Will C&RT ever have100,000 Friends?

May 2017 - Why do so few people want to be fee-paying 'friends' of the Canal & River Trust. Allan Richards looks at the continuing failure of the Trust to reach its target for 'friends'

Just two weeks before C&RT's fifth financial year end, one of its longest serving trustees, John Dodwell, confirmed that it still embraces its long-term target of 100,000 Friends – in effect regular donors - over ten years. ​

Speaking to the Staffs and Worcs Canal Society on March 13, he stated that the Trust had 'about 20,000 Friends' but failed to explain why this was some 2,500 less than the interim target published in its last annual report.

The maths are quite simple. To hit that target of 100,000 after ten years, the Trust needs to increase the number Friends recruited and retained by about 10,000 each year.

By now - the end of year five - they should have 50,000 Friends but have managed only 40 per cent of that figure (20,000). Worse still is C&RT's 2016/17 performance compared with the previous year.

Number of Active Friends at financial year end:

Year Active Growth
Target Friends Over

2013/14 5,541 -
2014/15 9,754 4,213
2015/16 15,800 6,146
2016/17 20,000 4,200

As can be seen from the numbers, growth in the number of Friends increased in 2015/16 but fell back last year. In effect this means that C&RT will show a substantial loss on charitable giving for the fifth year running.

Information published to date relates only to the first eight months of last financial year - April-November 2016). It shows voluntary income to be about half of that expected. What it does not show is how much expenditure exceeded that income!

However, what we do know is that, in 2015/16, it cost C&RT £1.44 for every £1 raised in donations and in its first four years it lost £4.1 million trying to attract donations.

It seems inevitable, when C&RT gets around to publishing its latest annual report, the cumulative losses will be around £5m.

The ability to raise funds via charitable donation is the main differentiator between Canal and River Trust and its predecessor, British Waterways. It's five-year failure to do so reflects badly on its trustees and directors as does its continued insistence on its long term target of 100,000 Friends, which is increasingly seen to be unrealistic.

Sophie Castell, the director responsible for fundraising, has suddenly left C&RT after just over a year in the role. Perhaps her £125,000 a year replacement will be more realistic.

Photos: (1st) in 2015-16 C&RT spent £3.6m to raise £2m, (2nd) Sophie Castell, the director responsible for fundraising, has suddenly left C&RT after just over a year in the role.

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