Should we give to Face to Face recruiters?

August 24 2009 - Mark Phillips

The Observer asked an interesting Question of the week on Sunday – Should we give to street chuggers?

Caroline Howe, policy and codes of practice manager at the Institute of Fundraising was the supplying the yes answer, the basis of her argument being you can simply say "No" if you don't want to give. Richard Marsh, the new interim director at Intelligent Giving came down on the no side, accepting that Face to Face recruitment is effective but asking if this is enough? He suggested that the sector should be more innovative, looking for a donor-friendly replacement to the technique.

There are a fair number of comments from readers pointing out why they don't like it and I decided to add my own view.

Unlike Richard, I think there is a place for Face to Face. But I strongly agree – as I have pointed out on this blog before – that our most important task is to improve all stages of the donor / charity experience.

My comment from The Observer follows…

Sadly, few people spontaneously decide to give to charity. The old adage, "Don't ask. Don't get" is true. The charity that stops asking will fail the cause it was set up to serve.

F2F is popular as a means to recruit new donors because it has a fixed price. A charity is charged a set fee for every donor that is recruited. Because of this, risk is reduced (even taking into account donors that stop giving).

It could be argued that because of this guarantee, F2F is the most ethical way for a charity to spend their fundraising budget. £XX is spent to bring X new donors on board.

This is in direct contrast with traditional advertising, for example, in the pages of The Guardian. The vast, vast majority of ads that we see in the paper (and in other publications and on TV) are paid for. If a charity invests £10,000 in an advertising campaign, there is no guarantee that a single penny will ever be returned.

We must also remember that in addition to the cost of buying media space, a charity must also factor in the cost of developing and testing different advertisements. It is the same for the production of appeal letters. Only this time it is creative agencies, the Post Office and printers who receive the bulk of the charities money.

Charities are constantly trying to find the most cost-effective way of raising funds. F2F is used because it is often cheaper and more effective than other techniques for recruiting new donors.

But I'd question whether it is as cheap as retaining current donors – and this is the crux of the matter. Richard points out that cancellation rates from F2F are high. But they are high from other recruitment methods as well. Research back in 2000 showed that 50% of all people who gave a cash gift to a charity, never gave to them again.

The emphasis for charities must be retention. Results show that the standard approach of appeals and magazines do not work for many people. Research shows that far too many of us are disappointed with our relationship with charities.

Charities must change their emphasis from recruitment to improving retention. There is no point in coming up with more efficient ways to fill a bucket if it is full of holes.

So in answer to your question, I'd say yes, we should give to street fundraisers. But we should also demand that the charities we support give us real insight and involvement in to the work that our gifts make happen.