Ronan Ryan, Head of Fundraising at the Irish Red Cross
Ronan Ryan, Head of Fundraising at the Irish Red Cross
According to an article in the Evening Echo (April 12th 2012), Churches in Cork are to ask parishioners if they want to ban church gate collections as there is a feeling that parishioners are “feeling harassed”. Cork charities are appealing strongly to parishioners to ‘vote no’ when asked. Two things strike me. One; it is actually a smart move of the hierarchy involved to ask parishioners directly. It is a strong communications message from an organisation that is not renowned for taking on board others’ opinions on how they should conduct their business. It also cleverly takes the Church out of the firing line of any decision – ‘we asked the people, and the people have spoken’. But the real story here is theory of ‘harassment’. People are feeling ‘harassed’ as they walk into mass. Now this may be true, but the problem is ‘feeling harassed’ is an incredibly subjective experience and somebody reporting it second-hand is not the same as someone saying “I feel harassed”. The latter statement lets you engage in dialogue – allows you adjust your behaviour as a fundraiser – allows you to take the person into account as a human being. The former is a rhetorical device that kills the debate. You cant’ get to the bottom of it as you are not talking directly to the individual concerned. This is akin to the debate on ‘chuggers’ (a derogatory term used to describe charity fundraisers that I personally find de humanizing and factually untrue – it derives from charity muggers). It excites very high feelings. Many people hate it. Yet many don’t mind it at all. And generally I find those with the strongest opinions against it are those least likely to give to charity. There seems to be a direct relationship. Try it next time someone gives out about being asked for money or a direct debit. Ask them if they actually honestly, really honestly, give to charity regularly. I care deeply about people, as do all fundraisers I know. I’m happy to ask and be asked to support causes that really matter. I am also happy to say no. But I’ve observed that many people feel guilty saying no, or don’t feel comfortable with this, so would prefer not to feel it, and blame the fundraiser for their experience. Folks, the bad news is – that the fundraiser didn’t cause your guilt. The good news is that there is any easy way to get rid of it. Just give. Note added April 23rd 2012: I wanted to follow up this post with two clarifications that have arisen in response to a few comments I’ve had about the post. The first is that emphasise that I am in no way having a go at the Church or local clergy in particular. As I said in the post, I think they have done exactly the right thing. If people are reporting feeling harassed as they come to mass, asking parishioners for their views is brave, transparent and commendable. The second is that I did not have individual or part of the country in mind when commenting on reports of people feeling harassed. The blog post is a response to a conversation going on on the Facebook page of the Evening Echo, and since then the Irish Independent. So, I am addressing a comment one hears frequently as a fundraiser from people who are not comfortable for various reasons with fundraising. It is one I have heard many times from different people. What I haven’t heard is someone sticking up for the fundraisers! All opinions are my own, Ronan