Some key questions for 2016…
If we looked back on the blogs and articles from last December and January with their predictions for the year to come, I wonder how many foresaw the events of 2015 and how the fallout and follow up would now be shaping our thoughts, work, and future plans.
But while any ‘what will the future look like’ pieces - including this one - will inevitably be held hostage to fortune, next year will see some pretty fundamental and important developments for anyone involved in fundraising. We might not know what the answers will be, but we do know what the questions are that will need answering:
1. What will the new fundraising regulator look like and how will it work?
We know Lord Michael Grade is the founding Chair, and Stephen Dunmore its Chief Executive. What will be the composition of the new Board? How will they get the balance between the necessary fundraising expertise, regulatory experience, legal knowledge, and both the donor and public voice embedded in their work? It’s vital that it works for the public by providing a robust and effective regulatory function that holds charities to account if rules are breached, and contributes to growing public trust and confidence in the charity sector. But it also is equally vital that it works for charities, and that they have confidence in its constitution, its working practices, its consultation and engagement with the sector, and by appropriately balancing the need of charities to fundraise with the rights and needs of the public.
2. How can we make sure this doesn’t all happen again?
It shouldn’t be undercover reporters exposing fundraising practices. Or that our national broadcaster feels it necessary to have an ‘opt out’ letter because they feel that their viewers are overwhelmed by fundraising. We need to get ahead of the curve. The current regulatory system was too reliant on waiting for complaints and then reacting. We need to be active, not reactive. We need more systematic and regular research alongside public polls and feedback mechanisms. Initiatives such as the Commission for the Donor Experience are welcome and all opportunities to check that we are properly understanding and mindful of how the public are responding to fundraising must be taken. It shouldn’t just be left up to the new Fundraising Regulator to get to grips with all this. The planned merger between the IoF and PFRA should create a single and stronger membership body for the fundraising sector which can establish a stronger and more comprehensive compliance function beyond door to door and street fundraising that can address any problems and raise standards across the board.
3. How will the Code of Fundraising Practice continue to develop and be adjudicated?
The Code of Fundraising Practice can never be a finished document; it will always be a work in progress as it responds to new developments (legal, technological) and is continually reviewed. For public confidence and trust to grow, the Code needs to be seen to be beyond reproach. But it is important that any amendments to the Code, or introduction of new standards, are fully informed by fundraising knowledge and expertise. This is equally true for the adjudication procedures and decision-making on any breaches that the new regulator establishes.
4. What will the Fundraising Preference Service actually be?
The FPS has probably generated more debate, opinion, and commentary than any other recommendation from Sir Stuart Etherington’s review, and it was noticeable that Lord Grade’s first action was to appoint George Kidd as Chair of a working group on implementing the FPS. It is clear that the intention, from both the new regulator and Rob Wilson, Minister for Civil Society, is for the fundraising regulator to establish the FPS. But there are some really fundamental issues to get to grips with: what does a ‘reset’ button mean? How does it relate to consent that an individual has given? What counts as a ‘fundraising communication’? Does it apply to all charities? It was reassuring to hear at the summit that both Lord Grade and George Kidd spoke about the need to engage charities and stakeholders in the project, and that they understood concerns of ‘unintended consequences’. However as this is taken forward, we will be ensuring that we ask and consult with our members and put your views, thoughts, and priorities.
5. How far will the new EU Regulation on Data Protection go?
Explicit consent? Does that mean that consent to contact donors has to be some form of ‘opt-in’? And what does ‘opt in’ actually mean in practice? What about consent that has been gathered previously and existing relationships? The detail of the new data protection regs will be really fundamental. It will set a new benchmark on consent and data protection across all industries and all EU countries. We’re likely to have the final agreed text soon...
6. What about donations and supporters?
Among all the reviews, the debate, the articles, the speeches…how has all of this affected supporters and levels of donations? Have people stopped giving to charity? Are donations going to fall? Will people change how they give? I guess we’ll have to see. Anecdotally we’ve heard different experiences, some charities have done less fundraising, some have seen a drop in acquisition and a rise in attrition, others are saying it’s pretty stable. Surveys and research at the end of the year have shown falls in public trust and confidence in charities. It will be fascinating to see what or if the impact has been on levels of giving.
I’m sure there will be more questions to consider, and other areas to look at over 2016. It may not be an easy year ahead, but the more we can work together, as a sector, to contribute to and engage with the changing environment that’s happening around us the better – and hopefully get to the right answers to some of these questions.