I had a very strange phone conversation the other day with somebody representing a well-known national charity that I (a) am a member of and (b) have volunteered for quite extensively in the past. But rather than securing my further support for the charity’s activities, this particular conversation has made me wonder whether I really want anything to do with them at all.
It was clear from the off that the lady on the phone was calling from a telephone fundraising agency, not least because I have in the past received calls on behalf of two other charities from the same number. So it was with an air of resignation that I answered the phone (otherwise they just keep ringing…) and confirmed that it was indeed me.
The lady launched immediately into a rather stilted speech (I’m guessing it was a new campaign, so she hadn’t quite got into the groove yet) about the work the charity does and how it is currently trying to influence legislation and generally make the world a better place. I knew all of this, anyway, so listened vaguely while tapping away at my computer.
It struck me that this spiel was taking quite some time, but I was in no hurry as I had a cup of tea in front of me and no great desire to get back to doing some actual work. But after about four minutes of her speaking non-stop, I started to wonder when she was going to get around to what she had actually called to ask.
And then it came.
“So, would you be prepared to set up a direct debit payment for, say, £10 a month?” she enquired.
“No”, I replied. And waited.
There was a rather long pause, presumably as she scrolled down to the ‘how do deal with miserable, tight-fisted gits’ section of the screen in front of her.
“OK, no problem,” she continued eventually. “Obviously, we don’t have details of people’s individual financial circumstances available when we call.” I didn’t bother to explain that it wasn’t that I didn’t have £10 a month, but that I didn’t just hand over my money to anyone who calls up and asks for it.
The lady was, however, undeterred. She launched into a detailed advertisement for the charity’s befriending scheme, which helps vulnerable people by pairing them up with a volunteer, who can help them to get out and about. All very interesting, but having given fundraising talks about this particular charity for over two years, I was pretty familiar with what it does.
Clearly taking the fact that I was still on the line as a sign of interest, rather than as a sign that I was reading the BBC science news and had forgotten that I was even holding my phone to my ear, she thought she’d have another bash.
“So how about £8 a month?”
I could see that this was potentially going to be a very long phone call, at the end of which I’d end up setting up a direct debit for 15p and a button, so I decided to knock things on the head.
“Look,” I said. “I appreciate that you’re probably phoning from an agency, so my beef isn’t with you. But, to be honest, I really resent you calling me asking for money. I’ve been a member of this charity for some years and have given up quite a lot of my own time to raise funds on its behalf. So I find the fact that you are calling me to ask for yet more cash insulting in the extreme.”
To her credit, she recognised that she was on a loser here. She confirmed that she was calling from an agency and that the charity had provided them with a list of people to call. I reiterated that I wasn’t angry at her, but rather with the charity itself. She thanked me for my time and we both hung up to get on with our respective days.
Now, I appreciate that charities are having a tough time of it at the moment. But when did they adopt such a money-grabbing attitude? What makes them think that, just because I’ve donated money in the past or done something else to get involved, I want to set up a direct debit to give them even more from now until eternity?
And this organisation isn’t the only culprit. I get a call each year from another well-known charity about its annual coffee morning campaign (you can probably guess the one I mean). And each time, they refer to a coffee morning that I ‘recently’ held on their behalf and ask if I’d be interested in organising another one this year. But it wasn’t recent. It was ten years ago!
I’m guessing there is research that shows it’s more cost-effective to approach previous donors and get them to give more, than to convince new people to hand over their hard-earned cash. But it just seems so ungrateful and… well… rude.
So to all charities out there who might be thinking about calling me, writing to me, stopping me in the street or knocking on my door and asking for money: I’m not an idiot. I know that charities do valuable work and am keen to support them where I can. But I will choose which charities I support, how I support them and when I support them. Don’t call me, I’ll call you.