As Goes Face-to-Face Giving, So Goes Fundraising?

© Jenner – Fotolia
In the U.K., face-to-face fundraising, often nicknamed “F2F” or “chugging” (short for “charity mugging”), is at the forefront of a national debate over fundraising ethics that has led to dramatic changes in the country’s charity regulations. However, according to veteran fundraiser Ian MacQuillin, there is more at stake in this debate than the question of whether canvassers should be allowed to approach pedestrians in public spaces. MacQuillin argues that the fate of face-to-face fundraising is a bellwether for the future of fundraising itself.

“Philosophically speaking, if F2F falls, then all fundraising falls,” MacQuillin wrote in his March 2014 opinion piece for the website U.K. Fundraising (“What I really think about ‘chuggers’“). “F2F stands on the literal and metaphorical front line.”

MacQuillin, a lecturer in fundraising and marketing at the University of Plymouth’s Hartsook Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy and the director of Rogare, the university’s fundraising think tank, bases his argument on the premise that street fundraising differs from other forms of fundraising only in degree. Like all fundraising, face-to-face costs money to undertake, has a break-even point, suffers attrition, enters prospects’ personal space and challenges them to do something, and can elicit negative feelings in prospects. “If you object to any of these for F2F,” he writes, “you must necessarily hold these views for all fundraising.”

Since writing his article, MacQuillin has seen anti-F2F sentiment growing slowly but steadily not only in the U.K. but also in New Zealand and even in the United States, where nonprofits and fundraising agencies are attempting to develop standards for the self-regulation of F2F to forestall drastic U.K.-style government intervention. Nonprofits have to convince the giving public, the media, elected officials and some fundraisers as well that strict regulation of one form of fundraising represents the first step down a very slippery slope leading to protections against other forms of fundraising as the definition of what people find intrusive or invasive broadens.

At the heart of the issue is not whether donors have a right not to be confronted with appeals to conscience, MacQuillin argues, but whether beneficiaries have the right to the help they need. Rogare recently addressed the tension between what donors want and what fundraisers do in its new white paper, Rights Stuff: Fundraising’s Ethics Gap and a New Theory of Fundraising Ethics, released in September 2016. The white paper proposes a new definition of fundraising ethics that includes the beneficiary in the giving equation: “Fundraising is ethical when it balances the duty of fundraisers to solicit support on behalf of their beneficiaries with the right of donors not to be subjected to undue pressure to donate.”

“Donors are means to an end, not the end itself,” MacQuillin explains. “Fundraising is a resource transfer from the donor to the beneficiary. Feeling good about the transfer is a byproduct, but it’s not necessarily the point.”

This post was adapted from “Power Tools: How Monthly Peer-to-Peer, and Face-to-Face Programs Can Be Powerful Tools in Your Fundraising Tool Kit,” by Paul Lagasse, Advancing Philanthropy, Winter 2017 (reprinted with permission). You can read the whole article here.