The truth about the donor who was “hounded to death” by fundraisers

If you’re a fundraiser in the UK, you certainly remember the tragic story of Olive Cooke, the 93-year-old lady who took her own life, reportedly because she was “hounded to death” by fundraisers.

Olivecookepaper

That’s not what happened. She struggled with depression and declining health. She was a generous donor, but there was no indication that she was being “hounded” by charities, or that she took her life to get away from all the appeals she was getting.

It was a terrible lie. A slander against fundraisers. And against Olive Cooke.

But the UK press ran with the killed-by-fundraisers story. So did politicians, and this led to changes in the law that have, in some cases, throttled fundraising in the UK. (I originally blogged about this story here.)

Here’s an update. A BBC Radio 4 program called The Corrections: Olive the Poppy Seller.

The program is about how journalists and politicians use standard narratives in sometimes dishonest ways to “improve” their stories — or further their political goals.

The most chilling moment is when one of the politicians responsible for the attack on fundraising casually admits that he knew the story he was telling about Olive Cooke was not true, but that he went with it as a way of accomplishing his political goals.

This type of lie should be a career-ending scandal for the politicians and journalists who did it. But it isn’t.

It could happen anywhere.

The best defense may be a good offense. We should be telling our own (true) stories about what charitable giving does for donors — how it enriches their lives and empowers them. How fundraising, even though some may find it annoying, is a force for good in the world and in the lives of the wonderful donors who make it all work.


Comments

2 responses to “The truth about the donor who was “hounded to death” by fundraisers”

  1. Thanks for sharing. I never understood why the IOF didn’t stand up for fundraising at the time but instead just let these types of accusations go completely un-challenged. Very weak.

  2. Thanks for sharing. I never understood why the IOF didn’t stand up for fundraising at the time but instead just let these types of accusations go completely un-challenged. Very weak.

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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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