The Charity Sleuths

What the Intelligent Giving researchers are uncovering, and whose turn it is to make the tea

Monday, July 10, 2006

No donations, please

Charitable donors may well be nervous about where to direct their money, but apparently they aren't half as anxious as the charities who receive it.

Out of six charities I phoned, four of them had no idea whether or not they accepted donations from the public. It seems like a no-brainer: surely if a donor is waving a cheque at you, there isn't so much red tape that you can't just accept it? But two of the people I spoke to sounded utterly flummoxed by the question, a third said she wasn't qualified to answer, and a fourth explained that donations were usually made by 'big people'.

It seems that whereas most charities will beg for your money, some of them just don't know what to do with it.



Anonymous Howard said...

It is pretty poor that charities don't even know how their money comes in, let alone from where

3:07 pm  
Anonymous Simon said...

Being in a surprisingly uncynical mood today, I wonder whether there's some possibility that they just misunderstood what you were asking them? When you said, "Do you accept donations from the public?", what you meant was, "If someone were waving a cheque at you, would you refuse it?", in which case the answer would hopefully be straightforward.

However, it's possible (especially if they knew you were researching their accounts) that they thought what you were asking was, "Do you receive donations from the public?", in which I can understand them saying, "I don't know, I'll have to check" - they might not want to say no and then have you criticise them when you find that yes, they did receive one donation eleven months ago.

On the other hand, they might just be rubbish.

10:18 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can you explain in what sense charities 'beg' for money?

Many thanks

9:18 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Working for a charity as I do, I cannot imagine what you must have said, but it is extremely unlikely that any charity would have said no if they were asked whether they accepted donations. Of course they do, that's how the majority of them receive most of their money (although many keep to a strict ethical policy which might preclude taking money from sources whose business practices or behaviour represented a conflict of interest with the aims of the charity, e.g. cancer charity/tobacco firm). It's clear to me and presumably anyone else in their right mind that you phrased your question unintelligibly on purpose to flummox whoever answered the phone and make a good post for the blog. I agree with Simon - if you'd said 'can i make a donation' or 'if i were waving a cheque at you would you take it' then you would have got a straight answer. I can assure you if i'd picked up the phone, we would have got to the bottom of what you were trying to ask, and you'd have got a yes.

9:35 am  
Blogger The Intelligent Giving Team said...


I can assure you that enquiries were made in an entirely straightforward way. The question asked was very simple, 'Do you accept donations from members of the public?'. You cannot get much more intelligble than that.
I might also point out that it is simply not true that the majority of charities receive most of their money from donations from the public.
One final point I would like to make is that the only reason we contacted these charities to find out if they accepted donations from the public is so that we can review them for the site. This is ultimately in their interest as visitors to the site will be able to find out more about the charity and, hopefully, support it.

9:57 am  
Anonymous Anita said...

Anonymous #1:

You're right to pick up on 'beg', it's a strong word. What I was trying to evoke (without too many words) was the great lengths some (I repeat - not all) charities will go to in order to persuade the donor to give money - sometimes that involves a tiny bit of emotional blackmail.

Here's an example from my own experience: after termninating a direct debit order to a charity I no longer wish to support, I continued to receive letters from the charity for months. Why did I give up my standing order? Would I, a valued donor, please consider donating again? Could I give reasons for ceasing to donate? Do I not care about their new campaign?

Although this is by no means standard procedure for charities, I wanted to suggest a contrast between the charities I phoned, where members of staff could not tell me whether they accepted donations, and those charities who go to great lengths to get money.

10:12 am  
Anonymous Simon said...

We'll have to agree to disagree on this one, because as far as I'm concerned the wording "Do you accept donations from members of the public?" is entirely capable of being misunderstood.

However, it's interesting to see that even someone who works for a charity (the anon commenter above) would make the same mistake as most of the public, in thinking that the majority of charities are funded by public donations. The problem, of course, is that "charity", in its technical sense of "an organisation registered with the Charity Commission", has only an occasional overlap with what most people would think is meant when they hear the word. Hence why Eton School is a charity, but Greenpeace (other than the Greenpeace Environmental Trust) is not.

3:22 pm  
Blogger The Intelligent Giving Team said...


For our work we need to know whether or not a charity accepts donations from members of the public. Could you suggest another, clearer way in which we can phrase the question?

3:33 pm  
Anonymous Stuart said...

Well I'm pleased to see you've come to a rational conclusion after conducting an in depth survey of all 6 UK charities...

3:45 pm  
Blogger The Intelligent Giving Team said...


This is not intended to be representative of all UK charities. The situation behind this blog entry is as follows:

While researching a particular sector of charities, Anita found that there were 6 charities that she was unsure whether or not they actively took donations from the public. This is an important matter for us, as the general public is our target audience. She decided to contact these six charities by phone to find out for sure one way or the other. The response was suprising, and hence worthy of a blog entry.

I hope this makes things clearer: we were trying neither to generate a news story nor draw conclusions about UK charities as a whole.

That will come later...

3:56 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

from the tone of your posts you seem to have drawn your conclusions already.

"egregious" is indeed the word.

4:20 pm  
Blogger The Intelligent Giving Team said...

I would ask the last poster to reserve their judgement until they see the website. They will be pleasantly surprised by the effort we will be making to persuade people to contribute more to the voluntary sector.


4:47 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This blog is a nice antidote to all the marketing stuff we see from charities! We want the truth!Don't let the whiners from the sector get you down! Keep going!

4:49 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

some charities do indeed accept donations from the public but are surprisingly poorly set up to do so. While the 'fundraising' and 'front'facing' staff might be capable and skilled at doing so, contacting soeone else might yield far different results.

Consider (For example) contacting a hospice on a weekend when the fundraising staff have gone home and the nursing staff answer the phone? How able would they feel or be to answer the qestion, "Can I make a donation"? Any hospice fundraisers out there might be surprised."

This is an example, and does not apply solely to hospices.

11:34 pm  
Anonymous Mark said...

Just out of interest re the methodology for your survey, do you start firing your questions off at the person who picks up the phone, or do you ask to speak to someone responsible for fundraising. After all, it can only serve your declared interests of increasing transparency about giving if you make the effort to talk to the people in the charity who deal with donations. From the tone of many of your posts to this blog, you do come across as wanting to find fault, and wanting to make trouble. Perhaps if your attitude was more constructive, you would get more co-operation. At the end of the day, charities put a lot of effort into their own marketing and communication efforts - some with great success, some with less so. We have to feel confident that what you're doing helps rather than hinders the cause.

8:49 am  
Anonymous Anita said...


I understand that many visitors to this blog have interpreted Intelligent Giving as an organisation trying to find fault with charities. On the contrary, the purpose of the site will be to encourage people to give more by providing information. The purpose is not to approach our research with the skewed purpose of finding fault at all costs. However, if omissions occur in their accounts then it will be mentioned.

As for your opening question: first and foremost, it was not a 'survey' - the charities I phoned were not chosen as a representative sample, nor were any general conclusions formed based on phoning them. It was merely a group of charities in one particular sector where I received the same response: that they didn't know whether or not they accepted donations. This is the reason I blogged it, I saw it as an interesting moment on the journey towards Intelligent Giving's launch.

It is indeed possible, as you say, that I was not passed on to the right people over the phone, although I made every effort to do so. When the admin person answering the phone didn't know, they transferred me to someone who they claimed was from the right department to answer my question - yet they didn't know either - hence my confusion.

9:07 am  
Anonymous Mark said...

As you say, it's not a representative sample. So why blog it? Is the final sentence of your original posting a valid conclusion - on the grounds that four out of six people phoned couldn't give you the answer you were looking for? I'm afraid that, like a previous commenter, I too can see ambiguity in your question.
And as for your latest observation that 'if omissions occur in their accounts, then it will be mentioned' - on what basis do you decide? Are you qualified to? A set of accounts is typically produced by a qualified accountant and audited by professional auditors. Both work within tightly prescribed legal requirements, laid down by the regulator. Of course, you may think you know better. But of course, you will almost certainly be wrong.

9:39 am  
Anonymous Simon said...

I think there's a danger of going over the top here. From all I've seen, the researchers (mostly) know what they're doing, and aren't (always) out to find fault. The trouble is, as we're seeing here, this blog maybe gives a misleading impression of what Intelligent Giving is about, simply because there's more to say when things go wrong.

It's the whole "man bites dog" scenario. It just doesn't make a very interesting blog post to say, "99.75% of charities include their objects in their annual report." Ah, but to say "The Ramblers Association doesn't" - that's news.

10:39 am  
Blogger The Intelligent Giving Team said...

Thanks for your considered analysis, Simon, and thanks to all the other commentators. We sincerely appreciate the effort you make to contribute. While we won't see eye to eye on everything, we are more than aware that we are not right all the time and we do note - and sometimes respond to - your input in our work.


12:29 pm  
Anonymous Stuart said...

Since you've now admitted that you're not right all the time would it be fair for me to set up a blog that criticizes you every time you get it wrong and ignore the times you get it right, therefore giving the reader a very negative impression of your enterprise?

8:49 am  
Blogger The Intelligent Giving Team said...


I think that would be perfectly reasonable. We look forward to reading your comments.

9:01 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a little confused as to what Stuart imagines the purpose of this website is. As an average member of the public, I am hoping that this site will root out bad practice by charities, and tell me where it occurs; what else would be the point? Of course we need to know when charities get it wrong; it is our money, and we would like to spend it in the knowledge that it will be put to good use. The assertion that "we are a charity, working for the general good, therefore you should trust us blindly without questioning our practices" is not good enough. Without oversight, how can charities expect to improve themselves?
That representatives of charities do not know whether they accept public money would seem to me to be fairly basic failing. Whether the person on the end of the phone is a fundraising manager or not is not the question; they are a representative who picked up the phone to answer a basic and obvious public query. This is not a complicated question requiring specialist knowledge; I would assume that whether or not donations from the public are received is a fundamental piece of knowledge that every worker should have regarding the charity they represent. If it is not normal for representative to know this, irrespective of how junior they are, then this seems a pretty poor standard of practice by charities. Perhaps the obvious disgruntled charity workers commenting on this blog could enlighten me...

3:53 pm  
Anonymous Michael said...


Of course everyone working for a charity should know whether or not they accept general donations. In my view, everyone working for a charity needs to have a basic understanding of fundraising, but it's not easy to give them these skills while they have more than enough other work to do.

The problem with the question asked is that it's not a question you usually ask a charity worker, is it? I think many professional fundraisers might have a twinge of paranoia sneaking in if someone called up and asked that.

By all means charities *should* be tested to see how well they do what they do, including in raising the funds they need.

People do tend to get defensive under what they see as criticism, but in fact all charities need to operate in the best way. It's not always easy to see that people may be trying to help, rather than assigning blame.

I think a lot of people working for charities are starting to feel as if they are being judged and the hard work and the emotion that they put into their work is not being appreciated for what it is.

8:55 pm  
Blogger World Orphan's Fund said...

I have recently started a charity to help small unfunded orphanages and provide assistance in disasters. I would appreciate a call or contact. the url is, between the website and the blog most things should be covered.

11:04 pm  

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