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Charity stereotyping by those who should know better

Fri 14 Jul 2017

This month has seen the launch of the new fundraising preference service headed up by Lord Grade. The service is in large part a reaction to the terrible circumstances surrounding the death of Olive Cooke who was found to have been bombarded by begging letters from dozens of big charities in the months before she took her own life. There was no causal link but it left a very bad taste in the mouths of many willing charity donors and government seized on it to bash the sector over the head with another blunt instrument.

The service itself seems reasonably proportionate and charities don't even have to be registered until a donor signs up and asks for that specific charity to be barred for them. This is where I depart from the media storm as I've heard both Lord Grade and even more disappointingly Sir Martyn Lewis, former chair of NCVO, make ridiculous and damaging comments this week.

First Lord Grade who claimed 'too many charities were proving to be laggards'. Then Sir Martyn who on Radio Four Today programme said that he believed most charities had learned their lesson as he launched a report that claimed donors should be at the heart of charity thinking.

Lord Grade has received widespread criticism so I'll simply say he has been sloppy and needs to apologise. Mr Lewis is wrong on both counts but remains widely respected? Yes wrong because 'most' of the 180,000 charities in England had no lesson to learn. They had committed no offence, they already knew this stuff was morally repugnant. Yet a few dozen of the corporate big boys have once again been allowed to tar the name 'charity' with their underhand tactics. Please stop this lazy stereotyping, it causes real damage to the thousands of local good causes who would no more bombard old ladies with direct debit forms than pay their staff silly salaries or make bad deals (kids company ) with government insiders. The headlines are not reflective of our sector so stop pretending they are. For all I care you can strike those big corporations off the register, but get on with it and leave the rest of us alone to get on with our work.

Finally the donor at the centre- I'm sorry but I totally disagree. We already live in a woefully transactional and often selfish society. Donors should be listened to yes, respected absolutely but the beneficiary is and always should be at the heart of a charity Sir Martyn.