Blog Archives

A rollicking MUST READ for charities, fundraisers and regulators.

Icon for Post #3467

Needless to say, we believe every word posted on the Hootville website is a gem to be read and treasured by our citizens. Then of course there are the genuine must-read items. This alarming piece of investigative journalism spotlighting America’s 50 worst charities is such an item and should be consumed by anyone who cares about fundraising and charities, those in the profession, serving on NFP boards or our new regulator the ACNC.

Rating Australian charities

Vital statistics, at donors' fingertips.

Sadly we didn’t write the article – the Tampa Bay Times in Florida did with the assistance of The Centre for Investigative Reporting. The paper has a pugnacious reputation and this multimedia extravaganza of data-driven journalism has award-winner written all over it.

Essentially America’s 50 worst charities have been named and shamed. These are ‘charities’ which raise much but donate little. They purport to represent all the right causes – sick kids, women with breast cancer and of course, this being America, police, fire and the military. Funds raised however, go mainly to the founders ands their kids, sons-in-law and best friends.

One note: when you read “solicitors” think fundraisers soliciting for donations by phone or mail not lawyersAnother note: this article is about downright corrupt, fraudulent charities – not merely the inept, lacklustre or meaningless.

It could never happen here – could it? Of course it could. And it does. The Australian Charities and Not-For-Profits Commission (ACNC) should read this to know how the bad guys operate.

Though this media project is laudable as hell and will have impact (mainly by giving prospective donors reasons to not give) America is already blessed with an ongoing non-profit organisation devoted to breaking down charities’ balance sheets and rating their effectiveness. It’s called Charity Navigator and it is astounding. We’ve raved about it here before.

America's worst charities

James T. Reynolds Sr does not come out of the article looking very good.

Six thousand charities are rated and compared against rigorous criteria: admin costs, debt levels, fundraising costs, CEO salaries. Solid apples-with-apples comparisons. The site trawls the financial returns and annual reports and breaks them down. The information is available quickly and simply 24 hours a day.

Charity Navigator does not just concentrate on weeding out totally dodgy operators – it’s mission is far broader and more valuable than that. It rates 6000 charities showing the mediocre as well as the mendacious. It is all about transparency and effectiveness.

For instance – imagine if we could compare every Australian charity in terms of the CEO’s salary as a percentage of total turnover. What an interesting reads that would make.

We desperately need something just like Charity Navigator here in Australia. Now. It would do more to educate and reassure the giving public and weed out the half-baked and ill-conceived than just about anything else, perhaps even the ACNC.

(Thanks to the ever on-line Roslyn Grundy for alerting us to the article.)


Tagged , , ,

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

Icon for Post #2235

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.

Tagged , , , ,