January 19th, 2011

Is there such a thing as morality when fundraising?

For those of you that follow the not for profit sector you will more than likely be aware of the news today that a leading UK charity has accepted an “undisclosed” donation from a large Japanese tobacco company.

Leonard Cheshire is a leading charity focusing on the struggles faced by those suffering from disabilities. They have selected Japan Tobacco International (JTI) as a corporate partner and have since taken what is thought to be a sizeable donation from them.

The partnership, disclosed within their annual report is a five year agreement to fund Leonard Cheshire’s IT programme.   The company Japan Tobacco International is one of the largest in the world boasting big name brands such as Camel and Benson & Hedges.

Of most concern to me is the nature of such a partnership. These agreements usually involve advertising on both sides. The whole benefit of corporate social responsibility to a private concern is the image it portrays. It show’s a company is willing to help with social change and supports the projects that affect their target communities, in a nutshell it is good PR. So it makes the giant cigarette company look good, but in my view, is incredibly detrimental to the image of the charity accepting such funds.

There is no doubt that the agreement will bring in thousands of pounds worth of income to Leonard Cheshire, which will undoubtedly benefit their long and short term goals. But should the third sector, especially those within the health field, be taking donations from such organisations? And is there such a thing as morality when considering fundraising strategy and partnerships?

We have to face it within the not for profit sector, over the coming years there is going to be less and less funding and more competition for it. With the public sector, which sustains many projects up and down the country facing some of the biggest cuts ever seen, it is inevitable that some of these projects are going to be dropped and will be forced to source private funding to continue their work.  With the increasing competitiveness when seeking grants, charities are having to be clever in the way they are approaching that sensitive issue of funding, with corporate social responsibility being high on a lot of charity agendas.

With that in mind, and being someone that works a lot with charity funding I can understand the concern charities are feeling at the moment. But does that give organisations a free leash to seek funding from companies that in a sense, promote the opposite of what they stand for?

I think within the not for profit sector we have to be more morally accountable and continue to promote good, healthy causes on all levels. While funding drives the projects that make charities such unique organisations I feel we are looked upon with greater scrutiny when it comes to Social responsibility and it is our duty, as promoters of health and improved quality of life to not forsake our moral responsibility for the sake of funding.

With a diverse board with creative ideas, it is perfectly achievable for charities to build a dynamic fundraising strategy and still achieve all they want to achieve, without forgetting the social responsibility we have to maintain in the public eye. Partnerships such as this I feel can be damaging to the credibility of the charity sector and can mislead the public’s perception of not for profits. But with many a charity in the UK concerned about the state of funding, are more going to turn to the companies that cause many of the problems we battle against?