I write at the end of a hectic week. James Murdoch announced that the
News of the World is to close, leaving charities with the dilemma of whether to accept free advertising and donations from the beleaguered title; the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, at its parliamentary summer reception, debated how to get more people from deprived areas involved in their communities; and 2,000 fundraisers descended upon the Institute of Fundraising’s national convention for three days of advice, inspiration and networking.
As ever, the convention programme was packed with diverse topics. Yet, there was one main source of discussion: the increased focus on giving and philanthropy in the public sphere.
Some, however, felt the government doesn't quite understand fundraising - if it did, there would have been more focus on committed giving, as opposed to the low-level ad hoc giving that featured so heavily in the white paper. Others were concerned about the absence of fundraisers on the boards of groups such as the Big Society Commission and the Philanthropy Review.
To address these problems, a "Growing Philanthropy Summit" was held. Open only to the sector's most senior individuals, the aim was to brainstorm ideas, which could then be presented to government and/or used by fundraisers. The professional development of fundraisers, measures to protect and increase public trust and confidence, and potential planned giving products were all debated. A summit report is expected within a few months.
Appearing briefly at the event was Nick Hurd, minister for civil society. While his speech simply repeated the main themes of the white paper, his responses to questions gave more insight into the government's priorities. Changes to tax relief were typically skirted around, while direct mail and direct debits were billed as "a problem" and "lacking emotional connection", respectively. What he did get excited about, however, was payroll giving (a new government-funded initiative will be announced soon), and the power of government to convene groups of influential people to bring about change. He flagged up the forthcoming "Giving Summit" due in the autumn.
At an interview with the minister the following day, I pressed him on these issues. Did he agree that practising fundraisers have been excluded from discussions? Will they be invited to the summit? And will he reconsider his views on direct debits?
I received a mixed response. While he expressed disappointment that fundraisers felt left out, especially considering the consultation which formed part of the Giving green paper, he confirmed they would absolutely be invited to the summit. On direct debits, he stuck to his guns. "As I said yesterday - which was me speaking as a punter not a politician - there is no emotional connection with direct debits," he said. "Plus, I'm not really sure it's the business of government to tell people how to give."
But wasn't that exactly what the government was doing with the push for payroll giving, I queried. He stuttered slightly before insisting that it was a very different issue which was about pointing people to something that seems to be underused. "Ultimately, what we want to do is inspire people to the point of giving. The choice of mechanism is up to them and the organisations that use them."
I am still not convinced that there is enough understanding of fundraising within Westminster. There is only one thing the sector can do about this - educate politicians. Nick Hurd has repeatedly emphasised that we are at the start of a long journey. It's the responsibility of fundraisers to make sure their voices are clearly heard - and understood - along the way.
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