Why we’ve got to change the conversation about the Daily Mail and JustGiving (and everything else!)

James Gadsby Peet
Feb 9, 2017 · 7 min read

TL;DR — we can’t use logic and reason to argue against an illogical attack. We have to understand the emotional place where it comes from and possibly play by some rules we’re not that comfortable with.

If you’re in the charity sector you’ll have seen the Daily Mail’s latest article about JustGiving and the fees it charges. My immediate reaction, as with most in the sector, was to feel anger and a desire to explain why they are SO wrong. I want to tell people why it’s the same as criticising the Royal Mail for charging for a stamp when someone posts a charity cheque. Many of my fantastic colleagues have taken up this approach — Jo, Matty, JustGiving itself — I genuinely salute you.

However I don’t think this is the only approach we can take if you look at the long game they are playing.

I think the Daily Mail want to dismantle the UK’s professional charity sector.

They genuinely believe that the charity sector in the UK as we know it, needs to be taken apart. As professional fundraisers we couldn’t possibly subscribe to this view — but we should be able to understand and empathise with it.

Imagine if their views don’t come from a place of malice — they wholeheartedly think they are doing a good thing for society. Their readers want to get back to a time when charities were seen as being run by doddery old men or women, were frugal and didn’t raise enough money to make the huge impact in society that they do today.

Fewer people were free, the world was a more dangerous place and statistically we were all poorer — but this is about emotional perceptions and not facts.

If you haven’t seen it, there’s a fascinating video with a former undercover CIA agent — about the absolute belief that we all have of being the good guy:

In the Daily Mail’s case, this comes from the idea that for them, the future is unknown and the unknown is scary. They would rather retreat into what they already understand and do everything in their power to get back to. It’s a rose tinted vision of a past that never existed, but it doesn’t matter — they can’t imagine a clear enough version of the future to build their perceptions from.

This all includes a time when charity began and finished at home and where the fundraising profession was represented entirely by the church collection tin. Again — you don’t have to agree with this view point to understand it or potentially even empathise with it.

This group are called Settlers within the Values Modes framework. The other two groups being Prospectors and Pioneers. The three groups are roughly evenly split between the population in the UK. You can and should read more about these groups here.

The Daily Mail see this as a long term campaign.

Someone, somewhere in the Daily Mail offices has drawn up a map of the charity sector. On it, will be directors of fundraising, charity CEOs, fundraising departments and the tools which they use. They will see the whole thing as a campaign they are waging — with battles to be won and lost across the war.

They have had a huge amount of success in the last couple of years. Chalking up victories which see the ministers and bodies in charge of charity regulation, telling the sector that change is coming, no matter how painful that will be.

The narrative that the more we raise, the more goes to good causes has been completely lost. No one dares to speak about that — not even the bodies that represent our industry.

The latest article about JustGiving is just another attempt to draw fire onto a service on which the modern industry is no doubt dependent. I wonder what else is on that campaign map — Legacies, GiftAid, Payroll giving?

They don’t have to convince everyone to win the game.

Everybody gets more conservative as they get older. In the Values Modes framework that means people tend to move clockwise around the wheel you see above.

Assuming that 30–40% of the UK largely already sees their perspective, this means that they only need to get a relatively small number of people to move into their way of thinking to create a critical mass that will affect change.

On top of that, it’s not a level playing field in terms of decision making. It’s well known that governments of any kind swing towards keeping the older generations happy as they are more likely to vote, not to mention the tendencies of the right wing conservative government that we find ourselves in the grips of. As you are more likely to be a ‘Settler’ the older you are this starts to bring into focus why the Daily Mail carries so much weight within the halls of power.

With articles like this, they may elicit consternation and condemnation from the groups who don’t agree with them, but they don’t care. They are not looking to change the mind of the 30–40% who will never agree with them — they are simply looking to agitate and solidify the base that they already have, and grow it within the undecided middle.

They know that JustGiving is better than any other tool and makes financial sense for charities — they just don’t care

If the last year has taught us anything, it’s that facts don’t matter in the way that they may have once done. You don’t need to base your arguments in logic and proven critical analysis — a poorly attributed quote from a lay person is seen as equally valid as one from an expert, if not more so.

It’s for this reason that for all our well constructed explanations of why JustGiving is a tool which enhances charities, we are actually just adding to the fire which the DM is trying to stoke. To those that come from an entirely different context than us ‘so called’ experts it simply sounds like a flawed industry trying to defend the indefensible.

At best we are convincing those that already agree with us, and at worst we are pushing those that don’t even further away.

To win the middle ground we need to accept some of what people think

Whether we like it or not, the charity sector is not what a lot of people want it to be. I know that more money goes to good causes because of the work we do. But for many that’s an argument they can never believe, no matter how eloquently or simply it is presented to them.

If we want to push back the tide, we need to illustrate that we can at least understand, if not empathise with where people are coming from. We need to boil it down to one simple fact that can be repeated again and again and needs no prior context or understanding of the sector to appreciate.

In my opinion, the only argument we should be making about JustGiving is that it helps reduce the number of people that charities use in raising/administering funds.

Whilst debatable and not the whole picture, those aren’t the rules of the game we’re playing / fighting with the Daily Mail. We can talk about the ability of the platform to elicit greater levels of donations through its enhanced user experience, but that won’t convince the people that we need to be talking to. This simple line speaks to something that we know our proper target audience care about, and could get them to consider our perspective, even if just a little bit.

Should we be using outrage as an offensive weapon?

JustGiving’s response was commendable for how measured it was. They took a logical and smart line in the face of extreme provocation. It’s what we would teach our children to do and is the way that we should aspire to be. However, at this point in the fight, we might need to get our hands a bit dirtier than we are comfortable with.

The Daily Mail’s article is dripping with false outrage. As Matty has pointed out, they themselves have previously directed people to the service in their own campaigns. Is it counter productive for us to do the same?

Should our offensive line be in all our comments, that if it weren’t for the alleged tax dodging of people like the Daily Mail’s Jonathan Harmsworth, 4th Viscount Rothermere, we wouldn’t need such charity support in the UK? It’s personal, it’s political, it’s offensive, it’s not the whole picture — but does any of that matter?

I don’t know if I’d be comfortable with this — but others have done such a good job of using these tactics, we have to find a way that allows us to at least have our voices heard above the noise, as what we’re doing at the moment isn’t working.

This is just an idea — I would love to hear what other’s views are on how we can better succeed in the situation we find ourselves in…

These views are my own and not that of my employer.

William Joseph

We're a branding and digital agency. We help you excite new audiences, engage stakeholders, build loyalty and raise funds. www.williamjoseph.co.uk

James Gadsby Peet

Written by

Director of Digital at William Joseph — a creative agency. I’m always up for chatting about fun things and animated cat gifs www.williamjoseph.co.uk

William Joseph

We're a branding and digital agency. We help you excite new audiences, engage stakeholders, build loyalty and raise funds. www.williamjoseph.co.uk