Giving: good. Fundraising: bad?

On 27th August 2016 I presented on a panel (with Emily Petty of The Children’s Society, and Susan Barry of Christian Aid) at Greenbelt festival. The title of this post was the question we were addressing.

Here is what I said:

As followers of Christ we are called to help people in need. Jesus demonstrated this throughout his ministry and the parable of the good Samaritan is an example of how practical Jesus makes it – help the person who others ignore, give them what they need – whether that is medical help, money, shelter or transport.

In Matthew 25 Jesus tells us that as we help people – with food, drink, shelter, clothing, medical treatment, comfort and companionship when they are in prison – it is as though we are helping him.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

 

So helping becomes an act of worship – both holy and practical at the same time.

But, we cannot all provide practical help directly to those in need.

We may not know who to help, we may not have the skills we need – we aren’t all social workers, or nurses, or people who can dig wells! We may not be able to travel to other parts of the UK or to countries thousands of miles away – where the need is, we may have responsibilities at home – children, elderly parents, jobs, church life which means we are short of time.

It can be difficult to help someone, although we want to!

I often think of it as though there are two isolated groups – those who can help, and those who need help.

What is needed is a bridge that connects the two together. I see charities as that bridge. They effectively take the hand of the person in need, and the hand of the person who can help, and they bring the two together. Without charities, those in need, and those called to help, can be like islands – separated by oceans.

But to be that bridge – charities have to a) alert those who can help to the needs of other people, and b) provide those who need help with that help. So they are a conduit.

Some of the recent negative publicity about charities and fundraising may be rooted in charities having lost sight of this – that all we are is a bridge – the important bit is not us, but those who can help, and those who need help. Charities need a humility about who they are.

People who give to charity aren’t just giving money. They are ministering love, care and compassion to someone in need. As they give, they are worshipping Jesus Christ.

They are effectively a behind-the-scenes missionary – expressing the love of God to someone in need, although that is often in very practical ways. It is this that sometimes charities have lost sight of. That giving begins in the heart and is a way that a person lives out their calling. It’s not just about money.

For charities to be the bridge, they must tell the person who can help about the need of another. And sometimes hearing of need and being asked to help can be very painful. Charities expose us to the lives of other people and often their stories are heart-breaking. I believe that as charities we must tell those stories and we must ask for help – not for ourselves – but for those we are called to help.

I have wept in the office as I have read about a person who needs help because their situation is so dreadful, but I feel called to express that to God’s people and not to hide it. This is what is at the heart of fundraising.

But if I just tell you the story of a young woman with leprosy who I met in India – whose family tried to kill her for having the disease, without telling you that you can help her – and others in her position – then I’m just cruelly exposing you to her pain.

It’s when I ask for help for her, that I am bringing you and her together in a beautiful relationship of giving and receiving. So asking you to help her and people like her is wholly ethical. Not asking is unethical. Asking enables the person who can help to give, and the person in need to receive. It enables the charity to be the bridge between them.

As people give to help others, they are allowing fragments of heaven – God’s kingdom – to break in to really dark situations and lives. Like rays of light breaking through the clouds. So giving is a calling, an act of worship, and a way that God’s kingdom is enlarged.

I want to finish with a practical and a spiritual point

There is a common misconception that if a donation is not directly used to help someone in need, it is being misused/or not helping the people it was given to help. So if a donation is used to help pay for fundraising this is improper use.

But in fact fundraising is a donation multiplier! Every £1 used for fundraising at The Leprosy Mission in 2015 generated £5 for people in need. So fundraising grew a donors gift to achieve much more. This is in line with what Jesus talks about in the parable of the Talents – to use what is entrusted to us in the best possible way.

Giving is good – very good, and so is fundraising!

 

Love thy neighbour

Neighbour

It feels today – 3 days after the EU Referendum result – that our country has been torn in two. Feelings are running so strong that friend has turned against friend, and angry outbursts are happening on social media. The outcome was close – very close – and people voted with their hearts as well as their heads. They expressed something of their identity when they entered the voting booth – whether they voted Leave or Remain. So we feel this referendum result very keenly. Some are overjoyed and relieved, others are shocked and dismayed. In our churches, congregations are split and hurt is in the air.

But no matter how you and I voted, no matter how our friends and families voted, there is something that unites us in this storm of uncertaintly and bruised feelings. What unites us is the love we have for people – all people.

Consider a vote about whether it is acceptable for someone to put notes through the letterboxes of homes in Cambridgeshire calling Polish people ‘vermin’ – this has actually happened. Are you in favour, or against?

What I know to be true is that friends, colleagues and members of my church – no matter how they voted in the referendum – would vote against this without hesitation. This is how we unite at this time and this is how we must stand together.

  • We unite against hatred
  • We unite against racism, xenophobia and discrimination
  • We unite against violent words and violent actions
  • We stand united with our neighbour (wherever they are from) to protect and shield them – as best we can – from harm
  • We unite in love for the people God loves – every person

Jesus tells us that the second commandment is like the first. It is in loving our neighbour that we express our love for God. We can’t hate our neighbour and claim to love our God.

Let me just say that again:

We can’t hate our neighbour and claim to love our God

As we love our neighbour, as we stand against hatred towards them, we express both our love for someone like us, someone God dearly loves, and we express our love for our Father God. It is an act of worship.

Friends, we stand in unity together as we recognise this truth. In unity we stand against hatred directed towards our neighbour.

Abba,

In the days and weeks to come maybe we will be called to challenge a nasty comment directed towards a neighbour, or to stand with someone who is not from these Islands. Maybe we will be called to show extra kindness and care for people who could feel threatened or confused. We may be called to show courage, standing up against language of hatred.  Abba – please give us the strength we need.

Abba, please knit us together as a Christian community in our love for people who are our neighbours – whether they live next door or miles away. Unite us Lord in our concern for others and may love, care and compassion spread. Holy Spirit break out in power in our homes, streets, workplaces, schools and government. Come Lord Jesus.

Amen

My bad experience as a charity donor

I am a professional charity fundraiser.

Charity fundraisers are also very often charity donors, and I am a charity donor.

I have hesitated to write about this experience as I want to protect the sector I love and have devoted my career to, but I have had a wholly unpleasant experience as a charity donor which appears to have been caused not by the charities themselves but a ‘middle man’ – a list provider.

I have had a wholly unpleasant experience as a charity donor

In February my 11-year-old daughter received an acquisition pack from a charity I had never supported previously. Certainly, my daughter had never supported them! I’ll call this charity ‘Charity B’. The pack was clearly aimed at an adult and I couldn’t understand where they had got my daughters’ details from so I can contacted them. After some digging with Charity B I discovered that my daughters’ details were supplied by an external list provider, from data of users of a website. Charity B were very apologetic and said it was “never (their) intention to contact minors”.

“By error, my data manager inadvertently included… some names from another list which included that of your daughter.”

Charity B put me in contact with said list provider. I queried the claim that this website was the source of the data as it seemed very unlikely. The website was an adults information site – not something my daughter was likely to use – and we have parental controls on her internet usage (especially inputting personal data!). We then received an email from the owner of the company (list provider) which said that “By error, my data manager inadvertently included… some names from another list which included that of your daughter.” He went on to tell us that the data had been supplied by another charity – Charity A – in 2013. The owner said that his company carried out a fundraising appeal for Charity A on a ‘payment by results’ basis “on conditions where (his) company  retained rights over data used in those campaigns.” He apologised for the error.

My husband and I were shocked. Data belonging to our child had been passed to a company years earlier for them to retain rights over, without our knowledge.

We had supported Charity A as a family when I had purchased membership of the charity for my daughter and made donations. We were distressed because not only had our daughters’ data been used and retained without our permission or knowledge, but because in 2013 Charity A had sent our daughter a fundraising appeal, and we had asked them to remove her details from their mailing lists and not contact her again.

We contacted Charity A and the Chair of Trustees replied. He told us they “were assured in 2013 that this data had been deleted by the mailing company”. He sent us a copy of their fundraising standards document. The Chair of Trustees of Charity B (whom we had kept copied into communications) also replied. This person also outlined their fundraising standards and compliance with the Code of Fundraising Practice. The Chair even enclosed a signed agreement where the ‘Middle Man’ – the list provider – had signed to confirm that the data complied with the Data Protection Act 1998, the PECR 2011, and the Institute of Fundraising Code of Practice.

What I am left asking is, ‘who is responsible?’

It looks to me like the two charities involved did what they should have done (although I have to query why Charity A passed over personal details of supporters in 2013 without their knowledge or permission – to a company that then retained rights over that data (and what on earth does that mean? That they can use the data however they wish?). However Charity A did tell the company to remove our daughters’ data.

What I am left asking is, ‘who is responsible?’

It seems to me that the ‘Middle Man’ is at fault here. But if I go to the Information Commissioners Office, or indeed the new Charity Regulator or the Charity Commission, as a concerned mother, my fear is that the charities will come in for the bulk of the criticism.

if it all goes wrong it is our charities that find their names splashed across the headlines

The problem is that as fundraisers we sometimes have to work with external companies – be they fundraising agencies, consultants, list brokers or others. It is a relationship of trust – if it all goes wrong it is our charities that find their names splashed across the headlines. The unknown middle man is not an attractive target compared the much juicier household name. But as charities, we can only do so much – we can have signed agreements, but what charity has the will to withdraw funds from beneficiaries and take a company to court, with the very heavy legal costs and risks to reputation that entails?

I will not willingly cause harm to charities that serve needy beneficiaries and causes by making my complaint official

So as a Mum, a donor, and a fundraiser I find myself with nowhere to go. I will not willingly cause harm to charities that serve needy beneficiaries and causes by making my complaint official. But while I do not make a complaint the Middle Man is not held to account – and other charities and donors could be harmed by their activities.

What do I do, if anything? Answers on a postcard…

And how do we, as charities, protect ourselves from the middle man who does not act as he should – whether inadvertently, through carelessness, intentionally (for example, to increase the data file size and make more money) or through sheer incompetence?

 

 

Is there a spiritual dimension to attacks on charities?

Having worked in charities for over 15 years, last year was a year like never before.

Of course some poor practice came to light. But the vitriol in the media (and subsequently in Government) against charities as a whole, seems to me to be a long way off of reasonable and balanced reporting.

Newspapers are in it to make money – so they write what sells. And from the summer of 2015 the public bought (some would say, lapped up) the stories, the critique of charity, mistrust and cynicism, and rejection of the traditional love we have had for the only civic organisations set up and run solely to help those in need.

In a few months everything changed.

As a Christian, I cannot ignore the spiritual world. And I believe that this world impacts massively on our day to day lives in ways we cannot see, and often are completely unaware of.

In the Bible we are told that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but …against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

And the ‘armour’ we are told to wear as Christians is not physical armour – but spiritual:

 “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.”

Charities – both secular and faith-based – do some amazing work. They stand up for people and causes that without them have no voice, they draw us out of our (relatively) comfortable lives to see the need of another, they tap into the God-created compassion of our hearts and remind us that we can make a difference, they create a bridge between those who need help and those who want to help – who without charities would be separate from one another, unable to connect.

Through people giving and receiving, love happens.

Not the fluffy, idealised, hearts and flowers type love of Valentine’s Day. But the love that says “I will not look away from your need”, “I see your pain”, “I will play my part in reaching out to you”, “you are my sister/brother – no matter how many miles or extreme differences in circumstance are between us”.

An attack on charities is an attack on love in action. No – we don’t always get it right, yes – we sometimes are our own worst enemies. But this all started with a false accusation against charities stemming from the tragic death of a lady who loved charities and what they stand for.

I have heard in recent weeks of people who work for charities being ashamed to admit it, and others who say they and their charities have become ‘public enemy number 1’!  In a world where corporate giants avoid paying the tax they should, we must question how we have got to the point where a charity worker would rather say he works for one of these profit-greedy companies, than ‘admit’ he works for a not-for-profit charity.

I believe that Christians working in charities need to come together in prayer.

We must pray for charities that they will press on, and have courage and wisdom. We must pray for our Boards of Trustees and CEO’s that that will stand up for fundraising, for donors and for beneficiaries. We must pray for Government, for the new regulator. And we must pray for the people who reach out with love – charity donors. Let’s pray that they will see and feel the impact of their giving, and realise that what they give is much more than just money. Finally let’s pray for one another – as we are instructed in Ephesians 6:18.

You may want to use the prayer below:

 

Loving, heavenly Father

We lift before you every charity in the UK, and their mission of love

We ask your forgiveness where we have got it wrong, and have not acted as we should have

Please give us wisdom and discernment to make changes and to operate with integrity

Father, we ask for your protection over the work we do and most especially over those we serve – our beneficiaries

We ask your protection over the people who give – often sacrificially and in a spirit of compassion

We ask that you would richly bless them as they bless others

We ask that as charities, our organisations might be beautiful bridges that link together the people who want to help, and those who need their help

Father we pray for courage and boldness for our trustees and our senior managers, for the umbrella groups, and those who are speaking out for beneficiaries and donors. We pray Father for protection over fundraising

We pray for Rob Wilson – Minister for Civil Society, Michael Grade and Stephen Dunmore  – Chair and CEO of the new fundraising regulator, and all others developing the new regulator, and processes and procedures that will impact on charities

We pray for our brothers and sisters who work in charities across this land. Give them bravery and strength to carry on, and discernment about what to say, and what to do, and when 

Father God, please protect charities so that they can continue to help people and causes in great need. May charities be light in the darkness of our world, spreading hope and giving people strength and courage to face the future

Amen

 

 

 

Sympathy for fundraisers? No thank you

Today Sir Stuart Etherington tell us that he has “great sympathy for fundraisers”.

But as a charity fundraiser I don’t want sympathy. I don’t want people to think I’ve got a difficult job, I don’t want people to say ‘gosh – I couldn’t do that job’ and I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me.

I am a charity fundraiser for two reasons – donors and beneficiaries.

There is an immense joy in giving. Scientific studies have confirmed what the Bible had already told us – that it is a greater blessing to us to give, than receive

I love that I can offer people who feel compassion and care, a simple way to make a very real and practical difference. What an honour!

And I love that I can link those who have and want to give, with the people who desperately need their help.

I go to work because there are people – women, men and children – who are suffering and who go without what we would consider the most basic requirements for a healthy and happy life:

  • Thrown out of home and left to fend for themselves
  • Without clean water and toilets
  • Open wounds that are infected and left untreated
  • Crawling on the ground because they are disabled and can’t walk

Every charity fundraiser knows their own heartbreaking stories of need.

You see, the negative media coverage of charities and fundraising damages the people I want to help (the beneficiaries), and it damages the donors who give so generously. It makes us more mistrustful and cynical about the only organisations that exist solely to relieve the pain of social problems and help those in need – our charities.

Sir Stuart – feel sympathy – yes.

But please not for me, or for any fundraiser.

Feel sympathy for those we serve – the beneficiaries of our charities and the people who give to help them.

God keeps his promises

Today I returned to a place I was last at some years ago. At the time I was going through a very traumatic period. My return to the same building brought the memories flooding back. I could feel my heart pounding in my chest, the nausea and fear – prompted by a years-old memory.

But as I took a breath of fresh air outside, God whispered into my spirit…

Let the Lord lead you
    and trust him to help.
Then it will be as clear
as the noonday sun
    that you were right.

Be patient and trust the Lord.

 

It was the same word he spoke to me back during that troubled time. He gently spoke it then into my troubled soul as I faced opposition and fear, the loss of security, and the loss of friends. He said it to me through two friends who prayed and independently brought me those precious words from Psalm 37.

In the intervening years I had forgotten.

I had forgotten God’s promise to me, that someday, somehow, there would be justice. It would be, will be, clear one day that I was right.

God hadn’t forgotten his promise and it didn’t belong in the past. It wasn’t just to comfort me at the time. It was – it still is – a secure and certain truth.

Promises in our lives come and go, even the most sacred promises of marriage. Life is messy. The unexpected happens and suddenly we can’t fulfil the promise we had spoke so earnestly and with such honesty and commitment years or months before. So we assume God is the same – he forgets, other priorities take over, he has led us to new things so the promise is obsolete.

But it isn’t.

God tells us that:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.
As the rain and the snow
    come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
    without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
    so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
    It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
    and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

(Isaiah 55:8-11)

He does not break his promises.

His ways are so much bigger, stronger, loving, forgiving, truthful, devoted, determined and eternal – that we cannot even imagine what his majesty encompasses. Our minds are limited by human experience.

His word will accomplish what he desires. Full stop. Finito. That’s all folks.

Nothing can stop him. Nothing can stand in his way. Nothing could ever make him change his mind or forget.

Today he reminded me that his promise still stands, and will stand, no matter what.

Friends, what promises – made by Almightly God, to you his beloved child – have you forgotten?

God keeps his promises.

The Gift of Pain?

Today was another sad day for the people and causes that charities help. The media may think they are attacking charities, but charities only exist to serve people in need, so let’s be clear – the media are attacking people for whom a charity is a lifeline.

Let me remind you of who those people may be…

  • A woman who is in the process of losing a desperately wanted baby because of miscarriage who calls The Miscarriage Association helpline
  • A terrified child who calls ChildLine
  • A partially-sighted teenager who is given a Guide Dog that will give him the confidence to go out by himself
  • A man being treated with the best possible treatment for leukaemia because of ground-breaking cancer research
  • A mother being cared for in a leprosy hospital for horrendous ulcers after her husband threw her out of their home and left her to beg for food in the streets

I could go on.

Why are charities facing such vitriol in the media?

On ITV This Morning a middle-aged woman was advised that she was ‘vulnerable’ by ‘Consumer Rights Champion’ Alice Beer, because she is ‘generous’. She was told by Alice Beer not to even open charity mail as this could (presumably) upset or distress her.

Are we saying as a society that being confronted by need is something we can opt out of? Charities exist because this is an imperfect world and every day people – billions of people – live in pain.

  • Pain of poverty
  • Pain of famine
  • Pain of drinking dirty water
  • Pain of abuse
  • Pain of sickness
  • Pain of violence
  • Pain of broken families and relationships

And charities are in the business of easing pain.

As a Christian, I also believe we are in God’s business of easing pain.

Years ago Dr Paul Brand wrote a book called The Gift of Pain. It was his argument that physical pain is usually a blessing and not a curse. It tells us something is wrong with our body and we need to attend to it.

Could the distress we experience when we see a photo of a drowned refugee child – our emotional pain – be a blessing? Does it tell us something is wrong and we need to attend to it? Does it shock us out of our stupor?

Compassion springs out of empathetic pain. We hurt with those who hurt.

When we read about children going hungry in the UK, does it hurt? Does it disturb us? Does it make us want to do something? For many of us the answer is ‘yes’. Compassion springs out of empathetic pain. We hurt with those who hurt.

Is there a subtext to the negative media coverage, that people should not be confronted by the needs that charities seek to alleviate?

Are we saying that we do not want to be exposed to this human pain and suffering? Is the pain too great? Do we feel helpless in the face of it?

None of us can make it all OK. But I do believe that we can all have a part to play – whether through writing to our MP, volunteering for a local cause or giving to charity.

Just as physical pain tells us to stop, look, pay attention and act, so too does the emotional pain of seeing the desperate need of another.

Looking away and choosing not to see is an option. In this situation we can choose not to be in pain. But what does this take from us?