The UK media has been full of calls for values and ethics in fundraising as if as a sector we are devoid of them. Our regulatory bodies have been criticised and pulled apart; our sector’s rules and regulations have been held under a microscope for all to examine. Certainly, there have been organisations that could have behaved much better, operations that would put any industry to shame. The intensity of the negative commentary could make it difficult for some to remember that as a sector the majority of us are trying to do good. That we are working hard trying to raise funds for some of the world’s greatest causes. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that in the main our intention as a sector is a good one.
Rules and regulations are great. In fact, we thrive on them at HOME Fundraising – because as a values-based fundraising organisation we already know what sits comfortably with us and what doesn’t. We don’t have to examine the values and ethics of the clients we work with and mirror those because values and ethics are built into our very DNA; built in to how we recruit, train, develop and reward our people. They are built into the fundraising conversations we have with the general public, the people behind the doors we knock on.
That said, it’s easy to see where things can start to go wrong: the desire for ever increasing volumes of donors accompanied by lower investment; an industry that is focusing on immediate upgrade rather than a simple thank you; trustees that focus on short term results rather than nurturing longer term returns. We need to be realistic about what is achievable, what is the right thing to do, how we go about asking for funds, how often we ask and just how it might be perceived.
We all have an intrinsic sense of what is right. But we need the right organisational culture and leadership values to direct, shape and develop those views and ensure that people know how to deliver on them, how to innately live and breathe them without being policed every second of the day.
It is critical that our sector focuses on and promotes great fundraising leadership, the kind of leadership that will help develop and nurture this type of culture. It is hugely encouraging to collaborate with organisations that share these interests like the Resource Alliance, which places leadership high on the agenda both in its international work programmes and in its development and learning events – such as its annual conference, the International Fundraising Congress (IFC) – that can influence far reaching audiences. Such events provide the opportunities for the fundraising community to come together, draw on our experiences and share learning, retune and renew the motivation to become successful leaders.
But we must be clear that when someone takes on the mantle of ‘leader’ – of a country, community, organisation or team – a responsibility comes with it to support and genuinely care about the well-being of the group being led. The leader must provide them with a positive unifying influence which is then modelled in the way we work and the relationships we build both internally and externally. Leaders create the conditions, set the boundaries, and encourage consistent and positive habits. Moreover it is their responsibility to establish the ethical framework and moral conscience for the organisation; to build and sustain a positive and self-regulating culture, working within that broader framework.
A truly positive culture comes from an understanding of how teams work, what makes us human, what motivates us - really motivates us as human beings on a deep level. We’re not talking about training or bonus structures, holiday pay or pension schemes. We’re talking about fundamental needs we all have as human beings to fulfil our potential – to be fully engaged with what we do, to find and connect with our purpose, to have a clarity and consistency of intent, to have a sense of our own stuff and be actively prepared to work with it.
Recent media criticism has isolated individual occurrences and behaviours which are not acceptable. Whether the finger is pointed at a member of staff, a director, the organisation or charity as a whole or its trustees, the organisational culture must breed a sense of responsibility and pride in performance, both as an individual and as part of a team. While a team is only as strong as its weakest link, the stronger the organisational culture, the more its people feel part of that culture and will buy in to the company’s ethical approach.
Getting fundraising right means putting these principles at the heart of the organisational culture and investing in that culture. Put time and effort into encouraging everyone, each individual, to identify with and believe in that culture. This is just as important as their belief and passion for the charitable causes they represent and together it’s a winning combination for everyone – charity, agency, donors and above all beneficiaries.
Neil Hope is joint Managing Director of HOME Fundraising. His book written with fellow MD, Dominic Will, ‘You Can’t Plant A Tree in Space’ relates to and explores leadership principles with useful and easy to implement tips and guidance.