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July 31, 2013

Look after your friends

With the news that charitable donations have dropped 20% in the past year, competition across the professional fundraisers is going to become fierce. The mega sized ‘corporate’ charities will no doubt deploy in ever greater numbers their armies of ‘chuggers’ in pursuit of our signatures on their direct debit forms, but what of the wee guys?  A small charity in Easterhouse which celebrates its 25th anniversary next year, puts its longevity down to a very different approach towards fundraising.


Bob Holman, The Guardian, 24th July

National charities may raise money by employing “chuggers” who cajole passersby to sign direct debit forms. The only individual contact that follows is when the charities send them information and appeals for more money.

In Glasgow, Family Action in Rogerfield and Easterhouse (Fare) – founded by residents in 1989 – does it differently. Local staff provide services for families and youngsters. It has grown from one small room to a large building. Grants have been essential, while gifts from individuals have been a lifeline.

From the start, I wrote a few articles in the Guardian that mentioned Fare, and often spoke at meetings. I never asked for money, but some of those who listened indicated a desire to give. The numbers grew and now stand at 105 (individuals or couples), not counting eight who have died and five who dropped out. I call them Friends of Fare.

Why have they lasted so long? The main explanation is that the contact is personal. I nearly always reply by hand. At our annual camp, a postcard tells the Friends how things are going. The content of our letters has widened from Fare news to politics, the garden and grandchildren. Personal troubles get voiced.

Illnesses and deaths occur. Two women lost their husbands over Christmas. Another wrote that her husband had had a stroke just as she suffered two fractures in her spine. And still they have time for Fare. One man, knowing his illness was terminal, sent us a substantial sum. Likewise, a middle-aged woman with cancer sent money and asked that her name be remembered at camp. We have a camp trophy in her name.

Apart from the personal nature of the contact, why do the Friends support Fare? They say that they prefer to give to a neighbourhood project rather than a national one and also that they know exactly where their money is going.

In 24 years, the Friends have donated nearly £150,000. None are wealthy. Some send their heating allowance; others give more. One shared a small legacy with Fare. One of our oldest Friends instructed her daughters to give to us instead of birthday and Christmas presents to herself. Another knits beautiful baby clothes. These gifts have been lifesaving. In Fare’s second year we almost ran out of money and it was the Friends’ generosity that enabled us to survive. Once we moved into a building, we attracted grants. But the Friends remained important because their gifts were not tied to specific objectives.

Now Fare endures austerity. Glasgow city council has slashed our grant. Some parents can no longer afford £140 for camp. We have halved the fee. Much of the residue is coming from the Friends. They are vital. I have now met more than half the Friends. Unlike those recruited by “chuggers”, they are more than financial units. Not all donate money, but they give encouragement and advice. Fare is a long-term project fortunate to have long-term Friends.