If the new Fundraising Regulator is bent on imposing damaging and impractical rules, David Pearce argues that its charities’ duty to walk away from self-regulation
When he made his first appearance in his new role as chair of the Fundraising Regulator at the summit organised by NCVO in December, Lord Grade told his audience that he expected that many new ideas would be “batted around” over the coming months.
“However there will be no sympathy from the new regulator for those who wish to row back on the Etherington review. That won’t wash. That ship has sailed.”
If the good ship ‘self’-regulation has such a fixed course, it should not surprise Lord Grade if charities start asking themselves ‘is it time to jump ship?’
The destination the new regulator is fixed on, which includes a fundraising preference service (FPS), is expected to be reached when the new regime is up and running at the end of 2016. I don’t need to repeat what a minefield implementing the FPS will be, but it is worth reminding ourselves that the sector has constructively engaged with this issue. Fundraisers have asked the question, what could make it work? Only to have those views dismissed out of hand, with a worrying lack of evidence to support what is proposed, simply because the FPS is a “ministerial condition” of the Etherington review. How is that ‘self’-regulation?
There is no doubt fundraising regulation must improve – although it is now clear Olive Cooke’s death was not due to fundraising it did highlight where a minority of charities had got things wrong. However, nothing about the well documented issues with some fundraising justifies the FPS. It’s not just charities who think that, a leading group of MPs has come to a similar conclusion and the Information Commissioner has said it would “lead to greater confusion when we actually need clarity”.
The FPS will do little to protect vulnerable people
It is the duty of every fundraiser to protect vulnerable people, but the FPS can achieve little in that regard when vulnerable people remain open to the aggressive practices of some companies which it will be powerless to prevent
The FPS is the right sort of idea applied incorrectly – it needs to cross sectors if it is to truly protect vulnerable people. This means taking time to get regulation right and not just focusing on one sector that, on the whole, stands up for and supports vulnerable people in society. The charity sector remains socially useful and the public recognise that.
Safeguarding fundraising – oppose the FPS because it’s a tax on giving
It is our duty to safeguard the great British tradition of raising money, bringing people together and doing good work. It’s a tradition personified by Olive Cooke, who “believed that charities are the backbone to our communities, that they can be the scaffolding for us in our times of crisis. She believed that charities give us support, hope and courage when we need it the most”.
Olive Cooke’s legacy is one of volunteering and fundraising and giving. We need to protect those as much as we need to protect vulnerable people. We need to safeguard fundraising and that means opposing the FPS and, if needs be, walking away from the proposed ‘self’-regulation.
I don’t make this suggestion lightly. I understand that sometimes it is better to influence what is on the table than oppose it in its entirety but, with mere lip service paid to concerns over the FPS, it makes sense to push back and take the risks involved in full statutory regulation. At least then there will be a parliamentary process to engage in. Of course that is hard to predict, but I would rather take our chances if there is a possibility, as has happened recently, that the Government would consider backing down. If ministers where able to impose conditions on to the Etherington review, then let’s hear them make that case in public.
The Government wants all the control of statutory regulation but none of the cost, so the only lever we have left is the purse strings. If charities walk away from ‘self’-regulation there is no money to pay for it. If the sector accepts a levy on charities that fundraise to pay for what looks like an increasingly expensive regulator, then we are complicit in the creation of a tax on giving. This tax on giving will do very little to protect vulnerable people but it will undermine the great British fundraising tradition that Olive Cooke represented – it’s our duty to walk away from anything that undermines that.
- David Pearce is director of fundraising and marketing at the campaign for Dignity in Dying, writing in a personal capacity.