Editorial: Telling the public what fundraisers earn is fine, but we must say why

The fundraising community has so far been positive about the Cabinet Office's draft guidance on rules governing what fundraisers must say to prospective donors - even if it is less pleased by the law it is based on.

Emma Maier
Emma Maier

The rules, which are set out in section 67 of the Charities Act, mean that from 1 April charity staff and trustees who are raising money must explain to donors their relationship with the charity, whether they are paid and, if they are raising money for more than one charity, what proportion of the money will go to each.

A raft of other fundraisers - including agency fundraisers, professional fundraising organisations and, in some cases, consultants, retailers selling products that raise money, and even fulfilment houses - must also say how much they are being paid. Only volunteer fundraisers are exempt.

Fundraisers have raised concerns that at best the 'solicitation statement' might bemuse donors and at worst might put them off giving altogether. But they have few complaints about the Cabinet Office guidance. At 54 pages, it is clear and detailed, including a five-page annex explaining how various third-party fundraisers are affected and 10 pages of example solicitation statements for different types of fundraisers in various situations.

Among the things that fundraisers don't like is the timescale - the informal 12-week consultation on the draft finishes six weeks after the rules come into force. The Cabinet Office says this will give fundraisers time to generate some feedback based on their experience after 1 April; charities are concerned about starting without final guidance.

Fundraisers are also concerned about the practicalities. Agencies in particular don't always know how much they will be paid until after a campaign is finished, meaning that they will have to use estimates when making solicitation statements.

But the greatest unknown is how the rules will be enforced. The Cabinet Office has said it will be a police matter (how much of a priority it will be for them is another issue) and that the Fundraising Standards Board might have a role dealing with complaints. The Institute of Fundraising is not so sure, but suggests the Charity Commission will have a role. The penalty for non-compliance is a fine of up to £5,000. There could also be civil cases in which a fundraiser who failed to comply with the rules was from an agency and was breaking the agency's contract with the charity.

One thing is clear, though: the law will mean more work for all involved, arguably even donors, in whose name the rules were made. They will now be left to decide whether or not their decision to give will be affected by the knowledge that the chugger in the street is paid £8 an hour - not the most helpful measure of fundraising efficiency.

What the rules fail to do is address the real issue, which is not how much fundraisers are paid but that much of the public is unaware that fundraisers are paid at all. To achieve real openness and transparency, charities will need to tell the public how modern charities work, including why it is important to invest in fundraising, to help them understand the significance of the fundraising statement. Achieving that is likely to be even more of a challenge than implementing the new rules.

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