England v Scotland

February 9, 2016

No, this is not a reference to the Calcutta Cup this weekend! I would, however, invite you to consider the question posed below and how you would answer it.

I was asked recently to explain the differences between fundraising in England and Scotland. Indeed, are there any discernable differences? My first thought was that this is a major piece of work requiring many hours of interviews, debate, and thoughtful analysis. My second was that someone must have done this already.

Finally, it occurred to me that the answer to the question is actually quite complex with many subtleties and nuances to take into account. So without the benefit of six months research, but with experience of living and working in both countries, here is my answer.

Fundraising is one of those professions that everyone likes to criticise and, moreover, everyone thinks they can do it. I suppose, at a very basic level, we are all fundraisers in that we find ways and means to make money in order to live. The difference is that professional fundraisers face the same set of challenges, whether in the Weald of Kent or the heart of Perth and Kinross. They must:

  1. Be adept at telling a compelling story
  2. Convert and build a network of supporters
  3. Gain and maintain trust
  4. Be transparent and display value for money

So, if you assume the fundamentals of fundraising are the same, are there any other external factors in play? Emphatically, yes!  This article starts to explore issues of culture and size of population. Regulation, support mechanisms, and governance are topics for further discussion.

Culture and Size of Population

When I joined the University of Cambridge, I was given a piece of advice: ‘Geoff, you are only two phone calls away from a world expert. The trick is to know who to call first.’ An advantage for a Scottish fundraiser over their English counterpart is very similar, in that the size of Scotland promotes a stronger sense of collaboration and exchange of information than my experiences of working in England. Therefore, finding a route to a potential supporter is likely to be far less of a challenge in Scotland than in England. However, this observation does come with a warning. The potential supporter may also be just as accessible to dozens of other fundraisers in Scotland. The trick, therefore, wherever you work, is to identify people with the best fit to your cause, because three out of every four will give due to:

‘a particular belief that I have in a specific cause’[1]

Another thought about our two fundraisers is one of authenticity. Let’s say they are both starting fundraising campaigns in the US. Would not the recipient of a call from, say, the University of Stirling expect to hear a Scottish voice? Likewise, if the fundraiser called from Canterbury on behalf of the University of Kent, would our potential donor not expect to hear an English voice? While I see this as a question of authenticity, I may be naïve in my thinking. Fundraising has matured into a truly global profession with many institutions and charities seeking to recruit the best from around the world. My point is that we all know the success of peer-to-peer fundraising, and if the recipient of a call feels an affinity with the voice on the other end, are they not likely to be more favourably disposed to the caller?

What about on-line giving? Some 15% of private giving, according to Blackbaud, comes in via on-line donations.  Here, I think our Scottish fundraiser can appeal to Scots abroad, whereas our English fundraiser may find this more difficult.  A bit like allegiances to college rather than university, an on-line appeal in England must be more geographically targeted than in Scotland. So the Kent Air Ambulance Service is not likely to attract donations from Yorkshire or Lancashire, whereas the Scottish Air Ambulance Service will appeal to all Scots wherever they live – even if they don’t live in Scotland! I have been taken by the strength of the Scottish diaspora and the juxtaposition between global ambition, competition, and inclusion. On the one hand, Scots are encouraged to think and be global in their outlook but, equally, along with others, they were enticed back in 2014 to celebrate through over 1,000 events during the Year of Homecoming.

nfpSynergy keeps a careful eye on attitudes to giving with their annual Celtic Charity Awareness Monitor. In 2014, nfpSynergy posted an interesting blog about Scotland. While some findings were at odds with other research (e.g., decline in people saying they are giving, set against Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations research indicating that Scotland displayed the second highest proportion of givers and absolute amount of giving), the importance of the social welfare sector to Scotland and its inhabitants was striking, as was the loyalty in Scotland to overseas charities and causes.

In parallel to geographical differences, what can be said about political support? One only has to look at the agenda for ‘The Gathering’, the largest event in the UK for charities and social enterprises. The Gathering takes place in Glasgow on 17 and 18 February, and the First Minister will attend the opening breakfast session. Can you imagine a Prime Minister doing similar in, say, Manchester, if an equivalent event took place?

What else do we know? Across the UK, the average individual donation is approximately £14, whereas in Scotland, according to the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, it is a little higher at £16. Not only on average do Scots give more, but more of them give (61%, SCVO 2015). SCVO has identified that:

‘Only 100 (0.5%) charities operating in Scotland employ fundraising agencies. Similarly, only a small number of very large charities have the capacity and resources to engage street fundraisers (so-called ‘chuggers’) or telephone fundraisers. These often very high profile fundraising practices are both unpopular with the public and of concern to the charity sector itself due to the potential reputational risks and damage to trust. Clearly then, thousands of charities do carry out fundraising responsibly on a daily basis, without causing discomfort to donors’[2].

In conclusion, I would observe that there are indeed differences borne out, in this instance, of culture and population size. For example, when operating in England, a fundraiser may have to spend more time differentiating their cause depending on where they operate. While in Scotland, surprisingly, geography is less of an issue. It is, after all, a relatively small country. My experience working in Scotland is that the challenge is raising your cause above the caldron of causes chasing a smaller number of increasingly hard-pressed donors.

But ‘he didn’t mention independence’, I hear you cry! No, he didn’t.

[1] CAF Why We Give 2013

[2] SCVO August 2015

-Geoff Morris, Senior Counsel

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