The value of Values

21 August 2017 | By Cause4 staff

It is not surprising that public trust in charities reached an all-time low in 2016. High-profile cases such as the death of Olive Cooke, the financial collapse of Kids Company and the reported misspending of donations became fodder for scandalous, exposing headlines throughout 2015. As such, fundraising and management strategies across the whole charity sector were thrust into the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.

In response, The Charity Commission established the Fundraising Regulator and the Fundraising Preference Service to crack down on charities acting out of line. This has been seen to rebuild public support, which was back on the rise in 2017. However, by concentrating resources on these bureaucratic regulations and Return on Investment, some charities seem to have lost sight of the very foundations of the charity sector. Values have always set the charity sector apart and are critical in translating public trust into actual donations but, in an analysis of 50 of the top 100 UK charities, 28% didn’t explicitly talk about their values.

Meanwhile, businesses are learning from the charity sector, emphasising their social utility and accountability to attract customers and investors. Epitomising this, Innocent Smoothies’ annual Big Knit visually incorporates ethical values into their brand to sell more smoothies. The rise in such “caring capitalism” means consumers are increasingly disposed to buying-into brands, embodying particular values with every pound that they part with.

The success of value-led models in the private sector should be a wake-up call to charities, who are already encouraged to think like businesses do. To effectively inspire loyalty, it is high time charities reprioritised communicating their values to the public, attending to the following areas in particular:

Selecting values

As 25% of charities have either “passionate” or “committed” in their value statements, these generic terms are redundant and lack impact. Meanwhile, abstract terms such as ‘dignity’ and ‘hope’, are difficult to translate into demonstrable behaviours. Charities should be brave, take a stand for a singular cause and select values which can guide actual policy decisions. This process should be well-considered, with The Cass Centre for Charity Effectiveness recommending a six-month testing period prior to going public.

Direct communication

Once set, these values should unify direct communications with supporters. Instead of ring-fencing supporters into marathon-runners OR campaigners OR financial-supporters, communications from the fundraising, policy, and campaign team should speak with one voice in order to tap into the potential lifetime value of each supporter.

Practicing what you preach

Finally, internal governance structures must commit to these selected values. Restless Development’s commitment to Youth Empowerment extends to its governance, with the voices of young trustees, professionals and community leaders directing strategy.

Critically, if employees and volunteers at all levels embody a charity’s spirit, perhaps anxieties over stringent Fundraising Regulations could be eased. For example, at the RNLI, it is not only the lifeboat crews that display “Selfless, Dependable, Trustworthy and Courageous” qualities. Inhouse Face-to-Face fundraisers are taught these values alongside fundraising regulations, and are encouraged regularly through the summer season to demonstrate these values in their day-to-day conduct. As the first impression of the charity for many beach-users, these fundraisers exhibit the charity’s ethos, inspiring thousands of new donors and maintaining the RNLI’s strong reputation year after year.

If policy teams, fundraisers and Trustees truly embody their charity’s values, strategic decisions will reflect these morals. Value-led strategies have the potential to prioritise responsible fundraising and management that already fit the Fundraising Regulator’s guidelines. By emphasising their convictions, charities simultaneously appease the regulatory board whilst, thanks to caring capitalism, communicate with the public on terms that they are well-versed in via their engagement with socially-responsible brands. It is my hope that these renewed convictions will rebuild public trust in charities more effectively than regulation can achieve and secure the reputation of the charity sector for years to come.

Do you agree? We’d love to hear. Comment below or Tweet us @OfficialCause4!

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