Hot Seat: Sir Stuart Etherington

Sir Stuart Etherington
Sir Stuart Etherington

During the media furore after the death of the poppy seller Olive Cooke, Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations for the past 21 years, used his speech at the NCVO's annual conference to declare that self-regulation of fundraising was not fit for purpose.

A week later, he reiterated his point in a blog, making several recommendations he felt would improve the system. A fortnight later, and after a week of media allegations of fundraising malpractice at the now defunct telephone fundraising agency GoGen, the Minister for Civil Society, Rob Wilson, asked Etherington to lead a review of the self-regulation of fundraising.

Did Etherington start to speak publicly about fundraising self-regulation for the first time in years because he knew what was coming? A spokesman for the NCVO says not. Stephen Lee, professor of voluntary sector management at the Cass Business School and a former chief executive of the Institute of Fundraising, says it is more likely that the government selected him because his cross-party appeal and three decades of experience in the sector made him the "obvious, go-to person".

Like others who spoke to Third Sector, Lee holds Etherington in high esteem and trusts him to a good job. Although Etherington might not have a detailed knowledge of fundraising practice, says Lee, this will not be an issue because the review is focused more on broad, systemic issues than on minutiae.

Lee says it is of greater importance that the other members of the review panel – Lord Leigh of Hurley, Baroness Pitkeathley and Lord Wallace of Saltaire – are also highly experienced in and familiar with the sector.

Should the sector consider itself fortunate that the government did not assign the review to a less benign person from outside the sector? One senior fundraising figure says people from the sector are often tougher on it than a third party would be.

He says that whatever the outcome of the review – which he expects to be "transformational" – it will be for the members of the existing self-regulatory bodies to vote on whether to accept any proposed changes.

In reality, however, many consider that the fundraising bodies are likely to have little choice but to take swift action to implement the review's recommendations, regardless of their members' views. If they do not, the government could well take matters into its own hands.

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