Further ways to strengthen fundraising self-regulation

Last week, I spoke about the challenges for the self-regulation of fundraising in the light of public concern about some fundraising tactics.

I don’t believe that the death of Olive Cooke was prompted by charities, but it has been clear in the public’s response that there is some unhappiness about some fundraising tactics.

You can read my speech here (PDF).

I argued that action was needed to strengthen the self-regulatory system of fundraising. It is not working in its current form.

So I welcome the Institute of Fundraising’s response today. It has announced reforms to its standards committee – the group which sets its code of practice. They will appoint an independent chair and increase the lay membership of the group.

This is an important move to help ensure the public’s voice is heard in setting fundraising standards. If the public’s experience of fundraising is negative, it will over time erode trust in charities, our most precious commodity.

Next steps for self-regulation

There remain some further issues to be addressed. Among them:

  1. Visibility and clarity: how do we further raise the profile of the self-regulatory system as a whole and make it clear where someone should go with a concern or complaint?
  2. Resources: the FRSB in particular needs greater capacity, particularly if we are to raise visibility of the system. The sector must work together to agree a way forward.
  3. Reach: it is incompatible with public confidence for the FRSB to adjudicate over only 1,800 of the UK’s 160,000 or so charities. This has to be widened. Either it must look at all charities, effectively abandoning a membership model, or we will need to implement a fundraising income threshold above which charities must be members of the FRSB or otherwise subject to it.
  4. Sanctions: the PFRA has demonstrated that a sanctions regime can be effective, both in terms of compliance and public confidence in the system. The FRSB needs a stronger hand on sanctions. We need agreement on what that stronger sanctions regime should look like.
  5. Moving beyond fundraisers: I appreciate that fundraisers are often unfairly having fingers pointed directly at them in this debate. They are tasked and overseen by chief executives and trustee boards. We need stronger guidance for boards and senior managers, with an emphasis on examples of good practice. In association with the Institute of Fundraising, Charity Finance Group and Charity Commission, we will consult NCVO members and produce guidelines to help fulfil this need.

Some of these questions present tough challenges, but we have no choice but to grasp the nettle if we are to secure long-term confidence in charities.


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Avatar photo Sir Stuart Etherington was chief executive of NCVO from 1994 to 2019.

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