Fundraising summit: common questions answered

The update on fundraising self-regulation on 4 December was attended by more than 100 people and watched on live stream by over 1,700. You can read a summary of who spoke and the topics they covered on my colleague Elizabeth’s blog.

We asked people to submit questions by email and Twitter using the hashtag #fundraisingreview. Here’s a round-up of the most common questions and the panel’s answers. Or you can watch the whole thing again at www.ncvo.org.uk/fundraisingreview.

1.  Given that we already have the Telephone Preference Service and Mail Preference Service, what will be the additional benefit of a Fundraising Preference Service?

The Fundraising Preference Service (FPS) was a recommendation of the review on fundraising self-regulation, intended to give people more control over the communications they receive.

George Kidd, who was announced as the chair of the working group set up to design how the FPS will work, said it would provide a ‘safe haven’ for people like Olive Cooke and Samuel Rae, who received dozens of approaches from charities every month. Rather than contact each charity individually, there needs to be an easy way to opt out of multiple fundraising asks.

Lord Grade, the chair of the new fundraising regulator, pointed out that charities don’t exist in a vacuum: the public are being bombarded by businesses selling double glazing and financial services, and many see charity cold calls and letters through the same lens. Charities don’t know whether their supporters are on the mailing lists of other organisations, and the cumulative effect of multiple approaches can lead to people feeling overwhelmed.

Rob Wilson, the minister for civil society, said he did not envisage the FPS becoming the default way in which people interact with charities and manage the communications they receive. It is charities’ responsibility to make sure that people don’t want to use the FPS in the first place because they value the contact they have.

2.  How can we protect the relationships charities have with existing donors if they register with the FPS? Will it apply to general newsletters that don’t have a fundraising ask?

The detail of the FPS will be considered by the working group. For many organisations, donors and beneficiaries are the same people, and the working group will have to consider the nuances of how that communication is managed. All members of the panel invited charities to engage with the working group to work out the detail of the service and make sure there are no unintended consequences for donors and charities. There’s more detail on how to do this in question six.

The minister reiterated comments he made during the Charities Bill debate that he would be happy to see more nuanced options in addition to a reset button and possible exemptions for small charities – but not if it made the service too complex or time-consuming to deliver.

3.  A change to an opt-in system of fundraising will inevitably lead to reduced income. Has there been consideration of the detrimental impact this will have on beneficiaries?

Lord Grade argued that it was an assumption that opt-in would lead to reduced income, but it would be foolish not to take into account the potential for lost revenue, so charities should model their revenue for next year based on conservative projections. However, this is a small price to pay in exchange for long-term, sustainable trust from the public. Lord Grade referred to changes to EU regulations on data protection, which are expected to be implemented in 2017, and argued that it would be good for charities to get ahead of the curve on tighter data protection rules.

4.  Given that the new regulator will have members join on a voluntary basis, how will it take action against non-members who are guilty of malpractice?

All charities have to be registered with the Charity Commission. If a particular charity repeatedly breaks the Code of Fundraising Practice, then the Fundraising Regulator will have the option of reporting them to the Charity Commission as this could be seen as a failure of governance. Lord Grade called the Charity Commission and the Information Commissioner a ‘statutory safety net’ which makes robust self-regulation possible. A charity not being registered with the Fundraising Regulator would not prevent it taking action.

5.  What will the FPS working group do?

The group will design the FPS in consultation with the voluntary sector. NCVO will continue to be involved and help facilitate the group’s progress.

6.  What are the next steps?

Sir Stuart outlined the next steps, all of which provide opportunities for charities to feed in their concerns and suggestions. The first step is to appoint an FPS working group, which will be chaired by George Kidd and aims to have a chief executive in place by Christmas. It’s important that charities engage with the working group to make sure the interests of the public and beneficiaries are represented. The next step is to participate in dialogue with the Information Commissioner to clarify rules on opt-in and cold communications. The final step will be the transfer of the Code of Fundraising Practice from the Institute of Fundraising to the Fundraising Regulator. The Review recommended that the Fundraising Regulator should be up and running by the end of 2016.

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Helen Raftery Helen was formerly the external relations trainee officer at NCVO, working on media and parliamentary affairs.

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