Fundraising Institute of Australia faces major media melee – updated March 9 and 11

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Update: March 11: A relatively tame sequel was published by Jonathan Marshall. Brett remained unquoted despit na chat with the journalist in question – proof positive that good media training can equal gaining coverage – or avoiding it. The article does provide one lesson though – media loves conflict. A story with two differing opinions has double the chance of running. If JM had not found a dissenting voice it’s doubtful that there woud have been a story.

Update March 9: Since the original post, the reporter behind the story Jonathan Marshall contacted Brett de Hoedt for comment. Brett being Brett gave comment. We’ll see what results this Sunday. We thinks JM found more controversy in other speakers.

Original post:

99% of nonprofit CEOs we’ve met fear an unscrupulous, unfair, unexpected media hikacking. Only 1% ever experience such a thing. One such CEO is Fundraising Institute of Australia’s Rob Edwards.

Donors portrayed as victims, fundraisers as perps.

The organisation he leads was roundly and royally done over by Jonathan Marshall of the Sunday Telegraph whose work is deliberately misleading and hurts anyone who raises money in Australia. Marshall; shame on you for so willingly taking comments out of context to mislead and panic your readers.

Read this story if you fundraise, lead any nonprofit or industry group. Then read our thoughts.

What is particularly galling is that Marshall knows very well how people of any industry joke among themselves. Would his News Limited colleagues jokingly wish that flagging circulation be boosted by a terrorist attack? Yep. Do they really wish it? No. Would their comments look bad in writing? Yep. Would it fair to print them? No. He’s treating his readers like idiots. Of course many of them are.

If you feel like responding Jonathan Marshall, feel free. We may even present your comments unedited and in context.

Jonathan is clearly on a roll – this is his “special investigation” from two weeks ago into face to face fundraisers.  (Hootville has worked on preparing F2F fundraisers for this sort of coverage before.)

Some unsolicited advice to FIA and nonprofits on facing such a crisis:

Decision #1: how do we respond to our members?

Do we write something on our website? eNewsletter? Twitter? Yes – all of the above and fast. Drop everything and handle this. Your Sunday tweet was great – open and communicative.

These communications channels can’t be suddenly ramped up. If you haven’t spent time and energy building up followers, fans and visitors you will be less effective.

Tell members and sympathisers to directly contact Marshall and his boss – not for the FIA’s sake, but for theirs. Not just electronically – calls are much more effective. Anyone have his direct numbers? Distribute them.


Decision #2; do we seek media coverage to respond?

Yep – and fast – with mature, fair media outlets with which you have existing relationships. Place trained spokespeople alongside experienced fundraisers and offer them to media. We recommend highly sympathetic fundraisers challenge the string of broad misconceptions in the article more so than the FIA brass. Don’t offer the session presenter mentioned in the story – offer Australians who raise money for kids, dogs and scholarships for a living. Again, it’s very late to find FIA members willing to join the fray now. Case studies and media talent need to be sorted before crisis hits. Media relationships cannot be forged now.

Also – get some elderly and “vulnerable” bequestors to address the condescending tone of the article. And PLEASE don’t tell us that you can’t arrange one such person due to privacy reasons. 


Decision#3 do we go legal?

It’s not often we recommend legal action but we do here. Start by contacting the newspaper’s editor but don’t expect any joy. Get your facts straight and your story sorted and try Media Watch, then the Press Council. Create some headaches for Marshall. Consult a solicitor for more serious action. 


Other responses:

We generally detest jointly signed letters but imagine how many charities – household names among them – could sign such a public document organised by the FIA? It needs to be deftly written and hastily assembled. One page, unapologetic and confident. Don’t go vanilla.

The nonprofit sector can only expect more of this in future. Aparently it’s OK for corporations to seek your money through any means possible in exchange for a bet on a horse, a bottle of beer, an ineffective health supplement, yet it is an outrage to encourage donations to charity.

Here’s something we all have to consider: in this lobbying age if authorities don’t fear you, they don’t listen to you. That’s why mining and gambling lobbies get precedence over animal welfare and foster carers groups. 

Be sure to leave at least Jonathan Marshall in no doubt as to his conduct by the end of the week or he will continue to make copy from your industry. He is already planning his next angle. Believe us – journos know which issues are likely to create the most post-publication feedback / headaches and self-censor accordingly. Be feared.


Hootville has published several articles in the FIA magazine, spoken at a handful of FIA functions (all for $0) and did some very minor paid consulting to FIA at six years and two CEOs ago. We ain’t on their books. We didn’t speak to the FIA before posting this and we doubt that Rob Edwards even knows who we are.

We don’t back up nonprofits without some thought. Frankly we know many that deserve a kick in the pants and then some. Our anger is not inspired by the attack on the FIA but on the damage this lazy, schlocky journalism will do to charities.

12 Responses to Fundraising Institute of Australia faces major media melee – updated March 9 and 11

  1. Ted Flack says:

    Whilst I agree that the Marshall’s article is both misleading and crass, it is important to note that members of FIA are members of a professional association that has codes and standards requiring members to use approppriate language when referring to donors and potential bequestors.

    The blame for this media disaster for FIA must be at least in some part shared by those members of the profession who used inappropriate language when publicly discussing donors and supporters of charities.

    • Louise Steer says:

      Thank you Ted for pointing this out. FIA has developed standards of fundraising practice to provide guidance re ethics and delivery in most kinds of fundraising, including bequests. FIA members are required to comply with them as a condition of membership and it is critical that FIA members make sure they are familiar with them. They were developed to help FIA members, not restrict or limit them, and are based on solid principles supported by AFP, IoF and the Australian government.

  2. John Coxon says:

    Ted Flack says it all. Why make comments in public that have potential to be exploited. It didn’t need an undercover journalist, in these days of instant blogging and twitter-by-iphone it just needed a single delegate to say something out of context and the outcome might have been the same.

    Nonprofits are not protected from attack by the media and they come under increasing scrutiny yet few executive teams have in place a strategy for working with media through a crisis. This can be compounded by a lack of understanding among many ageing executive teams as to the role and benefits of social media.

    If nonprofits fear for the impact of this story then they need to get out there and use all available means to tell potential donors about all the good outcomes they have achieved.

    Were 70,000 charitable organisations to spread one good news story in the next seven days then this journalists unbalanced version would be buried.

  3. Rosemary Lee says:

    I used to be a public relations person for the police so know a bit about unfair bias and dealing with it generally as in this case ignore it however, I would as a matter of absolute priority remove your reference to Telegraph readers being idiots as that is now putting your organisation at risk and it won’t be for anything to do with the issue you are concerned about but because of your lack of respect for readers of the Telegraph I hate to break this to you but Ray Martin has endorsed that newspaper so it may not have the lack of respect you are giving it and you could find youselves taking on some big names and a powerful empire.

    The public is going to make a decision itself about whether the charities they give to are ethical or not you just don’t want this issue staying in the spotlight for any longer and unfortunately the reality is that there are some dodgey charities out their so if they go hunting they will find them.

    So let the charities decide individually if they are going to respond your sole responsibility is to protect your organisation from any fall out not take on being the advocate for an industry.

    Hootville was not targetted nor even what it does so this is not your fight and you will loose a lot and not really help anyone by keeping it in the spotlight which any action you do will just cause to happen.

    As said we all read it is up to us to deal with it.

    They are hoping to get a bite better not give it to them.

    • Dee says:

      “…so this is not your fight…”

      I wager that all those disadvantaged people in our community who don’t have a voice or resources, and can’t take up the fight with government, circumstances or bullies are mightily pleased that those of us in the not-for-profit sector choose not to take on your world view, Rosemary, and instead regularly get involved in fights that ‘aren’t ours’.

      Great article, Brett. There are many of us in the industry who are tired of working hard to get good stories published about the important and under-funded work we do only to see this sort of dog-whistle pfaff given ample column inches.

      Come on Mr Marshall, we’re all VERY keen to hear your ethical, non-tricky approach to effective fundraising that doesn’t involve maintaining relationships (with those cynical and slick birthday cards…) and donor profiling (those poor billionaires, sitting on every charity’s mailing list, how do they cope?)…

      If journalists are genuine about exposing dishonesty in the industry, how about they find the real fraudsters, the real illegal behaviour (where’s the follow up on the hospital that released the donor records?) and write about that? Demonising standard practice through tricky, tabloid-style writing is not in anyone’s interest, let alone the public interest, and just makes our job meeting the vast service gaps for people in need even harder.

  4. Rochelle says:

    Thank you, Hootville, for writing this article! The only people who will be hurt by Marshall’s article are the struggling kids, homeless people, marginalised, the sick, the animals, the environment. It was unfair, biased, subjective and deliberately misleading.

  5. Duncan says:

    Ted, we all make comments in jest about our work, customers or supporters….however that doesn’t translate to what we believe or to something that is ‘on the record’.

    For those who want to make their voices heard:

    Jonathan Marshall
    phone: 0412 086 703
    Twitter: @jmarshalljourno

    I’ve had my say.

  6. Caitlin says:

    The offending article was such a major misrepresentation of the truth, it made for far better satire than journalism. Had it been written by The Onion, I’d have had a good laugh at the farcical wit.

  7. Melanie says:

    What fundraising, ethics and codes of conduct policies do NFPs have in place? And what checks and controls are in place in terms of who you contract to do work using your organisation’s name? The stakes are getting higher in NFP transparency and accountability. The letter with the stupid 5 cent piece stuck to it keeps arriving at my home, each time with a different chartys special “individual “appeal to me. Just plain dumb. We’re not selling roof tiles, and our good name is everything. Charity muggers are a public nuisance and a swindle in they keep a very large chunk without disclosing to the public. Thanks for raising the issue Hootville.

  8. Al McCartan says:

    I’d have to tackle this hairy subject from two sides.
    1`. As a child of charity (Barnardos),
    2. As a sometime donor.

    For the first 16 years of my life, I was reliant on charity and the folk who went about raising funds for these organisations – specifically, Bernardo. Wind back the hands of time to the fifties and beyond and glance at the Sunday Papers – Tele, Mirror and Sun/Herald. Here I can only speak for NSW. Reading the back pages and society columns, I was always interested to see how Mr X or lady B – from Point Piper and similar affluent locales, did their bit for Charity X,Y, Z and were prominent on the X,Y,Z Committee. I thought to join the Barnardo Younger Set when I left school and went out into the big, wide world. WRONG.. Methought they were peers helping out poor old Barardos. They were not; but boy, oh, boy, wonderful junior high society trainees. I was dealing with the sons and daughters of prominent Sydney and some country society – GPS students and the like. Me, a wannabee copy boy stood no chance. “…but, my deah, you are Barnardos, we help unfortunates like you. Could you organise a charity ball, polo afternoon, and do you have the ear of Sydney’s A-list. I think not,”: gushed one young deb. .

    Fast forward 56 years. Charity has come forward and now, thank goodness the practitioners are professional and staffed by folk such as a former radio colleague (no name, no pack drill) and her peers., I’m pleased about that. What does irk me, is the mercenary way some charities go about getting funds. Homes on The Coast, cars etc. Great! I’m not against that – but a $500k home and/or car would feed our own homeless and disadvantaged for a good while. There are some fantastic charities – Starlight, Legacy, St Vinnies et al who have great team members.. We Aussies are discerning enough to sort out the sheep from the spongers; but it took a maybe, a tongue-in-cheek article to bring it out. Right or wrong, the story did awaken us – but like all others, as news comes to the fore, the story will be soon forgotten. Enuff sed..

  9. Rosemary Lee says:

    I would really urge Hootville to stay out of this because of its ability to have a greater effect in other areas and also that to keep the issue in the media spotlight will not do anyone any good.

    As I said people will work it out for themselves they do not need to be told what to think and I truly doubt any real damage has been done to the NFP sector by this article. People will continue giving to their chosen charities because they believe in them and their cause they will have done any diligence they feel was required before making that decision and with the new goverment agency overseeing this sector it will soon be revealed by an independent third party how hard we all work and how we all scrutinise our spending and practicises etc.

    The best thing you can do is let this article fade from people’s memory and the issue let it become yesterday’s fish n chips wrapper.

    People will believe what they want to believe irrespective of what anyone says they will look for practical proof and not for people saying that it is not so.

    Truly if I thought letter writing or advocacy would assist I would be the first to do so but I think we will only do further damage by keeping this issue in the spotlight rather than focusing on maintaining our good and ethical work so that becomes the irrefutable proof.


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