Ed Aspel learns to live with the new regulator

The head of fundraising at Cancer Research UK says the charity is increasing its focus on supporter satisfaction

Ed Aspel
Ed Aspel

Ed Aspel took on the biggest game in town - running the fundraising department at Cancer Research UK - last September, in the middle of one of the most turbulent episodes the sector has seen. The UK's largest charity by voluntary income had come under fire for employing Listen and GoGen, two fundraising agencies exposed by The Mail on Sunday for their poor practices.

By the time Aspel took up the reins, Sir Stuart Etherington was reporting the findings of his review of fundraising self-regulation. Unusually for a fundraiser, Aspel says he is in favour of its most controversial recommendation, the Fundraising Preference Service, which would enable people to opt out from all telephone and mail fundraising communications.

"From what I've heard, there needs to be a reset button so that those who are vulnerable or being inundated by fundraising communications can press it," says Aspel, whose title is executive director of fundraising and marketing. "That seems perfectly reasonable to me."

His comments develop the support CRUK expressed for a "charity preference mechanism" in written evidence to the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee last September. The charity said it believed such a service should be set up just for telephone calls so it would be clear who did not want to be contacted.

Aspel says that charities across the country might have been changing their fundraising practices and the frequency of their contact with supporters in recent months, but this is unlikely to make much difference to someone who is signed up to receive communications from multiple charities. This is why a far-reaching mechanism such as the FPS is required, he says.

'Yes to funding the regulator'

CRUK was one of a group of large charities that was asked by the Institute of Fundraising and the Public Fundraising Association last year if it would fund the new Fundraising Regulator. "We've said yes," says Aspel. The charity has taken the approach that it shouldn't be difficult about this, he adds - it is coming and it needs to be funded.

Aspel says CRUK has not changed any of its fundraising practices or the way it works with fundraising agencies over the past year, mainly because it feels they were already carried out to a high standard. Nor has it experienced a noticeable decline in donations. The charity recently collaborated with three other cancer charities - Breast Cancer Care, Anthony Nolan and Movember - on a fundraising campaign to mark World Cancer Day, because it believed they would raise more money as a group than by working alone.

The event raised more than £1m in total, with CRUK raising £700,000 and expecting more to come in. "Sometimes doing the right thing is not incompatible with what raises the largest amount of money," Aspel says. "We felt it would be inappropriate if we did it by ourselves. The public are likely to be pleased about us collaborating in this way."

But he says some initiatives are better for collaboration than others. CRUK's fundraising innovations are a case in point: he says the charity keeps innovations confidential until launching them because "our responsibility is to use the money that donors give to us to raise more money for the cause".

When, for example, CRUK announced in February that it would be equipping face-to-face fundraisers with the technology to solicit contactless donations for the first time, a spokeswoman declined to say how much the charity had raised and how many people had donated in an earlier trial of the technology, saying the information was commercially sensitive.

Fundraising agencies

At first, Aspel is unsure whether CRUK is still working with Listen, the fundraising agency exposed by the MoS last June for pressurising people to donate, or Still Fundraising, the agency set up by the directors of GoGen, which went into administration last summer after being accused of exploiting loopholes in the Telephone Preference Service. But he later confirms that it is not working with either of them, even though none of the allegations related to services the agencies provided to CRUK.

"When we saw the behaviour of those agencies, we refused to work with them," says Aspel. "Why would you work with an organisation that would behave in that way? It's not only a reputational risk, it's also just wrong."

Aspel says the charity is now increasing its focus on supporter satisfaction. "To my mind, we do not measure it rigorously enough, so that is something we are now looking to develop," he says. "We want to understand how the experience of supporting CRUK makes people feel, and we want them to feel part of a movement rather than a donor who is marketed to."

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