Is charity fundraising just a walkover?
It may surprise you to know that I lead a double life. By day, I'm a consultant on marketing & fundraising issues to cultural organisations, but by night I'm a volunteer charity trustee. It's a privileged position as it gives me insights to situations as poacher and gamekeeper simultaneously, as many of my clients are registered charities. This is a very tough time to be working in the charity sector, particularly when involved in income generation, as the recession - or for some the fear of the impact of recession created by media reporting - bites.
Fundraising charities broadly receive their income from one of four sources: public sector support, trusts & foundations, companies, and individuals. Although Arts Council England has set up a specific fund to help arts companies through the recession, some other funders - local authorities, regional development agencies, etc. - have found themselves with dramatically-reduced resources and so have been forced to cut services and sector's support of charities has been cut back (or in many cases simply removed) and trusts and foundations have found their endowments somewhat shrunken in the face of Icelandic banking disasters and world economic turmoil. Fundraisers are now hoping that individuals will feel compelled to support projects close to their hearts - but wait, aren't these the very same individuals who are losing, or worried about losing, their jobs right now? That's right, it's the humble taxpayer who foots the bill. However, we are known as a supportive and generous nation when it comes to charity; as the phrase goes, charity begins at home and recent history seems to bear this out.
A few months ago I prophesised that this year's Comic Relief would break all records, despite the recession, and lo, it came to pass. (Sadly I can't do this with racing tips or Lottery numbers before you ask). This year's London Marathon looks like it will beat last year's fundraising figure of ÃÂ£46.7m; over ÃÂ£25m has been raised this year already on a single charity website. What's so inspiring about both of these situations is that people are doing something in exchange for money - perhaps something funny, or unexpected, or out of character - to encourage others to part with their hard-earned and well-guarded cash '. It's a psychological contract: you pay me to something that you wouldn't dream of doing, and in return a charity benefits. Simple? In principle, yes.
Until, that is, this particular gamekeeper volunteered to spend her holiday undertaking a 95-mile trek from Glasgow up the side of Loch Lomond and through Glencoe to the foot of Ben Nevis to raise money for mac's Building Appeal. I've always wanted to walk the West Highland Way but not being in possession of the most athletic build in the world, had parked that particular dream on the shelf marked "To be done in the future when I've lost several stone".
But the money to rebuild mac is not going to arrive without some effort, so it was time to dust down those walking boots and get in training. My Sherpa/husband has been on-hand to guide me through the seemingly-endless list of kit required (gaiters and Avon's Skin So Soft to ward off midges are the two crucial elements I now know) and devise new walks each weekend to build up stamina.
So it's D-Day minus 7, the final practice walk is done, and packing has commenced. Fundraisers often joke that there's nothing they wouldn't do if it would raise money, and I'm beginning to believe that's true. But Midlands Arts Centre is a Birmingham jewel: it's not often that I get so emotionally involved with a fundraising project, but this is my 'local'. Having spoken to hundreds of people in the course of the fundraising campaign, I know that mac has a special place in Brummies' hearts as generations of young (and not so young!) people have acted, danced, created, sung, watched and written, and had a thoroughly good time in the process. I'll need to keep that in mind over the 190,000 steps of the West Highland Way, but the best way would be to know that you are with me.
If you've ever visited mac - and over 10% of Birmingham's population does each year - please make a donation to their Building Appeal through www.justgiving.com/4mac and speed me on my walk.
I'll do the hard work if you help a Birmingham charity - do we have a deal?