After a tough year for charities, Barclays Smart Giving guide calls on donors to ask more questions – and calls on charities to come up with better answers. Barclays’ Emma Turner suggests this new engagement should work for both sides.

Emma Turner is head of the Client Philanthropy Service for Barclays Wealth and Investment Management, which is dedicated to offering clients a safe and rewarding passage through their “philanthropic journey”, should they wish to make one. After a bumpy year for charities, with the sector suffering serious reputational damage, Turner and her team have released a new Smart Giving guide, which looks at issues around security and data protection and describes how to review charities for “road worthiness”.

This is the second Smart Giving guide. Why the need for a new one?

We did the first one two years ago which covers a different set of things to think about so you could call this a supplementary guide. It was born out of the fact that, last year, you couldn’t open a newspaper without seeing something negative about the charitable sector, whether that was CEO pay, doorstoppers, chuggers or Kid’s Company. There was a lot of coverage about what I would call less-than-perfect fund-raising practices. And it made me realise that even if a donor is giving a relatively small amount of money to a charity – and we pitched this at £100 donation or above – there is a responsibility for him or her to check that the charity is, if nothing else, roadworthy.

There is both a right and a responsibility to ask how your money will be spent. Does the charity publish details of its funding and how it is applied? Is it well run? Does it have good financial management? Can it show its funders what impact it is having?

We use the analogy in the guide that lots of people buy a first car for their kids. They wouldn’t dream of taking that car out of the garage without checking that it is registered with the DVLA, that it has got an MOT, that it has four wheels. But we don’t do that with charities. We are incredibly trusting. And I’m not saying that there is any reason for us not to trust, but I think that some charities are more fit for purpose than others.

The guide also talks about security and data protection.

Yes. I know people who have texted a £10 donation to a charity and then have had 20 phone calls. You don’t always want that. Sometimes you give money and you move on. It is a bit like when you buy some linen and you suddenly end up with marketing material from five other household companies: you realise that your data has been sold on. That is what charities have been doing as part of their fundraising. And I think it is important that people realise that they have a choice. They can say, “I don’t want to be on anyone's list”. But you don’t think of charities doing that.

Putting a more positive spin on it perhaps, is it that people want a more active engagement with charities now anyway?

Well, depending on your level of giving, I think you should have a relationship with that charity. I think it is good for both of you. I think it is important that donors understand their charities and charities understand their donors. You have to decide what level of relationship you want to have: is it an e-mail relationship, a phone-call relationship, a letter-writing relationship? Whatever, I think that it has to be a two-way street. And I think it has been a bit of a one-way street – you know, “We are the charity, give us the money.” But actually what I think people are realising, particularly if they are going to engage over the longer term and give a lot of money to, is that it needs to go both ways.

I often say to charities that they need to be the John Lewis of charities, never knowingly undersold, so that people can say, “I’m going to come to you first before I go anywhere else”. You want to be the charity of choice for someone and that requires effort on your part to engage with people. Once you have got them, there is no reason for them to leave you.

I don’t want people to be weary or wary of giving. I want people to enjoy it. So if by asking two simple questions of an organisation, donors absolutely know that the charity is fine to give the money to, it should hopefully incentivise people to do it more.

If you want to see more about our Philanthropy Service – including a soft copy of the guide – click here or speak to your Private Banker.