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To start with the disclaimer: some charities in the UK fundraise excellently and honestly engage their donors; to get on with the article, most of them don’t.

Talk of a fundraising regulator is a distraction against a much bigger problem we have in the field in the UK – that we need to start educating donors about the complexity of our work. Every absent malaria net or failed student represents a break down of relationships or policy. Sometimes both. Not just a missing fiver.

The relationship between those looking for money and those who give it, is under strain. It’s under strain because it’s built on common distrust.

The condescending individual/organisation making a donation worries that inefficient charities put all their money in this thing called ‘Overheads’. They don’t like helping ‘Overheads’, they like helping kids. So the charity stops being an organisation that thinks, reacts and engages communities, stops understanding that relationships are at the heart of everything and engaging government as part of long term solutions – and repositions itself as an organisation that ‘fixes’ people for a price.

So we as charities condescend them back. These are not people we’re talking to, they are ‘Donors’, who couldn’t possibly get the complications of what we do. So instead we sell the idea that we work in these mythical lands called ‘Deprived Communities’ or ‘Developing Countries’ where one pill, programme or building is all that life needs. Everyone in the sector knows that £2 a month does not ‘save’ anyone any more than £100,000 a year does. It doesn’t mean the money is less important, it’s just that life is just as complicated and even in the land of ‘Deprived Communities’, people don’t flick between ‘broken’ and ‘fixed’ based on a direct debit or stuffed gala envelope. And yet we tell them what they need to hear to write their reports or regale their dinner parties.

This non-malicious mutual simplification works for both sides. Until, of course, someone starts getting inundated with emails, direct mail, meetings and phone calls all trying to save the kid/class/country for the same amount of money.

All of a sudden light shines on the fact that your £5 text donation is not £5 because that’s the amount needed, it’s because that’s the amount we think you’ll give. Your £5,000 is not what the charity needs, it’s the maximum that ‘Donors’ in your postcode tend to give. Our materials tell you you’re making a difference, but our strategy undermines that.

So regulate, don’t regulate – but if we want to build giving over the next 10 years it’s going to take a new, more honest, more complex relationship with donors, not just less spam.

This article was originally published with Third Sector magazine at http://www.thirdsector.co.uk/online-comment-charities-need-honest-relationship-donors-says-jake-hayman/fundraising/article/1368430