The time to reflect is over – now is the time to rebuild
Today’s much awaited report from the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Select Committee – which I have welcomed and consider to be very balanced - gives us all another chance to reflect on how our environment as fundraisers has changed over the last year.
While the report focuses on the unacceptable fundraising practices which were brought to light last year, and what action should be taken to make sure they do not happen again, it is also absolutely clear that these practices are not reflective of fundraising practices as a whole. The vast majority of fundraising across the UK, it says, is done to a very high standard. This is a tribute to the high standards of fundraising delivered by our members every day.
The report is also absolutely clear about the immense value of charitable activity to our society, recognising that none of this activity could take place without effective fundraising to generate the resources to sustain those activities. We all know that without fundraised income charities would be unable to seek cures for horrific diseases, provide support for older people or people nearing the ends of their lives, or respond effectively to emergencies here and abroad. The list goes on. Fundraising is the lifeblood of vital charitable activity here and abroad.
I also agree with the Select Committee that governance and values are key to ensuring the highest standards in fundraising. It is probably fair to say that many Trustees have, in the past, been more interested in the way their charitable services are delivered, than in how the money is raised to resource those services. This report sets out very clearly how that must change, and how charities need to fundraise in accordance with their values. I welcome that approach and I know many fundraisers will welcome better engagement from Trustees at the right level, not only in relation to effective governance, but also in relation to discussions about the proper strategic approach to fundraising for their charity.
In relation to their reflections on fundraising agencies, it is worth being absolutely clear: charities have always had the obligation to make sure the agencies working on their behalf are complying with the Code of Fundraising Practice. The examples from last year show not only that there was some poor practice in some agencies, but also that in some cases this clearly wasn’t being managed closely enough by some charities. The charities themselves have acknowledged that and have apologised for those failures. And I welcome the proposed legislation which makes it clear that Trustees must have oversight of the relationship between their charity and any agency working on their behalf.
I also agree with the Select Committee that this must include embedding the values of the charities within the agencies.
Having said that, let me be absolutely clear - the use of agencies in its own right is not a bad thing. Fundraising agencies, across many fields, have helped charities to increase their incomes in new and innovative ways for many years. They can also allow charities to work more effectively and efficiently, while minimising risks. The vital thing is for there to be a strong relationship between the charity and any agency working on its behalf, to ensure that the values of the charity, and the needs of donors, supporters and the general public, are reflected in all fundraising.
With those strong partnerships, charities and agencies will continue to work together to make the world a better place.
Finally, let me set out how we have taken strong and swift action in response to the practices which were exposed last year.
Firstly, we have strengthened the Code of Fundraising Practice, the rules that govern fundraising. Amongst other things:
- We have banned charities selling people’s details
- We have ensured every fundraising communication will have a clear and easy to way to opt-out of receiving future communications
- We are implementing a change to the Code that will ensure an individual’s data can only be shared if a supporter has given their express consent
Secondly, we are supporting the set-up of a new independent Fundraising Regulator, with stronger sanctions, to hold fundraisers to account when bad practice occurs.
Thirdly we are working with our members to help them comply with these higher fundraising standards.
Now that the Select Committee has reported, the Charities Bill is in its last phases within the Houses of Parliament, and the new Fundraising Regulator is in the process of being set up, I hope we can begin to rebuild trust and confidence in charity fundraising, and celebrate the truly great fundraising that is taking place across the UK each and every day - all contributing to making the world a better place.