shoulder
some of the blame. Since its inception, the lottery has notched up
ticket sales of pounds 17 billion. With 28 pence of every pound it
raises going to ’good causes’ - about pounds 5 billion in total to
date - some observers have argued that this situation has diverted
people from making direct contributions to charities.
However, the Charities Aid Foundation, for one, has concluded that the
Lottery has not affected charitable giving. What is causing greater
concern is that the overall trend is for fewer people to give to charity
- although those that do are giving more. Given this societal shift, the
last thing anyone involved in publicity or fundraising in the voluntary
sector needs is negative publicity. Stories of mistakes or
inefficiencies can undermine public confidence and the media has become
much more ’vigorous’ in its scrutiny of charities.
As can be seen by the recent Panorama programme devoted to the Diana,
Princess of Wales Memorial Fund, the media is happy to go to town when
it believes there have been errors of judgement at a charity.
Despite having raised over pounds 47 million (with plenty more on the
way) in its short life, the Diana Fund has already been criticised for
the questionable taste of permitting Diana’s signature to appear on tubs
of Flora margarine, attacked for the fact that co-founder Anthony
Julius’ law firm Mishcon de Reya has earned substantial fees for its
work for the Fund, and lambasted for the amount of time it is spending
pursuing non-licensed companies that are cashing in on Diana’s name and
Lee, who appeared on Panorama, thinks the Fund is being too easily
distracted by attempts to protect the Diana trademark and fears that
this could reach an ’absurdly illogical end’, with too much of the money
raised spent on intellectual property lawyers. ’It should not be about
trying to police the world in relation to trademarks,’ he says.
Information from the 1997 edition of CAF’s Dimensions of the Voluntary
Sector shows that the top 500 charities spent an average of eight per
cent of their income on fundraising and publicity. A reasonable
proportion one would assume - but this average covers a range of one to
51 per cent.
Bringing management and administration costs into the equation as well,
CAF’s figures show that the average spend is nine per cent. Once again,
however, this conceals that the range is one to 52 per cent.
The question of how great a proportion of income should be spent on
fundraising and publicity is far more vexed. For example, according to
the CAF figures, in 1996 Help the Aged had a total income of pounds 50.4
million. Of this, it spent pounds 22.4 million on charitable works and
pounds 10.7 million on fundraising and publicity (the balance of
expenditure was on shop trading and charity administration, pounds 17.4
million and pounds 569,000 respectively).
To the casual reader, the fact that the amount spent on helping the
elderly was just over double the amount devoted to fundraising and
publicity might appear inadequate. But as Help the Aged head of press
and PR Betty McBride points out, its clients are not as immediately
appealing to the public as ’children or animals’ and it has to work
harder to raise funds.
’We have to spend more to raise more,’ she says. ’There are charities
which benefit from a whole evening of television coverage to raise
funds. So when you look at their ratios they look very attractive.’
With competition for fundraising so tight, many charities are having to
work on their positioning in the marketplace. ’Inevitably you will get
unnecessary expenditure just to keep up with the competition,’ says
Hobsbawm Macaulay joint managing director Julia Hobsbawm, whose client
base runs from publishers to charities.
’On the whole it’s a very crowded market and that creates problems such
as the need for PR to create distinguishing characteristics for
But charities must be careful not to fall into the trap of embracing
marketing terminology as wholeheartedly as commercial organisations.
This could have the effect of making consumers, who are constantly
exposed to advertising and other forms of marketing communications,
cynical and reluctant to give.
Far better, argues Lee, for charities to concentrate on promoting their
’output’: what they do for the greater good. Lifeboat charity RNLI makes
a virtue of this, highlighting in its literature that 82.5p in every
pound received is spent on charitable works.
’We can actually show fairly easily what we’ve spent our money on
because it’s things like shiny new lifeboats and lifeboat stations,’
says RNLI press and public information manager Sue Denny.
Given the intensification of competition, more charities are willing to
pay ’market rate’ salaries to attract top fundraisers.
’Good, qualified and experienced fundraisers are at a premium because
they are in short supply,’ says James Rye, head of PR at cerebral palsy
charity Scope ’That is driving the salary levels up and we for one are
finding it hard to compete. It’s classic supply and demand for an area
of activity that is absolutely crucial.’
The debate on market rates also extends to external services such as PR
advice. ’If the charity is good at what it does it should always try to
get things at cheaper than the market rate because it is
not-for-profit,’ says Hobsbawm. ’But sometimes if you want the best
support you are going to have to pay the market rate.’
Quite so. Given the masses of voluntary sector organisations vying for
consumers’ beneficence and the media’s alacrity to expose any charity it
considers to have fallen short of the highest standards, badly
discounted or free advice could in the long term prove very expensive
THE HOMELESS: COUNTERING THE WRONG KIND OF HELP
Earlier this year the Daily Telegraph ran a story under the headline
’Vagrants are Fed Up with Kindness’. The thrust of the article was that
homeless people living rough in central London were complaining about
do-gooders waking them at all hours of the night with offers of soup and
Some of these were trying to ply the street homeless with food that was
simply not wanted. And if their ’kindness’ was rejected they would
occasionally leave the food and drink anyway, causing hygiene and litter
Stories such as this are a headache for homeless charities as the
implication is that there is a surfeit of resources being given to those
without a roof over their heads. Such an impression could lead to a fall
in donations with unwelcome consequences for those who rely on the
charities to provide them with accommodation.
’Soup runs cost comparatively little compared to the rather large cost
of housing 20,000 homeless people in London every night,’ says Tony
Trueman, communications manager at homeless charity St Mungo.
’Clearly the message is not ’don’t help the homeless people.’ It is a
question of co-ordination,’ says Annie Turner, deputy director of the
The organisations behind the most established soup runs in the West End
agree that something has to be done to avoid turning altruism into a
complete nuisance. To this end, Westminster City Council has, after
receiving complaints from the homeless, been working to ensure that
common sense prevails.
’What we have done is merely say to all the organisations and the police
- after consulting some of the street homeless - that there needs to be
greater co-ordination between the soup runs,’ says a council
’We want them to talk among themselves and set out a code of practice,
perhaps split up the areas they cover. We are encouraging and
facilitating these charities and other volunteers to bring some planning
to what is happening.’
Sorting out this minor problem will allow charities to concentrate on
bigger issues that address the genuine plight of the homeless.
CANCER RESEARCH: CALLING FOR A CUT IN SIMILAR CHARITIES
In April this year, Cancer Research Campaign director general Professor
Gordon McVie made a speech in which he asserted that there were too many
cancer charities - the number stands at about 600. McVie called for a
change in the law in order to avoid duplication of work, warning that
money was being wasted and the public being confused by an ’unnecessary
rivalry’ between charities.
’With so many charities there is bound to be replication and duplication
of effort,’ says CRC director of communications Susan Osborne. ’But we
are honour-bound to make sure that, wherever possible, research is not
duplicated. It would be awful if the faith the British public has put in
us was squandered in some way.’
CRC itself merged with the North of England Cancer Research Campaign in
April and would like to see more mergers and closer co-operation among
charities in its sector. But some cancer charities believe it is
imperative to protect their separate identities.
’I would draw a distinction between the research charities and the care
charities,’ says Macmillan Cancer Relief PR manager Carolan Davidge.
’Cancer is actually 200 different diseases and a woman with breast
cancer will need very different support and charity services to a man
with prostate cancer.’
CRC responds that it appreciates this distinction and that it is
concerned specifically with other cancer research charities. Yorkshire
Cancer Research Fund, which distributes the money it raises to five
teaching hospitals in the county, argues that people are more
’motivated’ if they know funds are used locally.
Northwest Cancer Research Fund chairman Michael Potts broadly agrees
with CRC. ’The public do get confused when they hear of yet another
charity with cancer research in its title. The comments were really
directed at the smaller appeals. Charities such as ourselves should be
more accommodating to these appeals because we have the organisation and
administration to assist them.’
The Institute of Cancer Research claims there is a place for both the
large and small research charities. Its head of laboratories Professor
Colin Cooper says: ’The large cancer charities are important as they are
good at funding big projects. But the small charities have a role too.
What we’ve actually found is that some of our best projects have been
initially funded by smaller charities because they may have seemed quite
speculative so the larger charities wouldn’t touch them.’