The data tells me that public fundraising is not in crisis

This article first appeared in the August edition of Third Sector Magazine

Public fundraising is not in crisis. I know this because I’ve looked at the data. Our wonderful, generous citizens give about £13bn in public donations. The 20 billion fundraising contacts to raise that amount elicited only about 48,000 recorded complaints in 2013. That’s 0.00024 per cent. The British Red Cross alone processes about 7,000 donations every day.

Yet the current debate is dominated by hysterical headlines that are not evidence of a catastrophic systemic problem, and by hasty pledges of legislation by politicians. It makes me angry because I feel as if we’re being bullied. It is so difficult for us to defend ourselves – we’re damned if we speak out and damned if we stay silent. So we end up apologising and giving the impression we’re guilty of wrongdoing when, for the most part, we really are not.

Of course there are bad apples that need to be well and truly mulched. Some of our private-sector, subcontracted fundraising organisations sometimes overstep the mark and don’t behave according to the values we expect. That’s because, unlike us, they’re in it for profit. But we stamp on them when we find out. And the bandwagon-jumping of the charities minister makes me spit feathers. He demands charities “answer for themselves” about “immoral practices”. I would have expected a more balanced response from someone who’s had almost a year to get to grips with the issues.

From what I can see, there are in fact very few instances of vulnerable people being deliberately, maliciously targeted, and charities work hard to respond appropriately when that happens. I know people who complain simply because they feel guilty about not giving and want to justify their lack of generosity. If we read too much into current criticism, we are in danger of overreacting to negative press and reducing our ask. This will damage the prospects for millions of vulnerable people. Less money to Save the Children means less rice in orphanages; less money to the British Red Cross means more kids dying of malaria; less money to Samaritans means more preventable suicides.

We are not doing anything wrong by asking people to give – we’re not selling violent video games, for goodness sake! We’re asking because there are babies in the Sudan drinking ditchwater, there are children in Darlington being sexually abused, there are dogs in Croydon being used in fighting pits and there are people in Exeter dying of cancer.

Let’s not overreact if someone feels a bit miffed because they’ve been asked for money. For me, this miffedness has the hallmark of a first-world problem. Would they rather there were more homeless children on the streets than street fundraisers for Barnardo’s or Shelter? People can choose not to give – they can’t choose not to get Parkinson’s or not to be abused.

Even the most generous people don’t wake up thinking about giving to charity; we have to remind them. Instead of pandering to the minority who don’t like being asked, let’s loudly celebrate the majority of our citizens who give willingly because it’s the right thing to do.