‘Public fundraising has shown its value, flexibility and high standards’

16 November 2021
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Street fundraisers

The Chartered Institute’s newly appointed Chief Executive, Katie Docherty, talks in this blog post about the value and power of a conversation, as she looks at the role public fundraising has played during the pandemic and how it has demonstrated its strengths.

In the first few weeks since starting my new role at the Chartered Institute of Fundraising I have been reminded about the value and power of a conversation. Whether that’s in getting to know my new colleagues, listening and hearing what our members are saying, or finding out more from fundraisers about their work, nothing beats the connection that can be made when one person talks to another.

As I’ve been speaking with members, trustees, and partners in our amazing fundraising sector, I’ve been really struck by how the power of conversations is at the heart of what we do, connecting people to causes they care about. This is particularly the case with public fundraising – fundraisers who either over the phone, or in person (and often in all weather!), are sharing stories about the fantastic work their causes are doing and inspiring people to give.

The last 18 months or so have been a tough time for public fundraising. Many charities who depend on those person-to-person conversations have found it so challenging when, almost overnight, fundraisers had to be taken off the street and, in most cases, furloughed, while social distancing restrictions and lockdown hit. While telephone fundraising could of course still take place (and in many cases performed brilliantly) it was no mean feat in turning sophisticated operations around in really short time, with many fundraisers working from home and in a completely different way.

The telephone became a way of checking in on supporters

And while the challenges faced shouldn’t be minimised, it’s fair to say I think that public fundraising has shown its value, its flexibility, and its high standards throughout the pandemic and in continuing to fundraise safely and responsibly. I’m delighted to read that as public fundraising returned, the public responded positively and that charities and their partners worked together to find innovative new ways of working in a COVID-secure way. Equally, I’m really pleased to see that the telephone became a way of checking in on supporters, seeing how they were and perhaps being the only conversation that person would have had during lockdown (and that the numbers of people who gave a monthly gift as a result of a call often exceeded pre-pandemic levels).

As well as hearing and reading about how public fundraising has changed and responded, I’ve also been able to find out more about our role at the Chartered Institute in supporting and promoting public fundraising. Since our merger with the Public Fundraising Association, our compliance team has supported the sector through our Site Management Agreements with local authorities, our diary system, and mystery shopping programme. Of course, as lockdown hit and in-person fundraising had to be suspended, so did much of our day to day compliance work. However, our work to support public fundraising continued, with the joint guidance produced with the Fundraising Regulator, close working with Government to ensure ministerial support and acknowledgement of the importance of public fundraising, and our external affairs work promoting fundraising part of national broadcast and press media.

Mystery shopper programmes

Now that public fundraising has safely returned thanks to the hard work and preparation of charities and partners, we will be able to also bring back our compliance programme of work. At the time of the first lockdown we were managing one of the largest fundraiser mystery shopping programmes in the country. This involved mystery shoppers pretending to be members of the public and engaging with fundraisers in the field, up to and including signing up as regular supporters or as lottery players. It was a hugely important part of the system in place that our members value to ensure that public fundraising is carried out to a high standard, provides reassurance to charities and agencies in their work, and ensure confidence in public fundraising as a whole. I’m pleased to say that we intend to restart the programme again in January 2022.

The roundtable programme that we have in place to hear directly from all parts of our membership have been providing hugely valuable insight and feedback, and I am really looking forward to hearing from charities and their partners who carry out public fundraising about how we can continue to support your work in the months and years ahead. If you aren’t able to attend one of the roundtables, you can always send any thoughts, comments, or ideas through this online form.

I’m sure that 2022 will see public fundraising go from strength to strength. I know that many charities have been reminded about the opportunities that great telephone and person-to-person fundraising (whether on the street, door to door, or private site) can provide, and we are committed to continuing to support it, whether through our compliance programme or our policy and external affairs work.

I’m also looking forward to a new version of A Good Call in the early part of next year, again supported by Ethicall and with contributions from expert partners across the telephone fundraising sector. We are conducting a survey on what role the telephone will play in supporter journeys and campaigns going forward, and the challenges you are facing in adapting to new ways of working. We'd really appreciate if you could share your views with us. 

Katie Docherty
Katie Docherty
Chief Executive, Chartered Institute of Fundraising
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