Editorial: A change of direction at the FRSB would be in everyone's interests

Wherever two or three fundraisers have been gathered together recently - and there were a couple of thousand at the Institute of Fundraising National Convention - one hot topic has been the Fundraising Standards Board.

The FRSB has had its glitches and is not overwhelmingly popular among fundraisers. This is hardly surprising, given that the case for self-regulation is regarded by many as unproven. But the dissatisfaction seems to have been particularly intense since the board's first annual report was published.

A plan to defuse the dissatisfaction by moving the FRSB into a second phase now seems to be taking shape. The emphasis would be on greater partnership with charities, and the message to the public would be less about making complaints and more about promoting well-deserved trust and confidence. The strategy is being developed in consultation with a group of fundraising directors from the biggest charities, whose role in the partnership would include putting their considerable marketing skills behind a recruitment drive.

The discussions have included the proposal that the FRSB subscriptions of the wealthiest 50 charities should rise in order to make them more proportionate and allow the organisation to do more. This has caused what one insider calls "considerable disquiet" and had the unwanted effect of creating rumours of a financial crisis, which have been specifically denied. It has also diverted attention from the main issue at the wrong time.

The FRSB has the unenviable task of keeping three constituencies happy - the Office of the Third Sector, the public and the fundraisers. Its challenge now is to work more closely with the last of these without getting so close that its credibility as an independent organisation is compromised with the other two constituencies. The big charities assert that they are not intent on "capturing" the FRSB, and are fully behind the principle of self-regulation. If that is the case, and the FRSB recognises the strength of feeling in the sector, then the essential elements would seem to be in place for a satisfactory change of direction in the coming months.

On another issue, there were two important contributions to the debate on public service delivery last week. The first was from the Public Administration Select Committee, which said the third sector delivers only a tiny proportion of public services and that claims that its contribution is distinctive were based on "hypothetical or anecdotal" evidence. The second came in the Public Services Industry Review, written by DeAnne Julius for the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. This included a review of past research and, at best, a mixed verdict on the distinctiveness of the sector's contribution.

But surely the distinctiveness question is less important than the question of commissioning, which both documents addressed in a constructive way. The PASC report dwelt on the need for "intelligent commissioning" by public bodies, and the recommendations of Julius included appointing directors of service delivery "at a very high level" in all government departments and local authorities. That would be an excellent move, because it would help to ensure that top-level policy on access for the third sector is actually implemented in a way that has not often happened in the past.

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