Readers of my blogs, will be aware that I am very much opposed to junk mail, as well as chugging, cold telephone calling and other intrusive, fund-raising techniques. Junk mail is clearly something that any environmentally aware organisation would have a natural antipathy towards. Consequently I was more than a little surprised last year, to get an unsolicited mailing from Friends of the Earth, raising funds to conserve Bees. I rather suspect I am on their database somewhere or other, since I worked for FoE in their very early days, and have had invitations to events from time to time (but they may also have bought my name and address from somewhere else). I have named FoE not because they are particularly bad or unusual – far from it this technique is widespread (WWF, the Red Cross and many others do it as well), but I do not believe in anonymity – I always try to be as honest and transparent as possible, so I think it is important to identify organisations. Honest criticism, can only be beneficial, and often leads to explanations, which are acceptable. The WLT website has a section of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs http://www.worldlandtrust.org/about/how-we-work/faqs ) most of which result directly from the general public asking questions.
On top of junk mail, I also object to the inclusion of so called ‘free gifts’ which are basically intended to embarrass potential donors into paying something if they use them, often pens or address labels. In this instance the ‘free gifts’ were some gift labels — five of them displaying bee-friendly plants. But clearly the ad’ agency or whoever came up with this bizarre marketing tool were not botanically experienced, since one of the plants was an exotic, and potentially invasive, introduction — Golden Rod Solidago, from North America see: https://www.degruyter.com/view/j/botlit.2015.21.issue-2/botlit-2015-0015/botlit-2015-0015.xml . And while I personally don’t hold a grudge against the species, many conservationists are very anti alien introduced species, particularly if they have the potential to be invasive. Because of my antipathy towards junk mail, I contacted FoE and asked them about the cost effectiveness of this campaign and they were very open and forth-coming. But I do wonder how many members of the donating public are aware of how this type of fundraising operates, and how fundraisers try to justify it. As the CEO at the World Land Trust, I have never condoned it and in the 28 years of running WLT would never consider any form of fund raising that did not potentially raise significantly more than it costs. But not everyone agrees with me and it is fairly common practice, particularly among the larger charities, to spend more on a recruitment drive, than it brings in, in the first year or two.
According to FoE “During the campaign the door drop will go out to 501 000 households. We’re hoping to raise £22,523 initially, the cost of this is £52,223 but as we are recruiting some regular givers from this activity, their future gifts are in addition to the this income.
I think it’s also important to mention that activity to recruit new donors very rarely breaks even initially, especially when we’re looking to recruit large volumes of new donors.”
So this begs the question: How much of the £22,500 the public donated thinking they would be saving bees, would actually go to that cause? I have tried to keep an open mind about this, but find it very difficult. I would be interested to know what supporters of the WLT, supporters of FoE and readers of my blog think, particularly those who think this form of fundraising is justified; perhaps you can persuade me? Please try. Should WLT do it, if in the long run it increase support?
I wrote the above last year, but in the end never posted it, but then in my latest copy of BBC Wildlife Magazine, the same appeal had been inserted, and presumably gone to the several thousand readers of the magazine, many of which will possibly already be supporters of FoE. Surely they don’t expect to see resources wasted in this way. So I thought I would post the blog and see what others thought.
I should add that this is all very much a personal opinion, which is why I have published it here and not in my Green Diary of the World Land Trust http://www.worldlandtrust.org/news/green-diary and while it has certainly influenced the WLT position over the past 28 years, WLT has not adopted any specific policy so far. And I would also compliment FoE on being completely open and transparent about their fundraising costs. Has anyone checked on other charities and had similar experience? Feedback of any sort is welcome.
Finally, some colleagues have suggested that is wrong for me to criticise another charity — but I would emphasize, this is not criticism per se, I am raising what I consider to be an important point on the ethics of fundraising.