Ho Wai-chi, who has worked for different charities and is familiar with their management, says street fundraising is a kind of marketing activity. It requires an effective, systematic approach and understanding of the market. It is also a profession.
“Just taking a box on the street does not mean you can successfully raise money,” Ho says. Fundraisers must have knowledge and skills. For example, they should be able to provide basic information about the charity and answer questions from potential donors.
Ho points out a common misunderstanding about paid fundraisers. He says Hong Kong people
tend to think that charitable work should be done by volunteers rather than paid workers. However, he believes that charity does not mean “everything is free”. Fundraisers have professional knowledge and they need training, they also need to earn a living.
“People say there is no free lunch in the free market but they assume everyone doing voluntary work is providing free lunch.”
Another misconception is that it costs a lot to recruit fundraisers while using volunteers does not cost anything. Ho explains that using volunteers has invisible costs. For example, volunteers have full-time jobs but they sacrifice their work hours to help charities. If volunteers are suddenly unable to help, charities have to make alternative arrangements, which leads to higher costs.
Ho says recruiting paid street fundraisers has been proven to be cost efficient. An organisation spending a little money to employ a fundraiser can bring in long-term donations by monthly donors. The cost of recruitment is covered once donors keep up donations for three months or more.
Ho says keeping fundraisers motivated is important and using a bonus system gives employees an incentive. He disagrees with the widespread perception that it is “evil” to recruit paid volunteers. He says people have this idea because they only focus on the fact that more donations lead to higher earnings for fundraisers. They think the fundraisers are the ones who benefit the most.
“If fundraisers earn more, that means more people are willing to make more donations.” Ho believes people in need are the ones who benefit the most in the end, as they can get more help from charities.
But while Ho thinks the bonus system is necessary, he disagrees with making deductions in fundraisers’ salaries if they fail to meet quotas. “Measures to motivate fundraisers should not involve threatening them,” Ho says. “That will make fundraisers feel bad because they need to force donors to give more money.”
What charities need is motivated, well-trained staff with professional knowledge, and that includes their fundraisers. “Kind-heartedness alone cannot enable us to do what needs to be done…when handling the social problems we face today,” says Ho.
What charities need to do, he adds, is to explain to citizens why they need paid fundraisers while citizens need to be open-minded towards this practice. “You cannot completely depend on free things. The operation of society actually costs money.”