Institute of Fundraising should hand control of code of practice to a new body, Adrian Sargeant says

In a blog, the fundraising academic criticises the appointment of lay members to the IoF's standards committee

Adrian Sargeant
Adrian Sargeant

A new body should be created to take over the Institute of Fundraising’s role of devising and maintaining the Code of Fundraising Practice, according to the fundraising academic Adrian Sargeant.

The suggestion has been made in a blog published today on the website of Rogare, the think tank at Plymouth University’s Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy.

Sargeant, who is director of the centre, writes in the blog that the IoF’s recent decision to appoint an independent chair and recruit three lay members to its standards committee will mean that the existing code will be decided by people with little knowledge about fundraising.

He says a new body, which he calls the Committee of Fundraising Practice, should be created to take over this responsibility.

"I was greatly saddened by the Institute of Fundraising’s recently announced decision to provide its standards committee with an independent chair and to seed additional lay representation on to the panel," he writes.

"I (obviously) have no difficulty with our profession being held to account by the public we serve, but the vehicle for doing that is the Fundraising Standards Board and not our professional standards committee."

Sargeant, who stepped down as a trustee of the IoF in March, says he will write to Rob Wilson, the Minister for Civil Society, to outline his proposal for a new body.

According to Sargeant, this organisation should be composed entirely of experts from the fundraising sector and have its standards overseen by the FRSB, following the model set by the Committee of Advertising Practice, which is composed of advertising experts and is overseen by the Advertising Standards Authority.

Although he has been told the new lay members of the IoF standards committee will be properly trained in fundraising practices, Sargeant says, it is unlikely this will be sufficiently thorough.

He says it is also illogical to use such people instead of more skilled professionals who already have fundraising expertise.

"Ask yourself – would you want the professional standards in dentistry or accounting, or even advertising, to be set by people who were not experts in those fields? I suspect not. So what is different about fundraising?" he writes.

He says there could be "very serious consequences" for fundraisers if the new independent chair of the standards committee failed to answer or made mistakes when asked tough questions by the media or a government minister.

Sargeant also calls for the FRSB to be funded by a small levy raised from Gift Aid returns to ensure that all fundraising charities are automatically regulated by the body, something the fundraising consultant Stephen Pidgeon also wants to see happen.

Sargeant says that any fundamental review of the self-regulatory regime should be preceded by a review of fundraising’s professional ethics.

Earlier this month, Rogare announced that it was working on a project to develop a new theory of fundraising ethics to stop the profession from inventing its ethics on the hoof.

Ian MacQuillin, director of Rogare, also writes in a blog, published today, that the IoF’s plans to reform its standards committee – which will mean that professional fundraisers will form a minority on the committee, occupying seven of the 15 seats – could result in fundraisers losing control of their own professional standards to a "consumer protection block" on the committee.

The IoF has said there would be four independent members, representatives from the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association, the FRSB, a consumer body and a legal representative, plus seven IoF members.

MacQuillin says the four lay members could team up with the FRSB, the consumer body representative and the legal representative to vote against the seven professional fundraisers, leaving the PFRA with the deciding vote.

Rogare plans to publish a white paper later this summer providing further details on its proposals for reform.

Peter Lewis, chief executive of the Institute of Fundraising, said he fundamentally disagreed with Sargeant’s assertion that independent lay people could not be knowledgeable or add value to the standards committee.

"If one thing has been clear over the last few months it is that there has been a lack of public voice in the system," he said. "For some time we had accepted that giving the FRSB a voice on the standards committee was sufficient to provide that public voice. Our board no longer believe that is the case. We believe that having a good mix of fundraisers, the public and partners involved in the discussions will strengthen the standards committee and the standards it sets."

He said the ASA’s model was seen to be an efficient regulator but this did not mean it was the ideal model for the regulation of all forms of charity fundraising.

Lewis said that Sargeant’s suggestion that a percentage of Gift Aid be used to fund the self-regulatory scheme was misguided. He said the IoF would support a review of the range of sanctions available to the FRSB, but they would need to be proportionate.

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