How to stifle Philanthropy

People giving to charity is a good thing, right? So why reduce incentives to do it?

This week’s Budget announced a cap on the tax relief an individual can claim in any year. From April 2013 tax relief will be capped at £50,000 pa or 25% of income (whichever is higher). This could act as a significant disincentive to people making larger personal gifts, who are vital to charitable causes.

The cap includes tax relief on gifts of shares, land, personal donations and the endowment of personal Foundations. From experience, I know how important the current tax relief system is in helping charities secure major donations. When soliciting a potential major donor following a cultivation process, we suggest a ‘think about figure’ of the level of gift we would like them to make. The figure is arrived at by a mix of knowledge of the donor’s financial resources, past giving to our charity or other causes, the extent of their engagement with our cause and the impact they want to make. We also look to raise their sights with the figure – highlighting that they do have the capacity to make a six figure gift, for example, when they might previously have felt they were unable to. This is where tax relief is so important. A donor could make a gift of say £80,000. With gift aid at 20%, this would be worth £100,000 to the charity. The donor could then claim back tax relief on the difference between the 20% and whichever top rate of tax they were paying (40 or 50%). This meant the effective cost to a donor paying 40% tax on a £100,000 gift was £60,000. This tax relief meant many donors gave more than they would otherwise have done. Frequently I’ve had discussions with donors who were considering a £50k gift, which they upped to £80k (£60k cost to them) in order to enable the charity to receive £100k.

HMRC were quoted in Third Sector this week as saying “The government did not undertake this measure lightly, but it is necessary to take steps to ensure the very wealthy cannot simply wipe out their tax bills using charitable and other tax reliefs.”

It’s worth bearing in mind a few things in response to this:

  1. Gift Aid and tax relief on charitable donations are designed to offset the tax the donor has already paid on that income
  2. The charity sector is heavily reliant on larger gifts from a small number of individuals. Consequently disincentives to give at this level could be disproportionately harmful. NCVO/CAF’s 2011 UK Giving report found that 58% of the UK adult population gave to charity in a typical month in 10/11, donating £11bn over the year. However, only 7% of these individuals gave over £100 per month, but these supporters were responsible for 45% of the total income from individuals.
  3. This won’t just impact mainstream charities. Churches, schools and a range of other organisations have charitable status.
  4. The credit crunch and recession have led this Government to make arguably the deepest public spending cuts in UK history. They want the charitable sector to play a bigger role in providing much needed services and support, and individuals to increase their giving to charity. So why reduce the tax incentives for personal gifts?
  5. The UK charity sector has worked hard over the last 20 years to nurture a culture of major giving from wealthy individuals. After the great Victorian philanthropists (check out your local library or civic buildings – highly likely to have been endowed by a Victorian industrialist with a magnificent moustache) UK major giving lagged behind the US. In recent years, major personal gifts have been vital in supporting our health, education, arts and social sectors. Major Donors have funded breakthroughs in cancer research, enabled students from disadvantaged backgrounds to go to university, funded projects which have got kids off the street. And much more. They play a vital role in our society, and if supported and nurtured, could play a much bigger one.

The Government says it will be discussing the impact of the tax relief cap with charity umbrella groups and the charities most affected before in comes into force in April 2013.

Let’s hope this is an opportunity for all charities to work together to campaign for a tax system which encourages personal giving, not stifles it.

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Association of Fundraising Professionals Convention, 1-3 April 2012

If you’re a Fundraiser considering conferences to attend this year, I’d strongly recommend the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) Convention in Vancouver from 1-3 April 2012. The AFP is the US equivalent of the Institute of Fundraising, and the Convention draws together Fundraisers from across North America and increasingly the UK and Europe.

I attended the convention in 2008 in San Diego and loved it. The Education Seminars offered a great range of sessions on trends in philanthropy, donor behaviours, online fundraising, major gifts best practice, legacy marketing and fundraising strategy. The sessions were well presented and the content was excellent.

Having attended the convention and worked with a number of US consultants and funders, I find that the strongly embedded culture of philanthropy in the US continues to drive innovation in major gifts best practice and new philanthropic models such as social investment. Equally, the convention gives UK Fundraisers the opportunity to reflect on areas where our sector is arguably stronger, such as mobilising support from mass participation events and direct marketing.

Convention costs are roughly comparable to the UK IoF convention, and I certainly felt the increased costs of travel and accommodation were well worth it for the ideas and stimulus I took from the event. The US enthusiasm for fundraising is infectious, and it was refreshing to be in an environment where our profession is respected, valued and celebrated – which is isn’t always the case in the UK.

If you’re interested in the Convention details are at and when I’ve booked in the past booking the Convention organisers have viewed IoF membership as valid for the professional discount rate.  If you’d like to chat about the Convention further, do get in touch below or on

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Are good Fundraisers born or made?

Most people fall into Fundraising as a career.  As kids not many of us got our Cindy dolls having a major donor cultivation lunch or our Action Men doing an international challenge event. You don’t tend to want to be a Fundraiser when you grow up.

So what makes a good Fundraiser? For me, there’s some common themes across the different income streams. Resilience and determination to cope with setbacks and rejection (the 9 unsuccessful Corporate pitches to get the 10th). Good communication skills, to distil the highly complex problems most charities are trying to solve into accessible and emotive copy. Competitiveness and drive to beat targets (go into any charity Fundraising office and there will be some form of trophy on display – generally from winning an internal competition such as the staff Christmas quiz or rounders’ match). 

Most Fundraisers have these skills to some extent. But in such a competitive funding market it’s vital to hone these skills. And for the future Fundraising leaders, this can be quite a journey of self-development.

Although training and development has improved in our sector, it can still be very hit and miss. Fundraisers tend to be sent on random external courses, conferences, with occasional in-house presentations or mentoring. Line managers aren’t generally trained as trainers, so even if good external courses are selected there often isn’t structured and supported follow up from the Manager to embed learnings. The IoF Special Interest groups are a good idea, but can suffer from a lack of experienced input, and don’t always reinforce good practice as a result.

The problem becomes more pronounced as Fundraisers climb the career ladder. You tend to get promoted because you’re successful at raising money. The attributes that make you successful (drive, determination, competitiveness, confidence) can be hindrances in senior management positions. The need to secure internal buy-in, take people with you, navigate internal politics can seem a frustrating anathema to Fundraisers who just want to get things done, and are convinced their way is best.

This need to re-adjust your skills as you progress in your career led me to take advantage of personal coaching sessions. I deliberately choose a coach outside of fundraising as I wanted to focus on behaviours, not fundraising itself. I’ve found it invaluable – challenging at times, certainly, but fascinating to focus on how I behave in certain work situations and how I need to behave differently now I’m in a senior role in order to be successful.

The opportunity to step back from day to day work and focus on how I was doing the job was really useful. Obviously, finding the right person to coach you is key – you have to be able to trust and relate to them, but equally a good coach will challenge you. They’re your coach, not your friend. The discipline of doing coaching homework preparing for tricky conversations was fascinating – it highlighted to me how often as senior managers time pressures mean we just plunge into very sensitive meetings or discussions with little thought as to how to get the best outcome.  Unsurprisingly, those discussions can go wrong as a result.  

Some people may question the cost of charities paying for individual coaching. I’ve found costs to be very reasonable (most coaches will do charity rates) and cheaper than most training courses. And with senior Fundraisers often personally responsible for millions of pounds of charity income, I’d say it was an investment well worth making.

As Fundraising develops as a profession in the UK, training and personal development structures are clearly going to be key.  I think coaching has an important role to play in this, and not solely at the senior levels.

If you’re interested in coaching, these are some of the coaches/companies I’ve used and would recommend. I’ll declare a conflict of interest here – one of them is my sister, and she’s brilliant.

 Cilla McKay, Rocket Consultancy

Shaun Lincoln

Joanne Miles

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There’s no such thing as society

 In this, as in so many other things, Maggie was wrong.

Despite the rise of the individualist society over the last 30 years, groups of people do still come together to fight for a shared cause. And if Fundraisers can learn to support these groups in the way they want, they can move mountains.

3 year old Ryan Ferguson lives in East Kilbride with his parents and two older brothers. In August 2011 the family were on the cusp of a new life: their visas for Australia had been approved and they were planning to emigrate before Christmas. Then Ryan was diagnosed with leukaemia and they were told he needed a stem cell transplant from a matching donor to survive.

While Ryan started chemo, and Anthony Nolan (the stem cell charity I work for) searched for a match for Ryan, his Dad Stuart started to campaign. Stuart organised a recruitment event for people to join the Anthony Nolan register. New recruits were unlikely to be a match for Ryan, but they could be a match for someone else needing a lifesaving transplant.

The response to Ryan’s Appeal for potential donors was incredible. Tireless work by the family and blanket local media coverage led to 1,074 people joining the Anthony Nolan register on the day of the recruitment event in East Kilbride – an all time record. 5,000 people joined Ryan’s Facebook page in 3 weeks. Since October, Ryan’s supporters have raised over £16,000 by selling Christmas cards and wristbands, doing sponsored walks and donating cash.  10 of Ryan’s supporters will run for Anthony Nolan this year, including his Dad and Uncle running the London Marathon.

Anthony Nolan found a matching donor for Ryan. He now has the chance of life, and the efforts of his family, community and supporters will give that hope to many other blood cancer patients and their families over the coming years.

Most of Ryan’s supporters have no connection with his family. They’ve just been moved by a little boy fighting for his life and have wanted to help. 

What does this mean for charities? It means groups of people will still come together quickly and dynamically to support a cause. However, today’s individualistic and rights-driven society has changed how these campaigns run.  Charity Fundraisers tend to be control freaks and want to tell people how they can fundraise. That doesn’t work with this type of campaign.  The group itself is in charge. They need support and advice, yes, but they call the shots.

This is partly because social media has had a profound impact on this type of fundraising. This new fundraising means virtual, online communities form quickly, driven by Twitter and Facebook, hungry for content which is relevant to them and easy, accessible ways to help. Ryan’s supporters joined the Register online; re-posted content to their social networks; and posted ideas of how to drive the campaign forward. One casual post on a thread about Peter Andre coming to Ryan’s hometown to turn on the Christmas lights led, within 45 mins, to the Facebook group deciding to approach Peter to back the campaign; track down details of his management company; and find a link to someone involved with the event. And Peter Andre, bless him, made time to meet and record a message for Ryan.

People do still care and want to make a difference. And the Fundraisers who learn to react quickly to these groundswells of support, and work out how to steer and support rather than attempt to control them, will find hugely powerful sources of support.

And here’s the little guy who inspired all of this, Ryan. His Dad Stuart’s Justgiving page for the Marathon is on if anyone wants to sponsor him. Thanks.

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New Year’s Resolutions for Fundraising Directors

It’s that time of year again when we all laugh at new gym members attempting to fathom sauna etiquette (don’t talk to people you don’t know) and set about transforming our lives or personalities. Here’s some suggested resolutions for Fundraising Directors:

  1. Obliterate silos. Despite their commitment to their charities, and exhaustive evidence that it’s far more cost effective to get more out of an existing supporter than recruit a new one, many Fundraisers find it impossible to share contacts effectively. Getting Fundraisers to think truly holistically about all the ways a supporter can engage with a charity (including, horror of horrors, non-financial support) and facilitate those journeys is key. The Fundraising teams that can do this successfully will be the winning ones. The main barriers are in Fundraisers’ heads.
  2. Tie top Fundraisers to their chairs. Experienced, high performing Fundraisers are rarer than ethics in Fleet Street. When you have them, do everything you can to keep them. We need to get far better as a sector in talent retention, progression and, yes, remuneration. This isn’t about performance related pay or creating a bonus culture, but it is about finding transparent and fair ways to reward star Fundraisers via development, promotion and pay.
  3. Educate your superiors and peers on Fundraising budgets. We’ve all had budget round discussions where we’ve presented carefully prepared figures based in fact and analysis …and been told to up them. And so we go and bump up the Legacy budget and cross our fingers. This is not helpful. As Fundraisers, we need to take responsibility for developing CEO/Finance Directors’ understanding of income trends, risk levels, ROI and the external environment. We should have the confidence to be open about the real net income return from each activity, and the timeframe it will need to produce a viable return. We need to build credibility and show we know what we’re talking about – and that the Micawber approach of “something will come up” is far too risky in the current economic climate.
  4. Ensure your team has ordered London Marathon balloon arches from a company that will actually a) inflate the balloons; b) deliver them to the correct location on the day; and c) anchor them firmly enough so they don’t blow away and threaten air traffic. At 7am on the morning of every London Marathon, Fundraising Directors across London are greeted by stressed Events Fundraisers frantically trying to locate missing balloon arches or swap wrongly delivered ones with other charities. If you live near Tower Bridge and woke up last April to a massive green and black balloon arch floating free past your door, that was ours. This year, let’s mark the first great sporting event of 2012 by flying the correct balloons in correct place at the correct time.  
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Aren’t you marvellous? Life as a Fundraiser..

Hi, and thanks for reading this blog. I’m Catherine Miles and I’m a professional Fundraiser working in London.

This blog aims to give a taste of what it’s like fundraising in the voluntary sector in the midst of what the media continues to cheerfully inform us is the worst recession since the 1930s, and as Dave’s Big Society makes fundamental changes to the role of the state and the role of the voluntary sector.

And I’ll attempt to throw in some jokes as well…

All views in this blog are, of course, my own.

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