If we want beneficiaries to have a voice, fundraisers need to start thinking of themselves as accountable to the people their charity helps, not those who give them money.
Charities talk a good game about giving more voice to their beneficiaries. But for the most part, that’s all it is – talk.
There was more talk of this kind at the International Fundraising Congress this year. During a closed session, some senior fundraiser or other (Chatham House Rule, so no names) declared that INGOs needed to move to a system of “direct democracy” by beneficiaries.
Were it to happen, such a move would completely upend charities’ traditional programme delivery and governance model. But before it could happen, there would need to be a complete change of mindset among many in the charity sector, including a lot – maybe most – fundraisers.
By calling for direct democracy by beneficiaries, the fundraiser at IFC is talking about a different model of accountability to beneficiaries. Accountability, in a nutshell, means ensuring you do what you say you are going to do and if you do not, explaining why not to some person or group charged with representing that stakeholder group’s interests.
Beneficiaries are only one of a charity’s stakeholders, and while it really ought to be obvious that they are the most important stakeholder, they are far from the most powerful. That ‘privilege’ falls to donors. And because donors of all stripes – major, individual, statutory and institutional – hold most power, it is they who demand, and receive, greatest accountability.
Many fundraisers are proud of the levels of accountability they accord their donors. Yet some also deny that they owe any degree of accountability, including a moral accountability, to their beneficiaries (I’ve been party to these discussions).
The new charity code of ethics proposed by NCVO earlier this year – billed as the charity sector’s Nolan Principles – literally states that charities should put “beneficiaries first”: “The interests of the people [charities] work for should be at the heart of everything they do.”
One fundraiser on the website the Critical Fundraising Forum said being beneficiary centred was fine for charities generally, but fundraising was a “different story”, because fundraisers focused on donors.
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Source: Thrid Sector