Guest post: Adam Rothwell on Face to Face fundraising

September 2 2009 - Mark Phillips

London councils are apparently waging a concerted, maliciouscampaign against F2F – or so says the PFRA, who seem to believe that the councils would like nothing more than to clear the streets of chuggers, and – as a result – are happy to see the poor and needy of the world suffer.

The PRFA position is that Chuggers help charities do good work, and so those who campaign against them are morally wrong.

It’s an argument that I can’t accept.

The PFRA’s defence of chuggers follows a standard line that’s also been adopted by the IOF and many fundraising professionals. “Come off it,” they say, “the public doesn’t give spontaneously – and by using chuggers we can recruit donors who wouldn’t otherwise give.”

It’s hard for me to argue with that, so I won’t. But I will argue that this defence misses the point. Although chuggers might rake in the cash, they do so to the detriment of the entire voluntary sector, but in ways that are difficult to measure. Simply, if ordinary people dislike chuggers – over which there’s no disagreement – this means that the public face of charity is, for many, that of a rude, ill-trained, tabard-wearing, pain in the neck. Charities are, in other words, destroying their sainted image, possibly irreparably. And all because some F2F agency offers them a ‘guaranteed return’.

For the long-term health of the sector, it’s vital that charities recognize the negative side-effects of F2F, and have a proper debate about the unintended consequences of the technique. But this important debate hasn’t happened. Perhaps because of the PFRA

It would appear that the PFRA response to criticism is to default to angry mode. So, the London councils are being “malicious,” and have given the PFRA the “cold shoulder” in negotiations. I experienced this approach myself when I appeared on a radio phone-in on F2F last November.

I think the PFRA’s response under attack is counterproductive. It makes the sector seem prickly and defensive, and unable to take even the mildest criticism. It shows no sympathy for people with justifiable complaints against F2F, and accuses those who complain of being either misinformed or even morally unreliable.

The issues around F2F are complex. Yes, it raises cash. But it also causes side-effects that are in chronic need of investigation. And, all the while, the sector’s reputation continues to suffer. The sector’s response to this criticism needs to be measured, and it needs to be constructive. It needs to engage with the legitimate concerns of the irritated public. And it needs to welcome debate.

Adam Rothwell

Note: This is a guest post from Adam Rothwell formerly of Intelligent Giving. His views do not necessarily reflect mine, but I have grown to value what he adds to the various debates within the sector.