Why the USA is the “lucky country” for face to face fundraising?

By Paul Tavatgis, PFFA Consultant

I’m an Australian, and there is a book that is famously misquoted here that calls Australia the “lucky country”, and except for the killer wildlife, most Australians would agree that we do have things pretty good. There are a group of people who would disagree though, these are the Non-Profits and Professional Fundraising Agencies that rely on face to face fundraising. In face-to-face fundraising – the lucky country is the USA.

So, what makes the USA lucky for face-to-face fundraising? There are a lot of positives:

1.  Large-scale face to face fundraising is relatively new to the US market. This means there is a huge opportunity for growth for Non-Profits looking to build a bigger sustainer base;

2.  There are a lot of very generous people in the US waiting to be asked to give by a face-to-face fundraiser. According to the 2018 Gallup World’s Most Generous Countries Report, the US is the third most generous country (after Indonesia and Australia), but of course there are 200 million working age people in the US to ask!

3.  The constraints on places to fundraise are still far lower in the US than in more developed markets such as the UK, Australia or New Zealand. There are more big cities with more street corners for fundraisers to stand on;

4.  Face-to-face fundraising has a good reputation with the public, media and government regulators;

5.  US Non-Profits have great programs, good reputations and really good cases for support from the public;

6.  Professional Fundraising Agencies in the US are generally high quality with good ethical and performance standards.

This is a wonderful situation and ask almost any Non-Profit in the UK, Australia or New Zealand if they are jealous of their US counterparts and they will (if they are being honest) say yes!

But is this really about luck? To use another widely misquoted saying: “The more I practice, the luckier I get.” The positive situation for face-to-face fundraising in the US is not an accident. For nearly five years there has been a group of people working their socks off to make sure that face to face fundraising in the US is well coordinated, and that high standards are maintained. This group is now the Professional Face-to-face Fundraising Association – the PFFA.

Through the PFFA, there have been meetings every three months of Non-Profits and Professional Fundraising Agencies which have worked to make sure that there are positive conditions for face-to-face fundraising. These conditions include: developing a Code of Conduct, resolving disagreements over the use of fundraising locations, and connecting organizations so that they can resolve their differences professionally.

Prevention Is Better Than Cure

Any doctor will tell you that it is much easier to prevent someone from getting sick than it is to cure someone who is already unwell. This is true in fundraising as well. It is much easier to maintain a good reputation than it is to fix a bad one, and reputational damage is disastrous for any organization trying to fundraise.

This is where the US is luckier than other face-to-face markets. In Australia there were fifteen years of damage to the reputation of face-to-face fundraising before Non-Profits and agencies acted. Fifteen years when the public, media and government regulators were forced to experience too many instances of poor behavior and falling standards from some face-to-face fundraisers. There are newspaper headlines, government inquiries, city bans and falling income levels to prove this.

Australia responded by forming the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association (PFRA), which allowed Australian Non-Profits to take responsibility and start to rebuild trust in face-to-face fundraising, but the PFRA’s job is to fix a situation which has already gone wrong – it’s working, but it’s not easy and will take some time.

There is a similar story to share from the UK. Both markets have seen real problems, and the collapse of major agencies as a result. Costs have risen, incomes have fallen, and reputations have been damaged.

If we want face-to-face in the US to grow in a way that benefits everyone: Non-Profits, their beneficiaries, donors, fundraising agencies and their fundraisers, everyone has to play their part. Non-Profits must take their own share of responsibility for this – and the best way to do this is by joining and supporting the PFFA.

So, US fundraisers – don’t be like Australia, don’t be like the UK! You have a wonderful opportunity to grow and to raise millions more dollars for your causes through face-to-face fundraising. But don’t assume that you have the great situation that you have now by luck – it is not – it is the result of hard work and cooperation by people who care. Be one of those organizations that cares and join the PFFA.

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