Adventures in Generosity

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

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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.