The tragic death of Olive Cooke — and the even more tragic aftermath

Olivecookepaper

Olive Cooke, 92, was found dead by police in Bristol, England, on May 6. She’d taken her own life.

By all accounts, she was a wonderful person. She was the UK’s oldest poppy seller; she volunteered in that time-honored fundraiser for The Royal British Legion, an organization that serves military veterans, since 1938.

A couple of other things you should know about Olive Cooke:


  • She suffered from depression and other health problems.
  • She was an extremely generous donor to a number of charities.

So far, this is just a heart-breaking story about one woman’s tragic struggle with depression.

But something happened after Olive’s death that raises it to an even greater tragedy, something that will likely lead to a lot more suffering and even death in the coming years.

The UK press learned about her charitable giving. She was giving regular gifts via direct debit (EFT) to a lot of charities. And she got a lot of direct mail and telephone fundraising. The press connected that with her suicide and assumed there was a causal relationship between them. Yep, junk mail killed her. Look at some of the headlines:


  • Olive Cooke was hounded to death by charity because of her kindness
  • REVEALED ‘She’d had enough’
    How UK’s oldest poppy seller was HOUNDED to death by charities
  • Olive Cooke: U.K’s Oldest Poppy Seller Jumps To Her Death After Being Hounded By Charity Cold-Callers And Begging Letters

It goes on and on. A cacophony of hysteria about how fundraisers cruelly hounded this kind woman to her death.

It’s not true.

There’s no evidence that the volume of fundraising she received by mail and phone contributed to her suicide. In fact, those who knew her best — her family — made it very clear that there was no connection.

Her granddaughter Jessica Dunne said Olive left the family “a beautiful note” explaining the reasons for her death, which were connected to depression and issues around being elderly, and made no mention of charities:

“Nan would have wanted the work of charities to be promoted. It brought her great comfort to know she could help make a difference in a person’s life by donating to charities and by her own charity work.

Nan was not a victim. She did suffer with depression, but on the whole she was a happy soul. She was a brave and courageous woman throughout life, and courageous when deciding to end her life.

These comments are not being reported by most of the UK press, which is mainly focused on a sensational narrative about how evil fundraising is, and how something must be done about it — in Olive Cooke’s name!

It’s quite likely something will be done about it. Politicians are promising their best efforts to regulate the asking. Will the regulations be harmful? We’ll see.

But worse than that, in the offices of charities all over the UK, they are asking themselves how they can either avoid hounding another Olive Cooke to death, or avoid being seen as hounds. Some are already cutting back on effective channels of fundraising, and that means less charity will happen in the UK.

Which compounds the tragedy of Olive Cooke’s death.

The problem could easily spread beyond the UK. When the press and opinion-makers grab onto a narrative — even one that’s a lie from the pit of hell like this one — it doesn’t quickly fade away.

I know almost nothing about Olive Cooke and her life. But I’ll guess something about her charitable giving: It may have been one of her great joys, not something that drove her to despair. Most donors love to give, because it empowers them, gives them a sense of connection, fills them with joy.

So I have a suggestion: Let’s honor the life of Olive Cooke by not playing along with the “hounded to death” narrative. Let’s keep reaching out to those heroic donors.

I know there’s a lot of crappy fundraising out there that spews irrelevant fundraising at the best donors. I wish they’d get their act together and practice donor-focused fundraising. That works better than the old “churn and burn” strategy that produces oceans of low-relevance, low-value messages. And it would honor Olive Cooke even more.

Olive, if there are blogs in Heaven and you’re reading this, thank you for your kindness and good deeds. We’ll do our best to keep up the work that funds the good causes that you care about.

Olivecooke

Read also The sickening spectacle surrounding the death of Olive Cooke.


Comments

2 responses to “The tragic death of Olive Cooke — and the even more tragic aftermath”

  1. This needed to be said Jeff. And I, for one, am glad that you are the one who said it. Thanks — Lisa

  2. This needed to be said Jeff. And I, for one, am glad that you are the one who said it. Thanks — Lisa

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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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