How does CARE really do fundraising? Ask the Chief Exec!

Laurie Lee
Laurie Lee (left) with other members of the street fundraising team

You’ve probably heard about the ‘mystery shopper’ who finds out how well customers are really being served. Well, how about the ‘mystery chief executive’ who finds out how CARE is really doing fundraising?

Laurie Lee, Chief Executive of CARE International UK, writes:

Earlier this year, I spent a week with our direct marketing team, learning more about our fundraising from individuals. Charity fundraising has come under intense media scrutiny in the last two years. I wanted to see how the team was coping with that, and also to be able to better explain to others how we fundraise ethically, by seeing it up close and by doing it.

I also wanted to see, hear and feel what questions members of the public had about charities, development, and CARE. Corruption? Overhead costs? Effectiveness? Salaries?

Answering questions from supporters

First off, I joined Caroline and Maria in the supporter care team (what a great name for a team in CARE!). I answered a few phone calls from supporters. One person had changed their mind about a direct debit they’d just started. Another just wanted to correct the amount from £1,323 a month to £3 a month. I refused to change it. (Just joking – of course I didn’t!) 

Maria and I answered a few emails from supporters. I responded to a couple of Facebook posts and enjoyed responding to a tweet about Ride London – which I took part in to fundraise for CARE – from a team of three who had also ridden for CARE. And in between responding to enquiries, I wrote a few thank you cards for a handful of regular CARE supporters.

Thanking our supporters

The next day, I spent a couple of hours telephoning regular givers, one-off cash supporters and Lendwithcare angels to say thank you. I called 31 supporters and got through to nine. I left a voicemail saying thank you for most of those I couldn’t speak to. Everyone I did speak to was very nice, and happy to be supporting CARE. Some were quite busy and I just said thanks. Others were happy to talk for a few minutes.

They were generally happy at the level of contact and updates they get from us. Water (through Walk In Her Shoes), refugees, Syria and Yemen were mentioned as reasons why people had started supporting CARE. Everyone said they were planning to continue supporting CARE. One person was very keen that our food aid was vegetarian. I explained that emergency food aid is generally high calorie carb and cereal, but that otherwise we want people to choose for themselves what they normally eat.

Meeting new supporters on the street

[Note added May 2017: As of July 2017, CARE will no longer carry out street or door-to-door fundraising. For more information, see our How we fundraise page.]

Finally, I spent some time with one of our street fundraising agencies. I met the team in their little office in Bethnal Green, London. The team I met consisted of two permanent staff, Ciaran and Saf; and three students working their holidays, Ellie, Jane and Katy. We had a very interesting briefing/prep session, where we each talked about what aspects of CARE’s work we were most passionate about. I was really impressed by how knowledgeably and passionately they could all talk about CARE. We talked about all of these issues: 

Then we went to Farringdon and did some face-to-face street fundraising. I assumed the hardest thing was to get people to stop long enough to even talk about one of those things. The team said yes! They all had their ways of doing it but as far as I could tell it boiled down to having lots of energy, passion, humour and smiles.

Speaking to people about CARE

I think I had five main conversations.

Two people were very sympathetic to the issues we work on but really weren’t sure that giving to charity was the right solution. Where did the money really go? I tried to show them by giving examples. Wasn’t it more important what governments do? Yes, and being able to demonstrate that the public donate to and support our work gives us legitimacy when we seek to lobby those governments.

I spoke to two office workers who were very supportive of the issues as well but said that they already supported British Red Cross, and I said they were great too.

One man seemed to come from Asia and we talked a bit about Bangladesh. In the end he said he was too poor at the moment, supporting his family, but might support a charity in the future.

Signing someone up!

Then just as we were finishing, I helped a woman work out the best way from Farringdon to Cannon Street and then she asked what I was doing, so I cheated a bit and told her I was the CEO of CARE and learning about fundraising. She’d heard of us, and seemed to think that it was good I was out in the street and so she signed up for a £15 monthly gift. Which was a relief as apparently the other five got 15 sign-ups between them!

It was a very interesting morning. I didn’t get anyone nasty or the hardest questions which I know come up sometimes. But I got some of the very reasonable questions people ask.

Overall I thought it was hard work. I was so impressed by how well and passionately the fundraisers were able to talk about CARE’s work, and how much energy they have.

Most of all, I came away from these experiences confident that our fundraisers are doing things the right way – and even more impressed by the genuine, heartfelt support that so many people give to CARE. So, thank you to CARE’s fundraising teams for the work you do – and thank you to all CARE’s supporters, for the crucial support you give to our poverty-fighting work around the world!

Laurie Lee's picture

Laurie Lee is Chief Executive of CARE International UK – Read his blog posts on our Insights policy and practice website