Fundraising expertise must be at the heart of self-regulation

Fundraising expertise must be at the heart of self-regulation

Peter Lewis | 30 November 2015

The long-awaited summit on fundraising self-regulation is now only days away.

Sir Stuart Etherington’s report, Regulating Fundraising for the Future, set out a road map: the establishment of a new, more effective, regulator with universal reach across the sector and ability to use stronger sanctions on charities breaching fundraising standards – all things that our members told us that they wanted, and that we pushed for in our submissions to the review. 

Indeed, a significant number of our large charity members have already signalled their commitment to assisting with the establishment and funding of the new regulator, demonstrating their commitment to stamping out bad practice.

At the same time, in the two months since the report came out there has also been a huge amount of discussion and debate over the recommendations and what they will mean in practice. With colleagues I’ve been around the UK at events and conferences, talking to members and hearing their views, thoughts, and concerns. What will be the make-up of the board of the new regulator? How will the proposed Fundraising Practice Committee and Complaints Committee work? How much will the levy be? What is really being proposed by a ‘Fundraising Preference Service’? Never has it been truer that the devil really is in the detail.

We now have a very senior public figure appointed to lead the Fundraising Regulator, I warmly welcome Lord Grade’s appointment. There are 5 key challenges that I believe will be vital for the success of the new Fundraising Regulator.

1. Inspire the public’s trust and confidence

The fundraising community needs the new regulator to inspire the public’s trust and confidence in fundraising. Crucially it must be able to act swiftly and powerfully when necessary to stamp out bad practice, and reassure the public that it, the regulator, is in control. In that way, charities will be able to move on quickly, and continue to raise vital funds for important causes here and abroad, without the damaging context of poor practice hanging over us.

To underpin this public trust, the regulator must ensure that it consults widely with the public and the sector, and gives due consideration to all evidence presented to it before making any decisions. The decisions themselves must be made in an open and transparent manner.


2. Be independent

The Minister for Civil Society has had an important role in driving change so far and in appointing Lord Grade as the founding Chair of the new regulator. The new regulator now needs to take charge, demonstrate its independence from Government, and set up a regulator for fundraising of which the whole charity sector can be proud.

At the same time it also needs to demonstrate its independence from the fundraising community itself, and show it is not afraid to hold fundraising organisations to account when it makes mistakes.


3. Embed fundraising expertise at the heart of the new regulator

Successful self-regulatory systems are built on the expertise and knowledge of the professionals in the sector which ensures that they fully understand the organisations and practices they seek to regulate. 

The success of the new regulator will in part rest on fundraising expertise being formally represented in the Board of the new regulator, the Fundraising Practice Committee and the Adjudication Committee. It is also important that fundraising expertise is included within the staff team, working alongside other professionals with legal, regulatory and consumer experience. 

In all its work, whether setting the Code or adjudicating against fundraising practice, the fundraising community will need the regulator to be able to show clearly and transparently how and why it has come to its conclusions. 


4. Clearly show how the regulator works for the needs of donors, the public, charities and beneficiaries

The fundraising community need particular reassurance at the moment that specific initiatives, such as the proposed Fundraising Preference Service and move to Opt-in, will work effectively for charities, fundraisers and beneficiaries, as well as for donors and the public. Our members understand how important it is to fundraise in a way that is open, honest and respectful of donor preferences, but a single “reset” button for all fundraising communications would not meet this test.  Nor is it likely to meet the needs or desires of the public who wish to continue to hear from charities they genuinely support.  

One of the trickiest issues here is how the regulator can ensure the voices of beneficiaries are heard, and many in the sector will be watching the regulator’s approach with interest. 


5. Recognise the needs of the full range of fundraising organisations

The fundraising community in the UK comprises organisations of all shapes, sizes and geographic remits, in different countries within the UK, with different devolved powers and legal systems, from international NGOs to small local charities; universities, theatres, hospitals, schools, museums, sports clubs, to name a few.

To be successful the new regulator will need to be able to respond to that complexity, work with partners and stakeholders across the UK as appropriate and at all times take a proportionate and balanced approach.  Working with colleagues to agree how the new structures might work in the devolved nations is an immediate issue for the new regulator to address.

Ensuring that the new regulatory system works for and is supported by all those it reaches – the public, donors, charities and beneficiaries – is essential for its success.  I look forward to the Institute playing its part in making sure it is.

There are fundamental questions of how can fundraising be sustainable for the future, protecting vulnerable people, but enabling successful relationship to develop with supporters.

Join us at the IoF Future of Fundraising Regulation series of events, taking place in London, Belfast and Cardiff, the first of which starts in London on 18th April.


Jonathan Parris | 1 December 2015

The devolved nations are only one priority - perhaps we should concentrate on getting one of the nations working first?

Demonstrating how the proposed FPS and opt-in will sensibly work for the beneficiaries we all serve, for the 'not-yet giving' public, for the 'never giving' public and for the 'might give if you ask me' public, not forgetting the 'already giving' public. Now that is one mighty balancing act if unintended consequences are to be avoided on all fronts.

One thing worse than the current situation would be a spectacular and very public failure of a rushed new regulator. Failure could come in may guises, and of course failure is not an option. Taking a little more time than the proposed very brave timeframe would be my first recommendation.

Richard Spencer, The Commission on the Donor Experience | 2 December 2015


A timely manifesto and a very useful and practical simplification of quite a complex set of challenges.

I believe there is a common thread that runs through all of the challenges you outline - and it relates to what we measure and by implication what we value as important.

We could value opt-ins as important or return on investment or independence. These are useful indicators and metrics (when used appropriately).

However, in my view, and I would say this, there is insufficient focus on valuing the experience of the donor and on understanding their needs and their relationship with charities. When we value this and measure this, hold ourselves to account and benchmark ourselves against a standard, we give ourselves the strongest chance of coming through this with a stronger civil society - capable of doing more good.

After all, the voices we have heard belong to those amazing people who give voluntarily to charity. So let's listen some more.

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