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Charities happy to swallow pill of fund-raising regulation

25 September 2015


CALLS for tough new controls on how charities raise money from the public have been broadly welcomed by fund-raisers.

The proposals, which include the appointment of a regulator with strong powers to ensure that charities do not overstep the mark when seeking donations, were outlined in a Government-commissioned report, Regulating Fundraising for the Future, published this week. It came in the wake of mounting concerns about the aggressive tactics used to canvass public donations.

Tactics employed have ranged from “chugging” — approaching people in the street — to the sharing of lists of generous donors. Olive Cooke, aged 92, one of Britain’s oldest and longest-serving poppy sellers, took her own life this year (News, 22 May), after receiving up to 267 letters a month and regular cold-calls at her home in Bristol. (Her family subsequently said that charities were not to blame.)

While many charities have accepted the need for better regulation, one, the relatively small Leeds-based group Heart Research UK, accused them of giving the industry a bad name.

The charity’s national director, Barbara Harpham, said: “Charities like us are being tarred with the same brush as some of the larger, household-name charities. They use unacceptable, aggressive fund-raising tactics that have brought other charities into disrepute — something we do not deserve.

“We have never cold-called people, knocked on doors, or stopped anyone in the street. Like the majority of charities, we use other ways of fund-raising that instil confidence and trust and appreciate peoples’ support.”

The chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, Sir Stuart Etherington, who headed the review, said: “Some of the techniques used, or the manner in which they have been used, present a clear risk of damaging charities in the public eye.

“Despite this, we are clear that charities, and those working within them, have the best intentions. Unfortunately, good intentions are not always enough to avoid bad outcomes.”

The report finds the existing regulatory system, which is run through the Fund-raising Standards Board, “no longer fit for purpose”.

It says that the board should be replaced by a fund-raising regulator with powers to mount investigations and a wide range of sanctions, including naming and shaming, “cease and desist” orders, compulsory training, and even a ban from seeking donations while under investigation. Failure to comply could lead to referral to the Charity Commission, and the possibility of “draconian” punishments.

Sir Stuart said that the current system had failed to prevent “serious breaches of trust and widespread dissatisfaction”.

There was now a “pressing need” to restore public confidence. “Charities thought too much about the ends and not enough about the means. This has been a clear wake-up call, and now is the time to tighten the standards,” he said.

The review also called for the creation of a new “fund-raising-preference service”, enabling people to opt out of receiving fund-raising letters and phone calls from multiple charities without having to contact each one individually. It stopped short of recommending state regulation of fund-raising, however: it would cause as many problems as it solved.

The chief executive of Oxfam, Mark Goldring, said: “It is important that the regulation of fund-raising is strengthened to set out clear rules about what is and is not acceptable, to give the public confidence those rules will be followed and to ensure that all fund-raising organisations are subject to them.”

The chief executive of World Vision UK, Tim Pilkington, described the report as “a significant and vital review”.

“We fundamentally believe in building long-term and quality relationships with our supporters. We will be continuing to ensure that our own practices meet the highest standards, as expected by our supporters, and as set out in our fundraising strategy.”

The director of fund-raising and marketing for Embrace, a Christian charity working in the Middle East, Nigel Varndell, said: “Charities rely on public goodwill and generosity, and it is essential that we treat our supporters with respect and gratitude.”

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