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Something called integrity


From Ken Burnett, writer, publisher,
motivational speaker and occasional fundraising consultant.

Blog 23 September 2016

Continuing an occasional series featuring issues
of interest to
the Commission
on the Donor Experience.

Looking through...I’m struck by how often integrity emerges as the human quality that, most of all, is missing, so much of the time.

Integrity of course is a leadership issue. It has to come both from the top and from below. It has to be inescapable, robust enough
to withstand constant challenge from all sides. It should never sleep.

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I’m sure the irony in this confession will not be lost on you. Integrity does not include cropping out the guys who provided the quote. If any business sector anywhere should be suffused top to tail and through and through with integrity, it’s ours, the not-for-profit sector, the let’s-change-the-world-for-the-better sector. Only, sometimes it seems too easy to almost unknowingly let that integrity slip. Mea culpa.

Looking through the body of work that’s now coming together for the Commission on the Donor Experience and their mission to change the culture of how charities do fundraising, I’m struck by how often integrity emerges as the human quality that, most of all, is missing, so much of the time. When we look at how fundraising, from the donor’s view, has fallen short of expectations, it’s a lack of simple integrity that so often stands out.

A recent example hit me particularly forcefully. We published an article preparing the ground for CDE project 13, Giving donors choices and managing preferences, and the inevitable assault came in from a critic in Australia. He condemned all 30 years of the CVT case history’s successes (see here) because their system of giving donors choices so they can control what they receive from the charity has, in his words, ‘never been tested against a control group. No controlled testing of any kind had ever been done to prove the strategy works at all’.

Literally, in the absence of insight and understanding, he’s quite right. But add in some understanding and integrity and you’ll see he’s so, so, so wrong.

CVT gave their donors control because it was the right thing to do. Why on earth would they then deprive a control group of the right thing, just to see if it might make a marginal difference to how much more or less they might give? They were not offering donors choices to make more money. They were offering choices because it seemed to them the right thing to do.

The right thing to do, by our donors
Integrity. We need to factor it in whenever we deal with donors. If fundraisers had had an eye to integrity, none of what’s come to be known as ‘the Olive Cooke affair’ and the attendant attacks on charities for flagrant bad practices could have happened. Regulation can pick up the worst excesses, of course and should be strictly applied, with sanctions that bite. But we need integrity all the time, as a reality check against everything we do, so everyone always asks, ‘Is this the right thing to do, by our donors?’

We’d all like to think that instances of fundraisers interrupting people as they go about their business with pushy, unwanted persistence are a thing of the past. But we all know it still happens, despite the public spotlight.

When fundraisers make people feel guilty, where is integrity? When fundraisers make people cross the road or feel bad about what they decide not to do, as opposed to good about what they can do, where is integrity?

When fundraisers carelessly refer to donors in negative or demeaning terms, or use language that might easily offend or deter, where is integrity? When we are slow or inadequate with feedback to show donors the difference they make, where’s our integrity then?

When fundraisers ask for donations in a campaign without mentioning that the donor already gives regularly by direct debit, because they know some will forget they already give that way and so sign up multiple times, where is integrity?

When fundraisers say, ‘as long as your next mailing generates more money than it costs, you can mail more’, or ‘the more asks the better the on-going retention’, or ‘…your charity really should have an aggressive bequest marketing programme’, where is integrity?

My wife Marie wants to renew her membership of the Women’s Equality Party but can’t because they won’t let her pay by any other means than direct debit, which Marie won’t do. Where’s their integrity? (I joked that at least they haven’t suggested that the man of the house should countersign it. Which didn’t go down at all well. Add this to the confession above and I’m looking at my own integrity again, believe me.)

Integrity of course is a leadership issue. It has to come both from the top and from below. It has to be inescapable, robust enough to withstand constant challenge from all sides. It should never sleep.

Continued top of column 2, above.

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Continued from column 1, below.

Why are retention rates plummeting?
Maybe a shortage of integrity has something to do with it. Perhaps the signs have been there a long time, but recent scandals and exposures have given at least some of our publics a sense that they need no longer put up with behaviours from charities that they don’t like.

Perhaps it would help if we were to revisit integrity in all our dealings with donors.

Integrity: the quality of uprightness, generally a personal choice to hold oneself to consistent moral and ethical standards. Being honest and having strong moral principles. Its secondary meaning, the state of being whole and undivided, would be a good one for our profession too.

Recently the hugely respected Agitator ran a piece on the subject of fundraising ethics, prompted by a paper from the UK think tank Rogare. I wrestled with its packed 20+ pages and I’m sure there’s useful stuff in there somewhere but I was struck by a comment one of their readers added to the Agitator’s review of it.

Indeed! Whatever has happened to plain ol’ knowing ‘right’ from ‘wrong’?

Well said, Mr Zaiontz. As Roger and Tom would say, you deserve a raise.

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© Ken Burnett 2016.

Related earlier articles:
Doing the right thing by donors.
Pure gold: the 34 essential foundations of fundraising.
Giving donors choices: a fundraising preference service from 1986.
Who’d want to live next door to a lapsed donor?

NB 1: Ken Burnett is managing project 6 for the Commission on the Donor Experience, The use and abuse of emotion. If you have something you’d like to add about improving the donor experience emotionally, or if you fancy writing up some emotional case histories, please get in touch.

NB 2: though Ken Burnett was joint initiator of the Commission on the Donor Experience (with Giles Pegram CBE) and is fully committed to helping it to achieve its goals, the views in these blogs are his own.