BUSE COMMISSION REPORT: Buse opts for independent board

Emma Maier

An independent board should be set up to oversee voluntary sector fundraising practices and adjudicate on any complaints against specific charities, according to the Buse Report.

The new body, which would be known as the Charitable Fundraising Standards Board, would monitor charities' compliance with an agreed generic code setting out fundraising standards and best practice. Charities would sign up to the code, known as a public promise or donor's charter, through one of three sponsor umbrella bodies, and would show their commitment to the scheme by displaying a specially designed kite-mark or logo.

The proposals form the basis of a recommended framework for the self-regulation of charitable fundraising put forward by the Buse Commission, the working group set up by the Institute of Fundraising last summer, and headed by Rodney Buse, chairman of the voluntary sector's Quality Task Standards Group (Third Sector, 11 June).

The commission was established in response to the Government's 2002 Strategy Unit report Private Action, Public Benefit, which recommended that a self-regulatory scheme be created to encourage good practice and bolster public trust and confidence in charities and fundraising organisations.

The new system suggested by the Buse Commission is based on the Office of Fair Trading's self-regulation framework for small businesses, and follows a consultation with the sector last September, and, in the main, reflects the views submitted by respondents.

The public promise would be based on existing codes, such as the Institute of Fundraising's Donor's Charter and the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association's guidelines, a suggestion welcomed by most respondents.

The board would have the power to issue public judgements and fines and would also be able to remove sponsor bodies whose members do not reach the standard. Respondents to the initial Buse Commission consultation also felt strongly that the board should be able to take a proactive approach rather than relying solely on a complaints process, and this has been taken on board.

A budget of £1m-£2m would be needed to publicise the scheme, but the commission says costs could be kept down by running a joint campaign with Guidestar UK, the Home Office-backed website being set up to provide easy public access to information about charities' accounts and activities.

The commission recommends that the Government should bear the full first year costs of establishing the framework, estimated at £300,000. However, it also suggests that the Government's contribution should reduce over time and that the sector should take on the ongoing costs.

This recommendation will be unpopular as most respondents to the consultation felt the project should be entirely government-funded. However, the commission maintains that by contributing, the sector will maintain ownership. The average cost per charity is expected to be £35 per year.

A three-month consultation now follows. For more information, see www.busecommission.org.uk

BUSE IN BRIEF

- The Office of Fair Trading self-regulatory framework should form the basis for the voluntary sector model

- The voluntary sector framework should be headed by one single oversight body, to be called the Charitable Fundraising Standards Board - The CFSB would be made up of three independent members (the National Consumer Council, the Consumer's Association and Citizens Advice) and three sponsor/partner organisations (the Institute of Fundraising, the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association and one other)

- Organisations should be encouraged to join the self-regulatory body though membership of the sponsoring bodies, and to sign up to existing or developing codes of practice

- Targets should be set for developing membership, for example an agreed proportion of the top-500 fundraising charities

- A kite-mark should be developed for use by scheme members

- At the centre of the self-regulatory system should be one single document containing all codes of practice, similar to the way that the Sorp captures accounting standards - The document should include a single generic promise to the public (perhaps in the form of a donor's charter)

- If all codes cannot be contained in a single document, they should be presented in a consistent manner

- All codes should make a clear complaint procedure available to donors

- Trustees and CEOs of member organisations should sign an annual statement to demonstrate their commitment to the codes of practice

- The CFSB would supervise quality control, and adjudicate on complaints with reference to the 'donor's charter'. Decisions, fines and reprimands should be made public

- Government should meet the full cost in the first year (£300,000)

- Government's contribution should decrease by £30,000 a year thereafter, with an ongoing minimum contribution of £100,000 per year

- Once the regulatory system is established, government could meet a third of the core costs (£100,000). A further third could come from major grant-making organisations. The sector itself could contribute the final third. Assuming that membership has reached 3,000 organisations by this stage, each organisation would contribute an average of £35 per year

- The government should contribute a further £500,000 over two years for a public-awareness programme.

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