Adventures in Generosity

The occasionally coherent ramblings of a Stewardship Advisor in the Church of England

Storing up trouble …

Those who follow my twitter stream may have witnessed me getting somewhat ‘snippy’ at Scope last night.  Having been chugged on my doorstep at 8.50pm on the coldest night of the year I suggested to them, via Twitter that this might not be the best way to build relationships with potential donors.  I got a response from them almost immediately apologising for ‘disturbing me’ and asking me for my address so that they could avoid doing so in future.

Which somewhat misses the point.

I wasn’t upset at the disturbance – let’s face it 30 seconds on the doorstep was hardly going to make an impact on my evening. What I was trying to say was that seeing a clearly idealistic 20 yr old freezing to death on my doorstep for what I assume is a commission does nothing to enhance my opinion of Scope.  The fact that the girl then started telling me about Scope ‘working with disabled children’ – clearly from a script designed to appeal to the emotional buttons of someone who has children (note the children’s toys in our yard) created still further disappointment.  Ok I’m unusual because I’m ‘in the trade’ as it were, but I am also informed enough to know that Scope do excellent work with people of all ages – and I therefore know that this script is designed to emphasise the emotionally and socially acceptable work of Scope without troubling the potential donor with anything like, you know, the facts, the underlying issues or indeed the cause for which Scope stands (and which might turn off a potential donor).

You see, we have a problem which has been growing worse over the last decade and which impacts directly on my work , and is exemplified by my encounter last night.  We have allowed fundraising to become an industry in its own right, and as industrial practices have come in, and we have become more and more strategically sophisticated in our understanding of what makes people give – we’ve lost sight of the bigger picture.

We know that emotional and engaging stories motivate people to give, we know that chugging produces a rate of return for the charity which is predictable and measurable and we know that the loss of good will that accompanies these practices is outweighed, at least in the short term, by the financial returns which Fundraising Managers and Directors can then gleefully report to their trustees as success.

But we have grasped these short term measurable gains at the cost, in my opinion, of the long term health and generosity of our nation.

We have trained donors that charity is only worth supporting if it pushes our emotional buttons.  That giving is something we do to make us feel good about ourselves when we hear a sad story or see a doe eyed picture of a starving ‘victim’.  We have also allowed potential donors – and therefore everyone, to believe that a small token gesture somehow ‘solves’ underlying problems, when rather it ‘absolves’ us of having to truly consider the issues.  “ a small gift of £2 per month” allows us to retreat from our duty to our communities without the inconvenience of having to consider how what we have, and what we choose to give and to keep, impacts on the rest of our world.  There is no sense in this transaction that giving is a benefit to the giver, no sense that how we give, how much we give and why we give is something we should take seriously if we are to build a better society and improve our relationship with our material wealth.

The more people are encouraged to ‘Give £5 to save the world’, the more they give on the doorstep out of sympathy for the freezing chugger, or because they like the latest script; the less engaged they will become in how much we actually have, how much we could actually do if we acted in a truly generous way.  Instead the new donor, having filled in the direct debit, closes the door on the problem and experiences a short lived warm glow which divorces her still further from the real need and the real sacrifice needed to heal our world.

True generosity does not start with sympathy for the victim, it starts with ourselves.  It is a recognition that we have been given much and that the truly human, the truly fulfilling response to that gift is to share it whole heartedly in pursuit of building better relationships with one another –  rather than simply in response to a growing sense of guilt and disconnection from our fellow man.

I hope that we as fundraising professionals will come to recognise the long term impact of what we do, and I hope we do it before it is too late and we are faced with a generation of ‘donors’ only capable of generosity when they are guilted into it.


  Neil wrote @

Jo, spot on.

Very ‘provoking’.


  jobeacroftmitchell wrote @

Cheers Neil – probably a tad controversial but hey ! haven’t blogged in a while 🙂

Jo Beacroft-Mitchell
Giving and Resources Officer
Diocese of Wakefield
Church House
1 South Parade

Tel: 01924 434461    Fax: 01924 364834
This message is intended solely for the addressee(s) in the first instance and may contain confidential information. If you are not the intended recipient, please notify the sender, delete the message from your system immediately and do not disclose the contents to any other party.

  Scope charity (@scope) wrote @

Thanks for you tweet. We read your blog with great interest and your comments have been noted.

We don’t deliberately avoid issues or facts in the scripts the fundraisers use and we do use our adult services as examples in our fundraising campaigns. However, because Scope has lots of services, we only pick three to put in a script at any one time and we make them follow a theme. This time, the theme would have been the work that Scope does with children.

We don’t want to guilt people into giving, our fundraisers are all trained to focus on the positive effect of Scope’s work. We try our best to always see the possibilities, for example the stories we use in our fundraising materials and on our website are not about victims, but about the person and how amazing they are!

With attitudes towards disabled people getting worse (see and people struggling to get the support they need (see, we believe that these stories have the power to inspire people to think differently about disability by showing what a different future could look like and how we could all create it together.

I hope we’ve provided an interesting angle on what is a very interesting topic!


  jobeacroftmitchell wrote @

Thanks so much for responding.

I hope you don’t feel I was having a pop at Scope in particular. My worry is simply that with chugging the real issues can only ever be hinted at (lets face it you have about 30 seconds to engage with the potential donor) so it becomes a numbers game – the more emotive the story the more effective it is at eliciting a gift.

This works in the short term but in the long term I think it squashes the bigger debate about what true generosity and philanthropy are and what benefits they bring to civil society.

I speak in churches all the time, trying to educate Christians that giving is more about us, and our relationship to our wealth and how that is a tool for building a better world. But increasingly I am faced with congregations who are being educated by charities to think in terms of ‘you get what you pay for’ and who will only give if the cause has engaged their emotions and appears to be ‘value for money’ – a very utilitarian view of giving – they don’t see the benefit of generosity for it’s own sake and only think about it in terms of purchasing the feel good factor.

This isn’t fundraisers fault – we are using the marketing tools we know work to get the cash in for our causes but the more we do that the less we encourage a wider debate about what is a healthy attitude to ‘having’ and ‘giving’.

As you say, a fascinating subject.

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