The PFRA's new chief executive sets out its changing focus as a regulator and says that protecting the role of street fundraising is paramount
Sally de la Bedoyere, the new chief executive of the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association, is under no illusion about the task she faces. "It is not easy, but I've never taken jobs that are easy," she says.
She joins the PFRA at a time when face-to-face street fundraising has again come under fire from the media and there is increasing pressure to drive up standards and improve regulation.
Her varied career includes stints in marketing and newspapers, including five years as managing director of the London Evening Standard newspaper. "I've worked in organisations that needed to bring together stakeholders with a lot of views and I have managed change under quite a lot of criticism from the media and the public," she says.
Her main aim in the new job is to improve the public's perception of street fundraising, which was covered in some detail by Lord Hodgson's recent review of the Charities Act 2006. His top line was the need to address the "confused self-regulatory landscape" of fundraising and agree a division of responsibilities that provides clarity and removes duplication.
"The confusion is in the public eye," de la Bedoyere says. "Who do they see as the ones really sorting out problems and complaints? Different bodies have different roles. We have to clarify some of the functionality."
She is considering whether to move the PFRA's role in handling public complaints about face-to-face fundraising to the Fundraising Standards Board, which already oversees complaints about all other types of fundraising.
This would signal a change in direction for the PFRA, which has previously said it does not believe the landscape is confused or that there is any duplication. Her stance has been welcomed as "encouraging" by the FRSB and as "sensible" by the Institute of Fundraising.
De la Bedoyere has already met her counterparts at the FRSB, the institute and the Charity Retail Association, and she says there will soon be a meeting at the Charity Commission of the standing committee of sector umbrella bodies and the FRSB. This was recommended by Hodgson and is intended to drive forward changes on regulation and licensing.
Meanwhile, she seems to be smoothing over cracks that appeared in the PFRA's relationship with the IoF after the association was left out of a summit, organised by the institute, to talk about the future of street fundraising. That came after The Sunday Telegraph printed allegations about agency fundraisers breaching laws and regulations governing face-to-face, leading to a fresh wave of comment against so-called 'chuggers'.
"I think it is a difficult area to tackle," she says. "Media perceptions have been very negative and have not necessarily reflected reality. I do think trustees, chief executives and directors of fundraising need to stand up and be accountable and transparent about the investment that goes into fundraising."
From her previous job at the RSPCA, de la Bedoyere knows the importance to charities of face-to-face income. "I think the role here is to protect and promote face-to-face fundraising to ensure its sustainability," she says. "But I don't think it is our role to be a public advocate. We are here to protect and promote, and we do that through a regulatory process because that is what will give it legitimacy."
To that end, she wants to expand the PFRA's role in allocating sites and working out site-management agreements with local authorities, and to widen its regulatory presence to doorstep collections.
Lord Hodgson backed the PFRA's role in site-management agreements to the extent that he said local authorities should be encouraged to rely on self-regulation; but he also recommended that face-to-face collections should be brought into the licensing regime.
De la Bedoyere is to appear before the Commons Public Administration Select Committee in October to put forward the PFRA's case on licensing before the government responds to the Hodgson recommendations by the end of the year. The PFRA is set to sign its 50th site-management agreement and is beginning to win round sceptics, including Newcastle and Northampton local authorities.
"If councils have to issue licences, this will need legislation, which is why Hodgson recommended that they take the approach we've adopted," she says. "We think accelerating site-management agreements is the route to go down. What is not known is whether they will pursue statutory legislation."
Since joining the PFRA, de la Bedoyere says she is subconsciously watching out for fundraisers breaking the rules. And while she says she talks to a lot of street fundraisers, she is yet to be moved into signing up.
2012: Chief executive, Public Fundraising Regulatory Association
2010: Director of income generation, RSPCA
2004: Chief executive, Radio Joint Audience Research
1999: Managing director, London Evening Standard, Associated Newspapers